Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Oops, according to the Wall Street Journal - did I say the word aging? Ugh, that's so yesterday. This was a spectacular and sometimes hilarious weekend of coverage -- we were treated to a full page on the marketing struggle to be subtle and euphemistic about this mind-boggling trend. We will for the rest of this post put a euphemism whenever we want to think about it. Why do we want to read so much about this phenomenon? Well, silly, because baby boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day (3.65 million this year and for the next 19 years). Never you mind that 1.7 million in the 65+ age range died last year, so in the near term that's a smaller gain than it looks -- and let's not forget that a few weeks ago, life expectancy shrank slightly. With the 'tsunami' of uh, living a long time having fun (see, there's a euphemism!), marketers have got to cash in.
Apparently as the 'tsunami' approaches, products targeting 82-year-olds need new messaging. Never mind that the target customer isn't part of the 2011 boomer-turns-65 crowd. ADT Security Systems -- which sells medical alert alarms -- average age of user of these, according to Philips Lifeline, is an 82-year-old woman -- makes sure that these boomer-seniors-whatever are not reminded that they've uh, lived longer, by speaking quickly to callers. "They get agitated if you're talking too slowly." Really? No wonder Philips has a greater medical alarm market share. Ah-me, what's a boomer anyway? Are they buying Depends? It depends on what you mean by boomer -- age 46 until death? "By 2020, Kimberly-Clark expects 45 million boomers will need incontinence products, up from 38 million currently." Really?
Make the containers easy to open for those blankety-blank baby boomers. Apparently younger people like taking a hatchet to containers to pry them open, but who knew, boomers don't. So Diamond Foods 'carefully' designed its nut line to accommodate the 'declining agility of baby boomer hands.' You do have to acknowledge their differentiating strategy of trying to make their packages 'easy to use' if you have tried to pry open 90% of the vacuum-sealed containers in the supermarket. And CVS and Sherwin-Williams are so nice, they have added better lighting and easy-to-reach shelving and floor carpets, while Arm & Hammer, bless their hearts, has increased the font size on cat litter (note to Arm & Hammer -- the website needs to be fixed too).
Design for blankety-blank baby boomers -- or be kinder to all people? What's really happening here (besides the confusion over what people are at which age and may buy what products by when?) It's all good news! Consumer-hostile environments are going to become friendlier -- and designed for all who come in the store -- and impenetrable packaging just might become easy to open. You think a 23-year-old cat litter purchaser is going to object when presented with larger lettering? And a high-school kid will insist that the nut container return to being difficult to open? Did anyone like dim lighting and uncarpeted floors at CVS and believes their needs are being ignored now? What the WSJ article highlights is not about baby boomers at all. It's that packaging should be less of a barrier, environments should be inviting, and that all age ranges might want to buy their products. Duh.