What "The Vietnam War" Should Mean to Boomers

MediaI've heard a number of reactions from Boomers to the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick film, "The Vietnam War," currently playing on PBS television stations. Some folks are watching it with a sense of deja vu. Others feel uncomfortable investing the time in a documentary that revisits a painful chapter of their lives.

As a piece of film-making, "The Vietnam War" is monumental -- 10 episodes, 18 hours. It took over 10 years to complete. I for one find it quite compelling, less so because of the inevitable violence and gore of war. Some scenes leave me sickened and, I admit, make me hesitant to continue viewing additional episodes. Still, I find the behind-the-scenes story of the war fascinating, as told via previously private presidential tapes, excerpts from hearings, and reporting on the growing war resistance movement. Perhaps most of all, the personal interviews woven throughout the film (including rare commentary from North Vietnamese soldiers), along with the vignettes of those who participated in the war, have a lasting impact. The story of "Mogie" (Denton) Crocker, for example, a young patriot who, despite being underage, joins the Marines and eventually gets killed, dramatizes the very personal and devastating effect of the war on American families.

The Vietnam war was the war of the Boomer generation. It was also the first war that invaded our living rooms on a nightly basis. Whether you were for it or against it, whether you served in the armed forces or were a committed protestor, the war remains inextricably linked to our lives as Boomers. For many of us, the war upended our lives when we were the most vulnerable. For some of us, it ended our lives prematurely.

Yes, "The Vietnam War" is a film that may cause a considerable amount of discomfort as you relive it on television. But it is an important moment in history we cannot and should not forget. It has an eerie relevance to the war in Afghanistan, and also to the lack of faith we continue to have in the leaders of government. When one looks around our world today, there seem to be plenty of Vietnam-like conflicts that remain. As Edmund Burke said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

Hail the Boomer Consumer

MediaDisregard for the Boomer consumer runs rampant in American advertising. There is a good reason for it: Many advertisers and their agencies believe the future is in youth. The rationale is that it pays to invest marketing dollars in reaching younger generations who will hopefully become long-term customers of a brand. In addition, the demographic shift has just put Millennials ahead of Boomers as the largest segment of the population.

Still, studies indicate it is Boomers that have the most collective wealth and the most disposable income in America. That fact is not lost on at least some marketers. In an intriguing commentary for MediaPost directed to marketing professionals, Mark Bradbury writes, "There is a noticeable momentum shift in the marketing of mainstream brands to Boomers." The reason is that brand marketers now see "a significant loss of Boomer consumers that has not been made up for in the acquisition of new Millennial brand users. Having believed that Boomers’ brand loyalty was set in stone, many had hyper-focused on Millennials, only to learn that Boomer customers were more than willing to migrate to competing brands." Bradbury points to research to validate the claim: "Recent trend research from GfK MRI indicates that literally hundreds of CPG brands have lost 20% or more of their Boomer business over just the past five years."

Brands that have been systematically avoiding advertising to Boomers are now paying the price. You would think a demographic segment as large as Boomers (currently over 76 million) would warrant at least some attention. We are not unaware of brands that ignore us, and we are just as capable of switching brand loyalty as a Millennial or younger consumer.

Bradbury cites three examples of brands that not only appeal to Boomers, but also embrace Boomers in their marketing campaigns. Read his article to learn about these brands. We can only hope that they will teach a lesson to a marketing industry that has mistakenly and prematurely tended to cast aside the Boomer. 

How Tech Savvy are Seniors?

MediaThe respected Pew Research Center recently shared in-depth statistics about the use of technology by older adults in the U.S. The data presents a fascinating look at people like you and me who utilize smartphones and the Internet.

To put things into perspective, Pew defines "older adults" as those of us who are 65 years of age and older. That is currently 46 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population. That percentage is projected to grow to 22 percent by 2050. Almost half (42 percent) of these older adults own a smartphone now, a dramatic increase from 18 percent in 2013. Over two-thirds (67 percent) use the Internet, and 51 percent now have broadband connectivity at home. About one-third (32 percent) own tablet computers.

Younger seniors are more tech savvy than older seniors, reports the Pew Research Center:

"Seniors ages 65 to 69 are about twice as likely as those ages 80 and older to say they ever go online (82% vs. 44%) or have broadband at home (66% vs. 28%), and they are roughly four times as likely to say they own smartphones (59% vs. 17%)."

Another aspect of smartphone ownership, Internet usage, and broadband connectivity is not surprising: the more affluent the senior, the higher the usage and availability of technology.

Generally, seniors have a positive impression of technology:

"Fully 58% of adults ages 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society, while roughly three-quarters of internet-using seniors say they go online on a daily basis – and nearly one-in-ten go online almost constantly."

The use of social media is mixed. A majority of seniors do not use social media, with just 34 percent saying they ever use social media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, 45 percent of seniors under the age of 75 say they ever use social media.

One of the more telling barriers to technology adoption is confidence. According to Pew Research Center, "just 26% of internet users ages 65 and over say they feel very confident when using computers, smartphones or other electronic devices to do the things they need to do online. ... Roughly one-third describe themselves as only a little (23%) or not at all (11%) confident in their ability to use electronic devices to do necessary online activities."

For me, the data validates what I generally believe about technology usage. As a blogger and digital marketer who has made use of technology for a long time, I know that my comfort level with smartphones and the Internet is higher than many of my generational peers. However, I definitely relate to the relatively low usage of social media by seniors; while I blog and actively use LinkedIn and Twitter for professional purposes, I am not engaged with Facebook.

 Hopefully the data from the Pew Research Center helps you have a better understanding of tech usage by seniors. How does your use of technology fit with others in your age group?

MacLaine Shines in "The Last Word"

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 3.34.40 PM MediaEvery once in a while, I like to talk about a movie that I think has special relevance to Boomers. "The Last Word" starring Shirley MacLaine is a quirky movie that may have slipped under your radar since it had a limited release and didn't get stellar reviews (which usually means it's worth seeing!). My wife and I are likely to see any movie that features Shirley MacLaine (now a spry 82 years old), and we were not disappointed in this one.

MacLaine plays Harriet Lauler, a retired adwoman who is brash, strong willed and at times irascible. Lauler applies her knack for selling products during her career to an unusual desire: She wants to have her obituary created before she dies. This leads to her enlisting Anne Sherman, a young journalist played by Amanda Seyfried, to write the obituary. It would be accurate to define the movie as a dark comedy.

I'd rather not share more of the plot since it will give away too much. Suffice it to say that MacLaine shines like a very bright light, somehow acting the part with gruffness and warmth at the same time. She turns Lauler into a fascinating character study of a very successful businesswoman who has a giant hole in her personal life. One of the more interesting aspects of the movie is Lauler's mother-like relationship with Sherman and grandmother-like relationship with an adorable waif.

There are many messages in this movie about life, love, relationships, and redemption lost and found. MacLaine's tour de force is reason enough to see it. My wife and I, however, rate movies on the basis of whether or not we have something to talk about when we leave the theater, and "The Last Word" prompted a lively discussion.  

5 Good Retirement Tips for Boomers

MediaA special section on Retirement appeared in the Sunday, March 5 edition of The New York Times. In it were a number of informative articles, including making a retirement plan, when and how to save, reinventing careers and repurposing skills, working past the age of 65, and a perspective on Baby Boomer farmers in Iowa who see the land as their retirement plan.

Also in that section, retirement expert Kerry Hannon shares five good retirement tips to implement if you are in your 60s and beyond. You can read more detail on each of these tips in the article here:

1. Get a grip on your retirement income sources

2. Take control of fixed monthly costs

3. Consider working beyond your official retirement age

4. Shift your investments to a more conservative asset mix

5. Plan your withdrawal rates.


The Thought-Provoking Movie "Denial"

Media Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 2.44.59 PMIf you like movies that address contemporary issues and make you think, put Denial on your must-see list. Based on a true story, Denial is a tale of a libel case fought in a British courtroom where, unlike in the United States, the defendant is essentially guilty until proven innocent. The case has been brought by a Holocaust-denying historian, brilliantly played by Timothy Spall, against another historian, also well acted by Rachel Weisz, whose Jewish heritage contributes to her moral outrage at being sued for defaming a thoroughly despicable person. The most complex and endearing character in the movie, though, might be Weisz's British attorney. Sensitively portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, the attorney stages an unorthodox takedown of the Holocaust denier in a courtroom scene that ranks among the most memorable in film.

There are many messages in this intricate, thought-provoking movie. It ultimately exhibits a kind of good vs. evil that leaves one feeling vindicated but not entirely satisfied with the outcome. For a movie with little "action" in the traditional Hollywood sense, Denial had that rare ability to keep my wife and I entranced through the story and dialogue alone. I highly recommend it. 

Genius: A Thoughtful Movie for Adults

MediaI don't know about you, but my wife and I have become a lot more selective in the movies we watch. We detest violence and cruelty, both of which continue to pre-occupy many movie makers. Instead, we lean towards "message" movies that we perceive will have some lasting value.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 3.05.28 PMGenius is in that category. This movie chronicles the short writing career of Thomas Wolfe, focusing on his relationship with his editor, Max Perkins. Genius is very much a period piece, taking place in the 1920s. It really has the look and feel of an older era in the dress, the lifestyle, the book publishing business, and even in the way it is lit.

Of course, a fine movie is nothing without a story and excellent actors, and Genius has these elements as well. We got real insight into the way Wolfe and Perkins developed a relationship, the psyche of Wolfe, the instability of his wife, and the toll working with Wolfe took on Perkins's personal life. We witnessed tour de force performances from Colin Firth as Perkins and especially Jude Law as Wolfe. Law was as believable a troubled genius as any I've seen on screen. The movie itself was understated, almost to the extent that it felt more like a play than a movie -- but its strength as a dramatic film was impressive. This is a movie for adults.

My wife and I often judge the quality of a movie based on whether we think about it and talk about it well after we finish watching it. For us, Genius was one of those movies.

Lessons to be Learned from "Hello, My Name is Doris"

Media"Hello, My Name is Doris" is one of a growing number of movies targeting Boomers -- and this one should be especially endearing because it stars Sally Field. It is wonderful to see her back on the screen playing Doris Miller, a single spinsterish woman who fantasizes about a romance with a younger man. The plot alone is reason enough to support the film, even though at times it seems Doris is being made fun of instead of having fun.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 2.54.51 PMStill, there are lessons to be learned from this charming, funny, and poignant film. For one thing, Doris is a hoarder, replicating the undesirable behavior of her deceased mother; in fact, she continues to live in her mother's junk-filled home. Let this be a lesson to those who cannot let go of the past. On the positive side, however, her imagined romance breathes new life into Doris in a way that demonstrates embracing new things is possible at any age. When she steps outside her comfort zone and becomes something of a trendy heroine to the younger generation, Doris really is symbolic of the Boomer penchant for reinvention.

Doris' pining for a younger man, while sad in some ways, is a welcome change from the more traditional older man-younger woman scenario that occupies life, literature, and movies. It certainly shows that women are just as capable of lusting after youth. In the end, however, the real lesson of the movie is that after all of her angst, Doris emerges a better, stronger, more together person. And Sally Field plays her to perfection.

Movies for Boomers: "Bridge of Spies" Offers a Jolt of Nostalgia

MediaIt is no accident that Hollywood is producing more movies for Boomers. Our generation has the time and money to go to the movies to be entertained, and Hollywood knows it. Fellow Boomer Steven Spielberg, arguably one of the greatest directors ever, offers a jolt of nostalgia in his latest production, "Bridge of Spies."

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.36.25 AMIf you haven't read the reviews or seen the movie yet, this is a Cold War-era drama, based on a true story, about James Donovan, an American attorney (brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hanks) who defends a Russian spy. It becomes a far more complex tale as the movie unfolds. I want to concentrate, though, on the non-plot elements that will undoubtedly jog Boomers' memories of their childhood.

If you grew up in the 1950s and early 60's, you were sure to be affected one way or the other by the Cold War. The nostalgic aspects of this movie surround you with all sorts of images from that time in our history. I could easily relate to the scenes of school children being so scared of "the bomb" that they would burst out crying. The fabric of the film also reinforces the era. The scenes of family meals, black-and-white TV shows, those infamous TV dinners, the working dad and the stay-at-home mom... all of these resonated with me as a throwback to my childhood. Spielberg did a masterful job with the authenticity of what streets, cars, modes of dress, houses, and apartments looked like. And he really captured the Cold War hysteria we all felt.

So in addition to being a good story and an engaging movie, "Bridge of Spies" is a giant jolt of nostalgia! Go see it.

Is "Grace and Frankie" an Accurate Picture of Growing Older?

Media Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 7.43.02 AMGrace and Frankie, the situation comedy series starring Jane Fonda and Lili Tomlin, has become an online sensation. Airing only on Netflix, the first season was such a hit that the series has been renewed for another season. The premise is somewhat unusual: two long-married mature women learn that their husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston), who work together in a law firm, are more (much more) than business partners.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling concerning gay marriage, the show will likely take on even more meaning in Season Two. But Season One has already served up aspects of senior life that will surely resonate with boomers. Derek Dunham, writing for MediaPost, points out to marketers that Grace and Frankie accurately reflects on boomers' contemporary attitudes and lifestyles. These "older" characters are shown going online, getting divorced, coming out, falling in love, having sex, smoking marijuana, and continuing to work. Frankie's family is also a multi-racial blend of adopted kids. Even age discrimination is on full display in an episode in which Grace and Frankie are ignored by a store clerk who focuses his attention on a younger customer.

Grace and Frankie turns out to be a pretty interesting mirror for all of us.