May 13, 2007
Valuing 50+ Audiences: The Myths of Advertising

"If you grab them young, you get their business for life." This is the truism of the ad agency that was recently cited in Lorne Manly's review of the current plight of TV Land. In the process he brings up an issue that I am facing on a regular basis as I research soaps.

I have written many times about how the power of soap operas lie in their transgenerational attraction, yet these shows have become undervalued and, what's worse, mismanaged because of an industry insistence on focusing only on 18-49 females. I've written before about how a cross-generational appeal could revitalize soaps (look here and here), and this is a foundation of the Master's thesis research I've done at MIT over the past two years. By the way, that thesis is now finished, and I am interested in distributing it throughout the fan community. If anyone is interested in a copy, please e-mail me at

The issue TV Land faces is that it draws more people than its fellow MTVN network MTV at night, yet its average viewer is over the age of 50, and the network is purposefully targeting the baby boomers who are now outside the 18-49 bracket that TV focuses on. The network is hoping to turn the industry on its ear because, as a more-than-10-year veteran of cable by now, it is going to focus on selling a demographic that television currently does not cater toward.

This is reminiscent of the problems recently faced at SOAPnet, where its early fans worked to get the network clearance based on airing "today's soap operas tonight" but also a variety of soaps from years past. As the network got wider distribution, however, they became interested in competing with Lifetime, among other things, and the Another Worlds started being replaced by 90210, The O.C., One Tree Hill, and a variety of other primetime soaps. When I wrote about this shift last month, I told reader Mike that, while I sympathize with the fans, there are also industry realities much bigger than SOAPnet that is causing this shift.

Part of the problem is outlined both by comments from Manly's article on TV Land and another piece I wrote about SOAPnet back in March. Deborah Blackwell, the GM of SOAPnet, was paraphrased as saying that the new primetime series General Hospital: Night Shift "would be hipper than most daytime soaps," due in part because the audience would skew younger, I believe. Manly's article begins with Bill Clinton's address to ad folks, acknowledging the fact that the youth-driven advertising market seems to believe that baby boomer viewers are somehow not attractive.

Manly provides both the historical context behind this youth-driven focus and also some facts that helps dispel the facts that younger is better. In short, decades ago ABC was at the bottom of the pack in Nielsen ratings but started bragging about how they were drawing in the then-young baby boomer generation. Soon, even though their numbers were lower, their network was selling advertising at a higher rate than anyone else. Now, even though that "boomer" population is over the age of 50, the rhetoric of selling youth has stuck.

CBS' David Poltrack was quoted as saying, "When you see that kind of pricing, you see the kind of bias that's in the marketplace." A variety of voices in the article challenge the idea that this population is less attractive by pointing out that they have much more disposable income and spend much more money consuming goods and entertainment than most people in the target demographic. Manly writes, "Numerous research studies in recent years have suggested that boomers exhibit no more loyalty to brands than those impressionable young adults do."

The profile of TV Land is well worth reading for many reasons, but I keep returning to this quote of, "If you grab them young, you get their business for life." Because I have been thinking so much about soaps and transgenerational programming that goes against the niche marketing most programming is currently built on, I keep thinking of how the logic breaks down. I understand why you would want to "get them young," as far as pulling them into one's brand. But if you actively abandon them when they get old, that seems to drop all the logic. When you are talking about household goods, where lifelong loyalty is what you are striving for, it seems that a transgenerational approach is precisely what makes sense.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for pointing me in this direction.



Just thought I would let you know about a new website dedicated to baby boomers called that your readers may be interested in. There are many nice sections (health, movies, finance, travel etc.) where you can meet new people as well as keep up on all the latest news, tips and goings on in the world. You guys should check it out if you feel so inclined. See ya.