The question came right after I presented to several hundred public transportation managers from across the country a half-day seminar on generational marketing. An audience member stood up and said, “American government has always used nomenclature such as ‘senior citizen’ and ‘aging’ to describe the many services and facilities it offers to America’s senior citizens. Are you telling me that boomers will be offended and not make use of these services and facilities if those words are applied to them? And if so, are you also telling us that our government must change all of that nomenclature?”
I smiled and said to the woman, “Watch this.”
Then, I turned to the audience and said, “This question is for our boomer audience members only. Please give me an absolutely honest response: Say a local, state, or federal government agency offered a program designed for you that offered something you want or need. If they labeled it something like ‘Senior Services’ or ‘Services For The Aging,’ or if it provides a facility for you and calls it something like ‘Senior Citizen Center,’ how many of you would make use of that service?”
Of the approximately 70 boomers in the audience, none raised their hand. None.
I followed up with another question: “How many of you will honestly not use that facility or service simply because its title includes a reference to ‘senior citizen’ or ‘aging’? “
Every single boomer hand went up.
72 hours later, I presented a similar seminar to a statewide conference of educators. I posed the same question to that audience of about 100 people, almost all of them boomers, and I got the same unanimous response.
Boomers spent their formative years – largely the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s – growing up during one of the best times in American history. After World War II, their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were building the greatest nation in the world, a nation that, to young, wide-eyed Mouseketeers, could accomplish anything. America was curing diseases, providing job security, building skyscrapers, and making historic progress in civil rights. Crime rates were down and community cooperation was up. Boomers grew up feeling safe, secure, and nurtured.
All of this, collectively, molded the unique lifelong boomer core values of unlimited hope, unlimited opportunity, idealism, and pursuit of perfection. From those magical formative years came the inevitable: a live-life-to-the-fullest mindset.
Boomers understand that physical aging is mandatory. But in this golden era of anti-aging science and medicine, there’s legitimate hope that science will soon arrest, slow, stop, and even reverse the aging process. And even if physical aging is unavoidable, “growing old” is optional.
To that end, there are eight words you should never use in your personal discussions with and advertising and marketing collateral geared toward boomers.
1. Retiree - Many boomers won’t fully retire; they’ll likely be engaged and productive for the remainder of their lives.
2. Senior citizen - A noble label for their parents’ generation, but not for theirs.
3. Aging - An unacceptable state of mind to boomers rather than a statement about the human body.
4. Elderly - See “aging.”
5. Golden years - “That applies to my parents’ generation, not mine.”
6. Silver years - See “golden years.”Prime time – Boomers’ entire lives have been prime time. To use this term to describe their future is to diminish their legendary past.
7. Mature - Boomers, mature? At 110, they’ll still be Mouseketeers.
Refer to boomers as seniors, aging, retirees, elderly, or mature, and you lose. Refer to their future as their golden years, silver years, or prime time, and you lose again Keep these words out of your conversations with this generation, and keep them out of your marketing and advertising.
Chuck Underwood is the founder/president of The Generational Imperative, a Cincinnati-based generational consulting firm that trains corporations and organizations. For more information, call 513-221-1973, email [email protected], or visit www.genimperative.com.