Retiring baby boomers make great marketing targets

The baby boom generation, the largest in the history of the world, has reinvented every stage of life so far, and it will continue to do so in retirement.

So says Jerry Shereshewsky, chief executive officer of Grandparents.com, an internet website devoted to what he calls “everything grandparents.”

With its sheer size, affluence and experience, the aging baby boom generation provides an enormous marketing opportunity for businesses in 2009, Shereshewsky says.

“The 50-plus generation was basically ignored by the marketing community for the last 40 to 50 years, because all of the action was in the younger market,” he said. “People forgot though, that that younger market would age over the next 40 years. Now that younger market is the 50-plus generation, and companies, outside of the medical and geriatric industries, have forgotten about them.”

Shereshewsky, a University of Wisconsin alum, has a knack of being ahead of the curve before the rest of us get there. And along the way he has become a legend of sorts on New York’s Madison Avenue, where he first began his marketing career working with the likes of the characters on the now popular “Mad Men” television show.

In 1979, while doing some marketing work for The Coca-Cola Co., Shereshewsky created the Mello Yello brand of soda.

He later became involved with an internet start up company called Yoyodyne and helped grow it to the point where it was purchased by Yahoo!  He then spent nine years running marketing for Yahoo’s media sales group before he embarked on his latest venture as the chief executive officer of Grandparents.com.

Grandparents.com is a lifestyle website dedicated to baby boomers who are grandparents. The site offers vacation ideas, gift ideas, tips on being grandparents and stories relating to being or becoming grandparents.

“We are sort of the grandparent equivalent to Babycenter.com or Parents magazine,” Shereshewsky said.

The website is advertising-supported and has around 350,000 unique visitors a month, and around 270,000 e-mail subscribers. The company has about 30 full-time employees and 150 freelancers from across the country.

Shereshewsky is on a mission to help companies of all industries think about ways their businesses can tap into the needs of the enormous retiring baby boom generation.

His company has commissioned a groundbreaking American demographic study that documents the incredible buying power of the retired baby boomer grandparent generation.

 “It’s a tremendously powerful concept. The baby boomer grandparent generation spends $2 trillion a year, and they control more then 70 percent of the wealth in this country,” he said. “There are some really interesting implications for marketers, not only for physical products, but also things like financial services. The important thing to realize is that these people are giving away their wealth and spending it sooner then they did in the past.”

According to Shereshewsky, it is also important to remember that the baby boom generation will often cut back on spending for themselves and their children in a tough economy, but usually do not cut back on spending for their grandchildren.

“Grandparents spend more then $60 billion dollars a year on direct purchases for their grandchildren. That means kid clothing, kid furniture, kid toys. Those are not typical industries that would market towards grandparents,” he said.

The grandparent buying market is larger then the video game market, home video and record business put together, he said.

When the baby boomers become grandparents, they start thinking in a different mindset, Shereshewsky said. They purchase new larger, safer vehicles, car seats, high chairs and other child-related things for their houses to accommodate the grandchildren. Those types of purchases aren’t even included in the $60 billion number, he said.

“This market is enormously valuable, and most marketers don’t do anything with it. What we are and should be doing is trying to get some people to pay attention to this market,” he said.

The average age of viewers of the top five television broadcasting networks in the country is 50, which means there are more baby boomers watching their stations than younger people.

“That’s what companies need to realize. If those networks don’t start broadcasting things for their audience, they will watch a different channel, or buy a car somewhere else or go to a different theater,” he said.

According to Shereshewsky, it is easier to talk to people when you know who they are.

“Knowing that a lot of these people are grandparents is a good place to start. Knowing that 60 is the new 40 is also important. People in their 60s and 70s are much more active and physically fit than in previous years. And the notion of retirement has changed too.”

In this economy, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to retire at age 65, and many of these boomers are healthy and want to continue working anyway, Shereshewsky said.

“The thing we need to do is open people’s eyes to this generation, or the market is going to walk right past them,” he said. “The shape of our country is changing, and we need to change our marketing techniques to match that.”

Jerry Shereshewsky

CEO of Grandparents.com

24 Union Square East

New York, NY 10003

www.grandparents.com

Education: UW-Madison, bachelor’s degree in Russian history

To his credit: Created the Mello Yello soda brand

Background: Worked with the original “Mad Men” on Madison Avenue and worked nine years as self-titled “Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Madison Avenue” for Yahoo!

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