Crabby-ass Baby Boomer exceptionalism has been a bugbear of mine since childhood. My parents (born in ’48 and ’51) were generally pretty immune to it, thankfully, but it was everywhere once their age-mates had attained their majority and entered the media. Years ago, a commenter at Dean Esmay’s place warned that in a few decades we’d be seeing articles in Time about “The New Death,” as geezer Boomers refused to go through even their last major milestone without tarting it up as a vehicle for self-actuation. (It doesn’t seem to be archived, unfortunately—I think he suggested Nancy Gibbs as the writer, though that may have been my contribution.)
We should have known better than to laugh, of course. Now that the first BBs are hitting 65, if they’re going to keep living independently, they’re going to need the same things Grandma did, only they don’t want to admit it. So marketing and UX people are finding ways not to tell them they’re past it (via Ed Driscoll, via Instapundit).
Surreptitiously, companies are making typefaces larger, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding yellows and blues in packaging—two colors that don’t appear as sharply distinct to older eyes.
Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, an arm of Invesco Ltd., suggests financial advisers offer coffee cups with handles instead of Styrofoam (easier to hold), use lamps instead of overhead lights (less glare), and turn off the television when clients visit (background noise hampers hearing), says Scott West, a managing director.
Euphemisms are flourishing. ADT, owned by Tyco International Ltd., is marketing its medical-alert system to aging consumers as “Companion Services.”
Kimberly-Clark Corp.’s Depend brand, widely considered adult diapers in the past, has had a makeover in a new TV ad: “Looks and fits like underwear. Protects like nothing else.”
Bathroom-fixture maker Kohler Co. struggled to come up with a more palatable word for “grab bar,” which boomers resist. It introduced the “Belay” shower handrail—named for the rock-climbing technique—which blends subtly into the wall of a tiled shower. “When you say, ‘We’ve got beautiful grab bars,’ [boomers] just say, ‘Naw,’ because they don’t want to identify as needing that,” says Diana Schrage, senior interior designer at Kohler’s design center.
I have no objections to aesthetic improvements or better packaging—steel-tubing grab bars and diaper-y diapers are ugly. Why not make them more customer-friendly? And there’s no reason the elderly should resign themselves to putting on cardigans and brogues and sitting on the porch for the last twenty years of their lives. Healthy people who want to stay active should stay active.
What’s chortle-worthy is the way Boomers love to imagine themselves as sassy, bold, in-your-face truth-tellers…but can’t handle even the slightest allusion to incontinence in an ad for adult diapers:
“Past generations were more accepting that they had a condition, and this was the product that they have to wear,” says Mark Cammarota, Depend’s brand director. “The boomers don’t have that attitude. They demand and expect more.”
In an effort to modernize its designs, Depend has introduced gender-specific versions and briefs with fashionable prints that imitate regular underwear. Some Depend packaging is labeled “underwear” and disguised to look like packs of cloth underwear, including transparent windows that show Depend undergarments folded just like regular briefs. The smaller packs hang on hooks instead of stacked on shelves like diapers.
When casting for recent Depend ads, the brand looked for actors who appeared to be in their early 50s, a far cry from the brand’s former white-haired spokeswoman, June Allyson, who sometimes portrayed a grandmother.
The new ads—which launched last month—feature a fit and flirtatious man in a coffee shop and a fashionable woman strutting down a sidewalk while tossing her hair, not a gray strand in sight.
“We’re very subtle in that we don’t have to explain the problem and solution in the ads,” says Mr. Cammarota. “Boomers like seeing the confidence part of it.”
Get back into life!
Of course, Depend wouldn’t be able to get away with this if it couldn’t depend on viewers to know what product its brand name was associated with, and the reason everyone knows is that we all heard June Allyson talking about it, as forthrightly as you could on network TV, a quarter-century ago.
Speaking of annoying delusions, Virginia Postrel posted a few weeks ago about that Kennedy miniseries that was rejected by the History Channel. Despite being a clan of jumped-up, cheap-wenching, prestige-buying, graceless, Pharisaical jerks, whose only major social contribution to date has been helping to keep the thirsty supplied with whiskey during Prohibition, the Kennedys are constantly foisted on us as some sort of American Ideal. Barf. My idea of a Kennedy docudrama would be called Sloshed: Smuggling the Hard Stuff and Swimming to Safety with Joe, Sr., and His Merry Brood, but in order to make it, I’d have to spend a lot of time thinking about the Kennedys, which I’d rather not do. Virginia links to an entertaining account of how the miniseries got scuttled. You’ll be shocked to hear that there was pressure from the Kennedys involved (particularly from Caroline, who is, you will doubtless be double-shocked to hear, a Baby Boomer).
Virginia’s topic is glamour, and she focuses mostly on how depictions of the Kennedys (including the possible release of recordings of Jacqueline’s voice) affect their brand:
The Kennedys’ glamour is an important income-generating asset, so I, too, doubt we’ll be hearing anything revealing. But we will hear something, which in itself is unusual.
One of the world’s most photographed women, Jackie mostly let her carefully crafted image speak for her. (Here’s a rare photo of Jackie smoking.) Only a few public traces of her voice remain, most of them from the 1960 campaign or White House years. And unlike the graceful photos, they seem dated, calculated, and a little strange.
Virginia links to YouTube videos of a few interviews with Mrs. Kennedy. What’s amazing is how much her self-presentation (from the shoulders up, anyway, though horsewoman Jackie obviously doesn’t walk with Marilyn’s hip-swivel) is like that of Marilyn Monroe—whispery, head-bobbing, fussy, deferential—even though they were polar opposites as icons of celebrity womanhood of the time. Now they’re both images to be maintained, and I think Virginia’s right: The feminist narrative about Marilyn Monroe is that she was a talented actress and comedienne beset by predatory men and forced into playing up the feminine vulnerability. It’s okay for her to sound a little ditzy, even if we know it’s something of a put-on, because it fits the narrative and we’re used to it. But to our ears, Jackie’s voice sounds jarring given her woman-of-arts-and-letters image, and a lot of effort is likely to go into keeping that image from being compromised.
Title line from, of course, one of the first media products to usher in talk about the Baby Boomers’ reaching middle age. (The Big Chill and thirtysomething and stuff had done a lot of fretting over unrealized ideals and grown-up responsibilities, but it wasn’t yet time for the OMG-we’re-almost-40! routine.) My mother played this album to death when I was a senior in high school: