From the August 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

If you want to find the nation's deepest pockets, look to adults aged 54 to 64. They have a higher estimated average net worth-at $210,000-than any other age group, according to research released by Interep, a radio industry advertising and marketing firm. And a higher percentage of 55- to 64-year-olds own their homes (81.4 percent in 2003) than Americans in any other age group, reports the Center for Media Research. But surprisingly, this group-along with most adults 50-plus-is overlooked by marketers pursuing the 18-to-49 demographic, or worse, is lumped in with seniors.

Every seven seconds, another American turns 50. Dennis Miller and Kim Basinger are 50. Robin Williams just turned 52, and Susan Sarandon is 57. You wouldn't call them or their peers seniors. Then why market to them that way? There's a big distinction between marketing to what are termed "first wave" or "leading-edge" baby boomers in their 50s and marketing to seniors. That's because consumers in their 50s and early 60s have entirely different self-images and lifestyles from older seniors and, consequently, must be approached differently. For example, leading-edge boomers are seeking financial independence, while seniors place a high price on physical independence. The boomers look for endorsements and industry ratings; seniors are most comfortable with testimonials.

Don't Call Them Old

It's vital to look beyond several myths. First, consumers 50-plus are no more or less likely to be brand-loyal than any other age group. So don't assume because they were your customers when they were younger that they'll stick with you. And second, ads that rely heavily on the monolithic cultural stereotypes of the '60s generation-peace, love and happiness, with rock 'n' roll playing in the background-won't necessarily win you favor. You need a marketing program that resonates with and reflects who these customers are at the present moment in their lives.

Americans in their 50s and early 60s are at the peak of their earning years. Some are part of the "sandwich generation," with children in college and elderly parents who may need caretaking, while others find themselves with their children out of school, more time on their hands and lots of disposable income. But one thing's for sure: They definitely don't see themselves as "old." According to a survey by The Boomer Project, a joint effort by Boisseau Partners and Southeastern Institute of Research, leading-edge baby boomers who are 54 years old consider themselves 41, and the most affluent (those earning $75,000 or more per year) have a psychological age of 39. So while you shouldn't expect this demographic to relate to a commercial showing thirtysomething parents with children, your marketing must nonetheless reflect their youthful attitudes.

How to Reach Them

Adults in this age group are extremely marketing-savvy. After all, they grew up surrounded by media advertising and have had 50 or more years of exposure to it. They respond best to straight talk and reject over-promotion or spin, so avoid too much hype. It's also smart to stay away from absolutism. By the time consumers reach this age group, their experience has taught them to see things in shades of gray rather than black-and-white, which makes conditional copy messages and narratives more appealing than a hard-sell approach.

Not surprisingly, traditional media, from TV and radio to magazines, newspapers and outdoor advertising, can be used successfully to reach consumers aged 50 to 64. But don't overlook online marketing campaigns. According to Jupitermedia, 55 percent of the entire population aged 50 to 64 will be online in 2004, and it expects those numbers to reach 65 percent in 2006. Jupitermedia also predicts the number of adults in this age group surfing the Net will swell to 35.4 million in 2007. So you can call these folks youthful, smart, affluent and tech-savvy-just don't call them "Gramps" or "Granny."