The Surprising Truth about Marketing to Baby Boomers

A survey of how consumers make skin care product purchasing decisions revealed different habits between Baby Boomers and Millennials—and it may surprise you to discover which group is more impulsive.

March 10, 2016

6 Min Read
The Surprising Truth about Marketing to Baby Boomers

In 2015, SKIM researchers conducted a study with consumers from different generations to learn how they make purchasing decisions and what types of information they use when buying skin care products such as cosmetics, suntan lotions and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments  for dermatological problems.

Researchers asked 500 U.S. consumers ranging in age generationally from Millennials to Baby Boomers how they would rank different sources of information on key dimensions such as honesty, expertise and trustworthiness. Some of the insights gleaned from the study are counterintuitive. We already knew Baby Boomers don’t trust information on Facebook or Twitter, but did you know Millennials rely equally on product reviews—a decidedly “old school" method—compared to older generations? In terms of health consciousness, both Millennials and Baby Boomers desire youthful vigor and longevity, but they approach buying skin care products in quite different ways.

Baby Boomers:

• Feel they can actively influence their health and are health-conscious when buying skin care products

• Do not research/consult many sources, but decide quickly

• Listen to friends and read off-line product tests, but not via social media


• True digital natives using a multitude of sources to make decisions

• Less certain about buying consumer health and nutraceutical products, but also feel they can actively influence their health

• Mostly influenced by “friend and family" reviews and product review websites

Why focus on different generations?

Plenty has been said in the last few years about the purchase decisions of Generation X, Millennials and even post-Millennials/Generation Z. Comparatively, little is being made of the purchase habits of older consumers in today’s multi-channel environment. To that end, SKIM researchers embarked on a multi-country study of Baby Boomer purchase decisions compared to, whom else, Millennials.

After World War II, a total of 76 million births occurred in the United States from 1946 to 1964—the 18 years usually called the "Baby Boom." These 76.4 million Baby Boomers represented close to one-quarter of the estimated 2012 U.S. population of 314 million. According to American Community Survey data, about 68 percent of Baby Boomers were still in the labor force in 2012. The aging of Baby Boomers is creating a dramatic shift in the age composition of the U.S. population. Projections of the entire older population (which includes the pre-Baby Boom cohorts born before 1946) suggest 71.4 million people will be age 65 or older in 2029. This means the Americans aged 65 and older will make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2029, up from almost 14 percent in 2012, according data from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

The total number of senior citizens around the world will more than triple—to 1.5 billion in the coming decades. So, it’s no surprise this growing group is capturing the attention of policymakers, companies and, of course, marketers and marketing researchers around the world. Not only do they represent an enormous target market, but they are also living longer than generations before them.

While Baby Boomers certainly are not a monolithic demographic, we know that as a whole, they care about maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle—much more so than their parents and grandparents. This has had particular influence on the anti-aging product category, a market that has already reached almost 300 billion dollars per year. Not only are older consumers interested in living longer and living better, they are wiling to spend money to achieve their goals.

How do Different Generations Decide to Buy?

Study respondents were asked to rank different sources of information in terms of honesty, expertise and trustworthiness. Some of the results challenged current assumptions about how young and old consumers view different sources of information. Many marketers are aware that Millennials don’t respond well to sales pitches. Rather than being sold to, they prefer to do the research themselves. From a marketing perspective, think walkie-talkie instead of megaphone. And many of them place less value on big-ticket possessions, such as cars. Yet, they are very ambitious and people-oriented.

The key characteristic among Baby Boomers is decisiveness. Health is a major concern for these aging consumers, and the results of this study show decisiveness at play when making choices regarding healthy aging.

Baby Boomers are More Often Impulsive Buyers

Baby Boomers don’t spend a lot of time deciding or researching skin care products. They spend much less time studying the pros and cons of all available products. They uniquely combine spontaneity with a lack of research—an attribute that seems to run counter to “age and wisdom." And, when we compare U.S. Baby Boomers with those in other countries, they are much more impulsive than their European and Asian counterparts. U.S. Baby Boomers not only have the means, but this is also how they’ve been brought up.

The study also found Baby Boomers are significantly more health-conscious than Millennials when buying skin care and cosmetic items. Slightly more than one-third of them said they think seriously about their health when buying an anti-aging product.

Trustworthiness Matters

Trustworthiness of an information source greatly affects its perceived value in the decision-making process. Consumers rely on recommendations from family and friends foremost, but consumer reviews and product tests are highly regarded as well. Baby Boomers put the least value on posts about products on social media platforms—or for that matter, anywhere else online. That includes product reviews on retailer websites.

In contrast, Millennials rely on a multitude of online sources. Beyond social media, they also like product reviews on retailer websites, recommendations from friends and family, product information from companies, and even from in-store salespeople. Millennials are digital natives with access to myriad information sources, so it’s perhaps no surprise that they are less decisive when buying products. Could this be an indication that they are overloaded with too much information and resources?

Happy Baby Boomers vs. Negative Millennials

Baby boomers are generally much happier than Millennials when faced with a purchase decision. Baby Boomers stand apart from Millennials in terms of their emotional state. When they make a decision, they feel positive about it. On the contrary, millennials display the most negative emotional values, such as disappointment, dissatisfaction and even disgust. We assume it is because of the overload of information, or that Millennials are not sure about their decisions. It may also have to do with the fact that Millennials have less time to make a well-educated decision, hence they resort to a hasty review of online sources. Another argument could be that Millennials are less affluent than their older counterparts and have less money to spend. Although we can debate the origins of these emotions, the fact is Baby Boomers feel more positive when deciding on a skin care product and make the decision more on impulse.

Marketing Implications

So what does it mean from a marketing perspective? Baby Boomers worry about their health. They have the time and resources to buy. And time and disposable income make them a relevant target group. They are an aging population and they make decisions quickly. Baby Boomers are best reached via friends and family, particularly with product tests from consumer organizations. In terms of tonality, Boomers should be approached with positivity because they feel positive about their own decisions. A common marketing trap is to lead with an age range in messaging or hint at frailty to target them; in fact, they would not think this message is aimed at them! Instead, their decisiveness and positivity become a marketer’s advantage when addressing their desire to stay active and healthy in a positive way.

Robert Dossin ([email protected]) is the European client solutions director at SKIM (, specializing in health care and the consumer health industry. He has more than 20 years of blue-chip management, research and marketing experience gained from international roles in marketing and research in business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sectors.

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