November 28, 2012
A Boomer’s Marketing Advice To CEOs

Last year I turned 65. I still can’t believe it. Half a century has passed since I was in high school; it feels like a decade ago. In my mind the images of the ‘60s remain vivid – the assassination of a President, a man walking on the moon, a war in southeast Asia, the civil rights movement, a band from Liverpool, a California girl, the discovery of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. I am one of 80 million born between 1946 and 1964 in Canada and the United States.

I am a baby boomer.

My generation changed the modern world. Our values refused to accept injustice. We protested against war, discrimination, and censorship. Without us, America would never have elected a black-skinned President with a foreign name. England and Germany would never have elected female Prime Ministers. Canada would not have welcomed all creeds and colors into a land of liberty. Encouraged by parents who suffered the hardships of a world war, we worked hard to do better, to make a success of ourselves. In their minds, ‘doing better’ meant making a good living. So, making money became our modus operandi. But along the way, we contemplated the notion, grew independent and blazed our own trail of social change.

Today, we represent a marvelous business opportunity. We dig in our heels and fight the advance of old age every inch of the way. We operate by the mantra of “use it or you lose it.”

Sure, we have our insecurities. “Aha,” say the savvy marketers. The theme is familiar. As a young Brand Manager, I pounced on consumer insecurities, pumping products that solved bad breath, armpit odor, yellow teeth and bad skin. Those were the heyday of problem/solution brands such as Scope Mouthwash, Ban Deodorant, Ultra Brite Toothpaste and Clearasil Cream.

Now, our insecurities are thinning hair, droopy skin, wrinkles around the eyes and dysfunction below the belt. The world’s best marketers are on to us. Harley-Davidson wants us to relive the two-wheel freedom of the sixties on their iconic Fat Boy. They know we can well afford it. So do Pfizer and Eli Lilly, the makers of Viagra and Cialis.

To CEOs and marketers, I say this: Go ahead, make a boomer’s day by helping us fulfill our lifestyle goals. Give us the ways and means and you will have a loyal customer keen to pay premium prices for your products and services. But please . . . don’t mention old age in your persuasion.

John Bell
John Bell is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard, now part of Kraft. As a strategy consultant, he has counseled some of the world's most respected consumer goods companies. He is a contributor to Fortune Magazine and currently seeks a publisher for his first novel. John can be reached at In the CEO Afterlife.

Other Articles by John Bell:

CEO Presence Isn’t Style. It’s Substance

Panhandler Lessons For CEOs

5 Ways HR Is Just Like Marketing

Why Great CEOs Aren't Always Great Leaders

These Giants Should Just Admit Their Strategy Is Clout

Why Great Brands Lose Their Way

Why CEOs Should Do Less, Better

CEOs Should Stop Using The “C” Word

Here's Why Strategy Is So Misunderstood

In Beer Marketing, Image Is Still Everything