Last week I was contacted out of the blue by a college professor here in the U.S. who's a huge Classic Rock fan. He was looking for insight as to why most FM stations in the format play such a small playlist of songs.
Our conversation turned into a discussion about demographics, especially radio's fixation on the 25-54 year-old sweet spot, coveted by the ad agencies. My new academic friend mentioned how Baby Boomers – those 60+ are conspicuous consumers of everything. So, how could I explain the logic that so many national advertisers have typically dismissed these millions of people and their massive revenue?
It's an uncomfortable conversation under the best of circumstances, but when you're talking with someone who is smart, knowledgeable, and marketing savvy, you just feel like saying, “It is what it is,” a frustrating statement that's grossly lacking, especially in the current environment.
And to bring the topic to a point, Bill Jacobs forwarded me a new opinion piece in the New York Post – not by just another journalist, pundit, or radio consultant, but by Mauro Guillén. Or I should say Dr. Mauro Guillén.
He's a professor at the esteemed Wharton School, and the Director of the Penn Lauder Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). After earning his first degree in his native Spain, Guillén emigrated to the U.S. where he got his PhD from Yale.
The title of his essay leaves nothing to interpretation:
Even a media buyer or planner can interpret the wise Dr. Guillén's pronouncement. His piece underlines the following fun facts about the world population.
- By 2030, the population over 60 will pass Millennials and Gen Z in Europe, China, Japan, and yes, the U.S.
- Every day, 12,000 Americans will turn 60; in China, it's 54.000.
But it's not just numbers of bodies – it's their economic impact – sort of like “power ratios” in radio. Dr. Guillén believes the global pandemic has changed the demographic game, ushering in a new Renaissance for “The Gray Market,” those 60 and older who have suddenly become even more valuable than they were a year ago at this time.
Here are three compelling reasons why, according to the professor:
- The 60+ contingent here in America controls 80% of the net worth. That's from a study by the Federal Reserve.
- The same study reveals how wealth is better spread out across these 60-plussers, whereas younger generations have considerably higher variance in their financial impact.
- The incomes of the 60+ crowd are more resilient because they're more dependable – pensions, investment interest, and even holding down part-time gigs. Most are not sweating the job market like their Millennial and Gen Z counterparts.
Dr. Guillén points out that in times like these, seniors aren't as susceptible to financial disruption as younger generations. In fact, because women dominate the 60+ group – notoriously better money managers than their male counterparts – there's even more financial stability.
Another interesting consequence of COVID is that many 60+ Americans have brushed up on their tech skills, such as virtual meetings and yes, even TikTok.
A new buzzword in advertising is “ageless” – acknowledgment that chronological age is not always a determinant of attitudes, lifestyles, media habits, or purchasing patterns. You would think that a time when revenue is scarce, agencies and marketers would be actively searching for any source of sales and business activity.
In broadcast radio, this should all sound familiar because it's the same dilemma. Demand for commercial inventory is probably at an all-time low, thanks to the rise of digital, coupled with the cruel impact of COVID.
Digital is a long bright spot, but many broadcast radio company assets are under-developed on these platforms – streams, podcasts, video, etc.
You'd think the pandemic would be cause for agency types to pause and reassess.
Instead, Dr. Guillén's mostly hopeful opinion piece takes a sobering turn with this quote from AARP in a recent article:
“Boomers have the bucks, but advertisers don't seem to care.”
If you're in radio, struggling to make Q3, let that one marinate for a minute.
Then pick up the phone, call your state broadcaster association, the RAB, and the NAB and let them know you think the “gray market” is an opportunity that needs to be pursued.
I'll add the statistical reality that broadcast radio's audience is also aging – no matter what programmers, sales managers, and owners say to the contrary. The medium – like it or not – is “graying,” moving very much in-sync with where the population – and the money – is headed.
Data and financial realities ought to be the determinants of how marketers and content creators shape their plans for the rest of 2020 – and beyond. We've all been taught to fish where the fish are. And in this case, the biggest fish are far more likely to reside in a demographic that is plentiful, but also imaged as “old.”
Sometimes, nomenclature sets the tone. At Jacobs Media, we have been guilty of that, too. Years ago, we started to include generational crosstabs in all our Techsurveys, which proved to be a smart move. But our label for those born in 1946 or earlier – the “Silent Generation” – was vehemently questioned last year by one of our public radio stakeholders. An alternative term for this hardy group of seniors is “Greatest Generation,” a label we're now using in all our studies. It sounds better, and is more descriptive of who these people are.
Inside most radio companies, there are heads of programming and sales. But perhaps the most objective corporate officer is the CFO. They're the most dollar-agnostic people in every company. That's because they respect the bottom line, no matter its makeup. I've never heard one yet complain that dollars are being generated by a less-than-desirable demographic.
And that's a reminder: Maybe it's time to finally start marketing broadcast radio as “ageless.”
I'll leave you with a favorite quote from another pretty smart guy – Albert Einstein.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Wonder if he ever wanted to work in radio.
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