Brown, Mary

Mary Brown and Carol OrsbornMary Brown is a partner at JWT BOOM: The 40+ Authority. She has more than 20 years of experience as a brand champion, most recently as President and Founder of Imago Creative, the only marketing firm in the U.S. specializing exclusively in marketing to Boomer women. Mary's client roster includes Celebrity Cruise, Trilogy/Shea Homes, Clearblue Easy, Esprit, Reebok, Timex, and Cole-Haan, among other noted names. As a recognized expert on the attitudes and buying patterns of Boomer women, Mary is frequently quoted in the media and invited to speak and host panels at industry conferences. Among other degrees, she has a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Carol Orsborn, PhD, is Senior Vice President and co-chair with Eileen Marcus of Fleishman-Hillard's FH Boom. A PR veteran and author of 15 books, Carol is known for her pioneering work addressing the issues, desires and concerns of the Baby Boom generation. The recipient of a Silver Anvil, Carol's clients have included Prudential's PruCare, Crystal Geyser, and The Gap. In addition, she has worked with Apple University, The Walt Disney Company, Wellpoint, and others on such internal communications issues as values-driven leadership, resilience, and life-balance. Carol first came to public attention when she founded Superwoman's Anonymous in the mid-eighties. In addition to her role with Fleishman-Hillard, she operates an on-line life mastery resource center "for women who are, at last, becoming wise":

Together, Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn wrote the definitive book on marketing to Boomer women: BOOM: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer—the Baby Boomer Woman. talks to Mary only, about the book.

Boom book cover asks ...

Mary, what inspired you and Carol Orsborn to write Boom?

MB: We felt there was a need to jump-start this conversation and start asking questions, particularly given that in 2006 the first Boomers turned 60. The phenomenon of the huge Boomer population fully moving into midlife. is finally hitting in a big way—and the media are getting an inkling that it's not going to go away.

The notion that people over 40 are going to be setting some major trends by their sheer size is rocking a lot of stereotypes. Just look at the market and the numbers and you'll see a glaring, obvious need—

What turned you on to that fact?

MB: A combination of things. One is the fact that the media and most marketers, both on the client and agency sides, are ignoring the numbers. Women control or influence at least 80 percent of all household purchases. Combine that with the fact that Boomer women, in particular, have much more financial clout than their younger cohorts. They're often at the height of their careers. In general, they have much higher discretionary spending. Boomer women are statistically a sweet spot.

Yet the media hold onto old stereotypes and continue to generate the perception that after 40 a woman is a real has-been. She's on this slow, steady decline to who knows what. She's already set in her brands. The reality is just the opposite.

A strong aspect of our motivation to write this book was the need to educate. We illustrate through case studies how companies are having success by not falling prey to these stereotypes. In many cases companies haven't figured it out quite yet, and they're learning from their mistakes. There's a lot to learn from the stories—not just how companies and brands have succeeded, but also how they've failed.

Now they're saying 60 is the new middle age. Maybe that's what 40 used to be. Fifty is the new 30.

MB: It's all over the map. Let me shed a little light on that. At the turn of the last century, the average lifespan was 30 years less than it is now. We're living longer. It used to be that you were old at 40; at 50 you were definitely old. That was a real part of the consciousness back then. The irony is that in many ways, we, the Boomer generation, have perpetuated that myth.

When we were teenagers and in our 20s, we were very skeptical of old people and didn't trust anybody over 30. We were very vocal about that. We embedded this myth, this obsession with youth.

That's interesting.

MB: But now that we are the "old people," we have to live with our legacy of the obsession with youth.

Which film was it? Wild in the Streets? They wanted to kill everyone over 30. The last scene is some 11-year-old with her friend saying, "No one over 18 can be trusted."

MB: We created that ourselves.

I'd never thought about that. Yes, this generation created the problem that's baffling marketers.

MB: This obsession with the 18- to 34-year-old demographic and the perception that they are the trendsetters should really be re-examined. Additionally, today, many marketing directors, creative directors, media buyers—those people in the positions of creating the advertising and marketing strategies—a lot of those people are in their 30s.

