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12 December 2018

Will Your Parents Save The World?

Written by: Andrew Wilson, Executive Director at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, News, Purpose

Baby boomers – they have a lot to answer for. These are the people, born in the 50’s and 60’s, who seem to have messed things up for all of us.

They inherited an economy that was booming, having left post-War austerity far behind. They saw unprecedented progress in all the indicators of well-being: enjoying longer life expectancy, reduced working hours, free education and (in the UK at least) state-funded healthcare.

However, while they were enjoying all these benefits, they were slow to respond to the early signals of global warming and climate change. A similar argument was made by Bruce Gibney in his book, “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America”. He described the actions of baby boomers as “generational plunder”.

However, as one of these much-maligned boomers myself, I was heartened to see that it is us – and not just the millennials – who are going to save the world.

How so you may ask? Well, the latest research from Edelman’s Earned Brand survey has some compelling insights into how consumers are voting with their wallets and having a real impact on what businesses need to do to succeed and thrive.

The full details of the research are available here, but some of the most eye-catching findings are:

  • Almost half respondents (46%) believe that brands have better ideas for solving our country’s problems than government.
  • In addition, over half (53%) think that brands can do more to solve social ills than government.
  • And nearly two in three people (64%) are now belief-driven buyers – defined as people who choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on social or environmental issues.

It is when we dig into the detail of this last finding that it gets interesting. First, the rise of conscientious consumers is a global phenomenon, with growth taking place across consumers in the US, Brazil, Europe, China, India and Japan.

Second, this is no longer linked to income. There are more lower- and middle-income consumers now buying on belief.

And third, most relevant to my argument, we have seen the fastest growth in belief-driven buyers among those in the 55+ years age group. There was an 18-point jump in the proportion of baby boomers picking a brand based on its values and Purpose.

Indeed, it should come a no surprise that this older generation is now willing to embrace the power of conscientious consumerism. Other well-respected studies, such as research from the American Psychological Association, have shown that since the baby boomer generation there has been a significant decline among the young in political participation, concern for others and interest in saving the environment. Other research shows that boomers make more effort to recycle everything they possibly can, compared to millennials.

In short, the message is clear. While baby boomers have a lot to answer for – and maybe didn’t live up to the idealism they espoused in the late 1960’s – they are making up for lost ground.

Businesses that want to attract the ‘grey pound’ need to be very careful how they position themselves. They are dealing with a politically active, socially aware and environmentally astute group of consumers. Unless they can be sure that businesses and brands are genuinely engaged in the issues that matter to them, then baby boomers are going to be shopping elsewhere.

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