Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boomers Take Over the Movie Theaters?

Maybe we’re not quite storming the barricades, but baby boomers have sent a message to Hollywood and it’s quite simple. We’re here and we have time and money. So give us something we want to pay to see.

Okay, I admit we don’t hit the concession stand as much as you’d like (everyone knows that’s where the profit is....$4 for a medium diet soda, gimme a break). But we want to be entertained and video game style killing and mayhem are not what we’re looking for -- we want stories.

Look at the big Oscar winners this year and you can see a pattern. The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, True Grit, or The Fighter. They were all based on good storytelling and dialogue. No one got blown up and there wasn’t much of a dead body count (True Grit the exception).

Want to get boomer butts in the seats? Keep making movies that have stories to tell, improve the concession offerings (including some more reasonably priced options), consider reserved seating, keep the theaters clean, and here’s a nifty idea, hire more 50+ actors.

While your precious 18-24 demographic is increasingly getting their films on computers (legally or illegally) boomers are more than happy to fill theater seats for solid entertainment. We grew up on and loved movies such as the Bullitt, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, Shampoo, Mash, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Annie Hall, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and many more. They influenced the way we talked, even the way we walked.

We don’t need all the special effects or even 3-D for that matter. Avatar was an impressive array of technology, but it was the underlying story that was interesting, and it was just about swamped by the gimmickry and killing machines. All the talk of actors being replaced by animated creations didn’t exactly endear the picture to a lot of people either.

Maybe it’s because there are so many of us, but it’s apparent to me that boomers enjoy the group entertainment experience. While teenagers seem happiest when their eyes and fingers are glued to smart phones, boomers would rather be in a theater with other moviegoers who are primed for a quality entertainment experience.

Got that?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

The Gray Blues

In a recent New York Times article, journalist Natasha Singer tells us it’s not easy being gray. No kidding.

She describes an Age Gain Now Empathy System (AGNES) that you put on to simulate the physical sensations of being 65 or 75 years old. It was developed by M.I.T. researchers at their Age Lab.

That’s right, they have an Age Lab and the AGNES suit was developed to help businesses figure out how to design and market products for us aging boomers. Maybe it’s easier than coming to talk to us in person, but I still like the personal touch. Many companies are only now considering marketing products to an older demographic, simply because a giant herd of aging boomers is just too hard to ignore. Thank God for the profit motive.

It seems that one of the major hurdles is to design products that appeal to aging boomers without telegraphing their agedness. Telephones with humongous number buttons are a perfect example of misguided product design. We have trouble seeing small numerals (never mind getting our thumbs to text on tiny cellphone keyboards), so they make us phones that shout, “you’re a half-blind geezer.”

The Age Lab researchers hope they can persuade industries that there’s a new approach to product design, and it’s not the “I’ve-fallen-and-can’t-get-up.” They want to encourage product designs that are older adult friendly without being obvious. The automatic parking feature on some new cars is a great example. Perfect for older drivers who cannot easily turn around to look behind them, this feature is also appreciated by any driver who wants smart technology.

What’s becoming very clear to demographers, product designers and senior center administrators, is that baby boomers are going to be very different from the senior citizens that came before them. They will be more active for more years, will want greater independence, and will be open to high-tech solutions that give them the autonomous lifestyle they crave.

The big question now is will the products and services we crave be there for us when the time comes, or will business and industry wait until the market ripens before they do their homework and develop the products and services we are going to want. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer expenditure survey, baby boomer households spent $2.6 trillion in 2009. That’s should be a big incentive for businesses to keep us grays from getting blue.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

401 Freefall

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined the 401(k) generation just beginning to contemplate retirement and realizing that their savings fall short.

How short? The median household headed by someone ages 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has a quarter of what they need to maintain their standard of living in retirement, according to data analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

This is based on the assumption that we will need 85% of our working income to live on if we want to live to the same standard.

What are the 401(k) holders doing about it? Same thing as most other boomers. Delaying retirement, downsizing, moving to cheaper housing, cutting out restaurant meals, taking fewer or no vacations, being more aggressive with their investments, and basically doing the duck and cover.

So big companies were able to get out of the penison business and money management firms made a nice living off all these 401(k) programs. Everyone was happy until the bubble popped.stop dude sign Many 401(k) owners saw half their savings wiped out almost overnight. Worse still, some lost jobs and no longer can contribute to their 401(k) plan.

It must be a shock to come to the realization that after 30 years of saving, there’s not enough there to have a comfortable retirement. These people weren’t looking for the gold watch -- they just wanted to know that somewhere around age 65 they would be able to stop working and maybe do some of the things they had always dreamed of doing.

Boomers want a more active retirement and now we may get it. Only it shouldn’t really be called retirement, because we’re going to keep on working. How about we call it pre-retirement? The pre-retirees will be working as greeters down at WalMart and driving school buses.

With any luck we won’t have to resort to the starving actor’s trick of mixing ketchup packets with hot water to make soup.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.