What do they know?

MB: Imagine telling a male, 30-year-old creative director to design a whole ad campaign essentially for his mother—


MB: Yuck is right. There's some resentment. The Boomer generation is the largest generation in U.S. history. Their kids, Echo Boomers, are close in sheer size, but they're still too young to have all the money right now. Because Boomers are the largest generation in history, we've always used the clout of that largeness to make our point. Everything has been focused on us and we like it that way. It's not all that surprising that the Gen-X generation, which is almost half the size of Boomers, is not that thrilled with us. I think they wish we would just move over or go away.

But, no, Boomers aren't retiring; they're sticking with high-level positions. I think there are undercurrents of resentment by younger generations in a broad, general, cohort way.

How did you settle on the structure of your book? You have introductory pieces and then you have a lot of essays from other marketers. You explain what the marketers are doing at their respective companies.

MB: We have a lot of Boomer women-focused industry knowledge and intellectual capital, but this knowledge needed to be rooted in experience from the street to break through the skepticism around marketing to middle-aged women consumers. And let's face it, stories are the most effective mode of communication. We wanted to hear the stories of the folks that are leading the way—those who realize the phenomenal size of this demographic and how lucrative it can be to target them. Those companies who have taken the time to understand this demographic and incorporate that understanding into their services and their products.

Are you going to make the case studies available at a website?

MB: We're only allowed to distribute one chapter—

You can't listen to your publisher. They're living in the 18th century.

MB: People can buy the book! Sorry. [Laughter]

I think there's a lot of very important information in your book. I agree with you about including the stories; you're showing how people do this.

Tom Peters has been talking about this, not the Boomer women specifically, but marketing to women, for 10 years. Still, you can count on one hand the number of books about marketing to women and marketing to Boomer women. You mention our Cool Friends Marti Barletta, Lisa Johnson, and Andrea Learned in your book.

MB: They are cool. They're very smart ladies. Marti's new book is PrimeTime Women; I'm excited to hear her extension of the discussion.

It's amazing how little there is out there about this. I remember hearing Marti speak once. The image that I've never forgotten is her profile of Boomer women: they're married, they'll outlive their husbands by seven to ten years, and they're getting the inheritance from both sides of the family. They'll collect money from their parents who were actually good savers, as opposed to this Boomer generation, who aren't as good, as well as from their husbands.

MB: Back to your question: Why isn't there more about this? This topic is phenomenally complex. It's a huge demographic. We're talking about almost 40 million women. You can't generalize, because there's a lot of differentiation between the life stages they're experiencing, their economic status, and where they're at personally with their level of adult development.

That's why we separate these aspects in the book. We look at gender differentiation, generational differentiation, life stage aspects, and psycho-social aspects. The companies that we observed having the most success were doing a great job of sub-segmenting. In many ways, if you develop generalist, broad-stroke messaging for this consumer, and you're off target, you're likely to do more damage than good.

It's a very rich subject. But, that's also why some marketers just glaze over it, because there's not a quick fix.

I enjoyed your discussion of embracing a Boomer woman's life stage, not just her age. The current Boomer is, in 2007, 42 to 61. That's a wide range, almost 20 years.

MB: Yes. I'm with J. Walter Thompson's JWT BOOM: The 40+ Authority now, and we produce the "Boomer Heart Beat" annual trend report. In the last report, part of the study broke age groups into four-year increments. It gauged the number of life stage transitions each segment is going through simultaneously from 25- to 75-year-olds. Those who were 50 to 54 experienced more transitions in their life than any other age group.

So you have a heightened number of lifestage occurences you might be negotiating as a Boomer woman, particularly in that 50s age range. Let's face it, you can have a 45-year-old first time grandma, and you can have a 45-year-old first time mother, both in very different stages of their life, yet they're the same age.

