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The Coming Age Wave

Are marketers finally getting wise to the purchasing power of the over-40 consumer? If the crowd gathered for the "Mature Market Summit" at the Roosevelt Hotel this week was any indication, it seems something has subtly shifted in the past six months to make midlife consumers, if not exactly hip, then at least sexy enough to warrant some advertising attention.

One of the most compelling presentations of the conference was delivered by Denise Waggoner, VP, Creative Research, at Getty Images, the big photo supply shop. If a picture's worth a thousand words, then the raft of ads that Waggoner clicked through, from Target to Dove, to Eileen Fisher, to HSBC, to American Airlines, was a veritable Encyclopedia Britannica of proof that the Boomer consumer has at last landed on Madison Avenue's radar screen.

Certainly, the numbers J. Walter Thompson provided documenting this group's purchasing power were stunning enough to get the attention of even the most fogey-averse marketer. To whit: households over 50 spend more than $1.7 trillion on goods and services annually, they own 65% of the total net worth among all U.S. households, they control 50% of all discretionary income, and they are responsible for 60% of all health care spending.

Some interesting geographic tidbits: West Virginia and Pennsylvania have the highest proportions of the 50+ aging in place population (that is, those who didn't flee to the Sunbelt when the first AARP 'Welcome Aboard' notice arrived in their mailbox); internationally, most of the countries of Western Europe have populatons that are now considerably older than the U.S. By 2020, 47% of the U.S population will be over 40; in Germany, Italy, and Japan the percentage of the population over 50 will be about 60% by that time. Most surpisingly, by 2020, the percentage of people over 40 in China will increase from 32% to 46%. This represents an increase of 260 million people, while the number of those under 40 will plummet by 98 million.

Meanwhile, get this: between 1997 and 2002, Internet usage grew 155% among persons aged 55-64, and by 170% among persons aged 70 and older (by comparison, growth among persons aged 35-44 was a lackluster 96%); between 1992 and 2004, the percentage of men aged 65-74 working full -time increased from 14.9% to 18.7%, and from 6.2% to 10.5% for women (during this same period, the percentage of full-time workers under age 55 declined.) Most of these workers were self-employed.

All of these trends demonstrate one thing: there's a tsunami of aging on the way internationally, and companies who ignore it are likely to find themselves as underwater as Manhattan in The Day After Tomorrow. Note from Noah, Global CMO: Build ark, ride wave, reap riches.