If you take a look at the density of the possible life stage transitions she's experiencing, it's no wonder that things that give her more time for herself or personal enrichment are important to her. She wants more quality time with all those in her sphere of care. As a young mom, you're mostly focused on your immediate family—your kids, your husband. But as you age, your sphere grows. As Bill Novelli of AARP said, "You're not necessarily the sandwich generation; you're almost a club sandwich generation." The woman's still taking care of growing kids, her parents, sometimes even grandparents. She's got a lot of constituents on her radar. Women by nature are caretakers, relationship gatekeepers. Taking all that into consideration, you realize that the life stage discussion is complex.

Is that why people in the marketing business aren't going after this population? Is it just too complex to figure out?

MB: Some people are too gun-shy to dig in and do the level of research and probing that's necessary. I'll give an example: BSH, the home appliance parent company of Bosch, Gaggenau, and Thermador. They said, "Okay, this is a multi-faceted group." They tailored each of their brands to a different persona wrapped around different life stages.

Thermador is high end, very sleek. They target the empty-nest woman. Her kids are gone, she has more money available, and she's focusing more on herself. She's changing her house situation; not necessarily downscaling, but downsizing and keeping the quality high. She's redoing her kitchen. She wants this cool appliance. They're creating their ad campaign around this classic, yet idealistic, persona.

That contrasts with the warm and approachable messaging of their Bosch brand which is focused more on the woman who still has young kids at home. This appliance is a tool in her house. Yes, it's beautiful, but it's highly functional, and it makes her life easier. It allows her to save time. That's an example of a company that's handling the complexity. You can't bite the whole enchilada off and have success. They're breaking it down and targeting each of their brands, so their messaging isn't confusing or watered down.

To women in general, or Boomer women segments?

MB: Well, you can never generalize.

Good point.

MB: But with Boomers, the complexity is heightened. They are experiencing a much higher level of life stage transitions simultaneously. Plus, they're entering into a stage of life previously considered a not-so-happening place.

The end. Get on the porch, on the rocker.

MB: Right. But these women are saying, "Wait a second. Realistically, my life is just half over. I have a whole other half to live. The kids are gone now. I'm at the height of my career."

Isn't it true that half of the Baby Boomers are going to live to be 100?

MB: Yeah. It's scary! That is, unless we come up with something else to kill ourselves off sooner than that, like stress. I heard an interesting comment from Gail Sheehy. She wrote the somewhat controversial book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman. She was trying to rectify what she wrote in her previous book, Passages. She has admitted that at the time she wrote Passages, she assumed that life after 50 was a wasteland. Then she got there and realized, "Oops, this is a serious passage I missed."

I'm a 52-year-old male. I think 50-year-old women are very attractive.

MB: Good for you. We're more interesting.

Exactly. The whole face-lift thing has always upset me. It's like erasing life from your face, which I find so bizarre.

MB: That's why I think we're seeing an increase in cosmetic surgery treatments that are less invasive.

I loved reading that. I go to a spa and get facials once in a while. It's a wonderfully decadent thing. It's good for you and it's healthy. Obviously women are doing that in greater numbers than men, although—

MB: It's increasing. I think the general mindset is, "I'm getting older, I'm young at heart, I'd like to look the best I can, but I am not going to go completely nuts." Companies that are figuring that out are really hitting that subtle nail on the head. There's a huge anti-aging skin product industry out there. Take a look at all the angles that these anti-aging companies take. Olay positioned her as a woman comfortable in her own skin with a great ad with a woman in bifocals and ripped jeans. The headline reads, "Wrinkles and pimples, jeans and bifocals, what's next?"

They're taking a comfortable-with-who-I-am approach, versus a much more defiant angle of "I'm foxy at 43 and my latest boyfriend is two years older than my son." It reflects a lot of the attitudes that are out there.

I can't quote the statistics off the top of my head, but for women over 50, there's a phenomenally high divorce rate. In most cases it's the woman that's initiating it. There are a whole lot more single, 50-plus women out there. There has to be opportunity in that. I recently heard someone from say that their largest growing segment right now is Boomer women who are looking for relationships after 50. It's a different dating model; Boomer women are not necessarily looking for the same things as the younger women. What they're looking for is being redefined right now.

Suddenly you realize there is so much possibility for this whole group of people. When you look at the numbers, it's huge.

MB: It's staggering.

There's a line in your book from somebody at J. Walter Thompson, I think, saying that marketers years ago saw this cohort coming along. Somebody said, "Either you're going to dig a huge ditch that they can all fall into, or you're going to be chasing after them and shooting arrows at their butts."

MB: That was Lori Bitter, she's the senior partner at JWT BOOM. She's hilarious and very insightful!

They obviously didn't dig the big ditch because no one really comprehended what was happening.

MB: Lori worked at Age Wave which is Ken Dychtwald's company. I've got to give Ken credit. He's quite a personality. He saw this coming a long time ago and wrote a book on it, called The Age Wave. He started waving this big red flag back when Boomers were in their 30s. Again, we're not a quiet generation; we're pretty vocal. Boomers don't want to sit back and take the injustice of being ignored by the media.

Tell me about Imago Creative.

MB: Imago Creative is a marketing agency I started in 1995 in Portland, Maine, that grew to be the only agency in the country that I know of that is specifically focused on marketing to and reaching Baby Boomer women.

That's interesting.

MB: Last September, J. Walter Thompson, offered a situation where I could come on board with their JWT BOOM group. The appeal of having JWT resources at my back was just too good to turn away.

It's been a wonderful experience joining forces with them. Their experienced team and all that they can bring to the table, combined with my Boomer women expertise, results in a very dynamic marketing group.

Was this book done in conjunction with them?

MB: No, I was working on this before it happened. They brought me on board after the book was published.

Are you a Boomer woman?

MB: I am. I am 47 years old.

You're just a kid.

MB: I don't feel like it some days.

What retailer or service industry turns you on? Who do you think really targets you in their marketing messages?

MB: You want to know who brings me to tears? It's a bit cliché at this point, because it's been talked about so much, but it's the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Specifically within that, their Self-Esteem Fund for girls. They launched a key ad during last year's Super Bowl. It was phenomenal that they would do a very women- and girl-focused ad in the middle of the Super Bowl. They were very smart because, unbeknownst to most people, just under half of all viewers of the Super Bowl are women. A study reported that women watch the Super Bowl more for the ads and to be with family, and guys watch the Super Bowl to watch the game.

It's a beautiful ad with beautiful music that communicates the sentiments of girls—that so often they feel ugly or they don't feel beautiful, when in fact they are. It's directly targeted to moms, grandmas, and aunts. How we have to help girls by instilling their fundamental self-esteem. You know, I didn't care what the hell they were selling, I've got such a good feeling about Dove now.

That's very interesting. It's counter-intuitive, that thing about women watching—

MB: The fact that they watch it because they want to hang out with their family and friends. They enjoy watching the commercials. So it's a prime opportunity for targeting moms.

So who else?

MB: I'm fascinated by the "right hand ring" campaign. The notion is, "Women of the world raise your right hand." The interesting story behind this is that initially they thought they were targeting a 30-year-old woman. But they found that the message was speaking much more to the 40-plus woman. Here's a woman who has reached a point in her life and her career where she has a sense of accomplishment, and is centered in who she is. She's not going to wait around for the guy to buy her the ring anymore. This campaign gives her permission to go out there and buy her own big honking diamond ring.

In fact, Paco Underhill began his foreword to our book with this story. The diamond industry has created a whole new genre of women buying rings for themselves. It wasn't happening 20 years ago. Women still sat around and waited for the guy to buy them the ring. Talk about opening up a whole market.

This has been a fun and engaging conversation. I appreciate your time.

MB: I enjoyed it too. Thank you very much. I liked the casual atmosphere; it's refreshing.

We're nothing if not casual here at

Email: mary.brown (at) -
           carol.orsborn (at) -