YAH, Baby!

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2007

To the researchers at Clarke Advertising and Public Relations, Sarasota is more than just a beautiful resort community. It is akin to a great preserve where Clarke associates can study the unique habits and behaviors of the nation’s aging population.

And lest one thinks we’re talking about the shuffleboard-playing, early-bird special-eating, 8 p.m.-to-bed retirees of days gone by, Clarke’s research director Stephanie Kempton quickly points out that Sarasota is full of “unretirees” who are steadfastly heeding Dylan Thomas’ call to “not go gentle into that good night.”   

Much in the way Jane Goodall studies chimpanzees in their natural habitat, Clarke’s research team finds itself stationed in the perfect place to observe the idiosyncrasies and propensities of what the ad agency has termed the “Young At Heart,” or YAH.

According to Kempton, a research fanatic who holds an MBA from the University of Florida and a professional researcher certification from the Marketing Research Association, YAHs view themselves as 10 to 20 years younger than their actual ages. To them, 50 really is the new 30. They are switching careers, starting their own businesses and fending off the ravages of age with a vengeance. They are continuing to work into their 60s and 70s, and in their spare time seek out adventurous travel experiences, such as off-roading in Ethiopia and hiking in Patagonia. They are reinvented fitness enthusiasts who run marathons and monopolize the treadmills at the YMCA. You see them rollerblading along the bayfront, taking continuing education classes, volunteering with the area’s many philanthropic organizations, getting involved in local politics and generally living life to the fullest. They are seeking love through Internet dating sites and are reaching out to like-minded people by creating Web pages on

Of course, of great interest to the agency’s clients—the Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Suncoast Communities Bloodbank, Pineapple Square, Kanaya and Florida West Coast Symphony among them—is the fact that YAHs have the means to plunk down loads of cash for their services and products. Boomers in general, says Kempton, outspend other generations by about two-to-one across all product categories. YAHs are on the affluent side of this group, spending even more than the typical spend-a-holic boomer. The trick, Clarke COO Patricia Courtois explains, is to figure out what makes YAHs tick—to forge an emotional connection between a particular product and the targeted demographic.

Clarke is approaching baby boomers psychographically rather than demographically. “To emotionally connect with them, you can’t just look at their household income or other demographic statistics,” Kempton says. “Rather, you have to address the motivations and lifestyles that drive their purchase behavior.”

In furtherance of this quest to pinpoint the unique psychographic characteristics of the YAH, Clarke’s entire 25-member staff has become ethnographers: self-styled anthropologists on a quest to understand the unique habits of these aging boomers. Armed with journals and standing orders to hone their powers of observation, Clarke associates might be found eavesdropping on a conversation at Starbucks or staring intently at a fellow driver at a traffic light, all the while scribbling frantically in their notepads so they can share key insights at the next staff meeting.

Along with these ethnographic studies and performing man-on-the-street qualitative research, Clarke will begin collecting data from focus groups this summer. Participants will be provided by psychographic screeners as well as drawn from the local community.

The focus on the Young at Heart is a natural continuation of Clarke’s research-driven approach to client service. Courtois joined Clarke in 1999 to run its public relations division and head up overall operations. Denver-based Bill Pierson came on board in 2001 with an eye toward taking over the firm from its founder, Tim Clarke. In 2005, Courtois and Pierson combined forces to purchase the agency, which reports annual capitalized billings in the $18 million range. Clarke is now one of the largest marketing agencies in the Tampa Bay area.

Research has become the cornerstone of their approach. Without it, CEO Pierson says, clients are just throwing their money away. “We ask them if they would rather put their money in a research budget or a guessing budget, because without the right research, you are only guessing,” he explains.

While the quirky video bios on the firm’s Web site reveal the lighter side of the advertising biz (Pierson challenges observers to spell Evian backwards and Courtois bemoans the trials and tribulations of trying to cook a family meal without burning the house down), Clarke is a firm for serious companies willing to throw down serious dollars for research that drives campaigns that produce measurable results. Businesses merely looking for a pretty print ad or TV spot need not apply.  

While the agency has the in-house talent to fulfill pretty much any advertising or PR need, Pierson says they cater to local, regional and national clients who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and become fully engaged in what can be a long and expensive process. The research diagnostics alone to get an account moving hovers around $25,000, and the resulting creative insights and implementation of a tight and targeted campaign can demand a budget of $500,000 to more than $1 million over several years.   

Why so much for the research component? Pierson says he prefers to work with companies that have some “skin in the game.” By that he means that he expects Clarke clients to participate in the process and see it through.

Take the mountain bicycle brake manufacturer Avid, now a division of the Chicago-based SRAM Corporation. When the company approached Clarke, its principals were gung-ho to promote their brakes as providing the epitome of stopping power. After all, that’s what brakes do, right? After extensive meetings with company decision-makers and after conducting their own field investigation (yes, Clarke associates actually went out and asked cyclists what they want in a brake), the agency’s creative team came up with a new approach. Instead of focusing on stopping, they gleaned from delving into the psychographics—the wants, needs, attitudes and beliefs—of the target market that what these thrill-seeking bikers wanted most was the freedom to go at breakneck speed. The resulting tag line: “Any brake helps you to stop. Great brakes help you to fly.”

Clarke used a similar approach for ClosetMaid, the Ocala-based national manufacturer of closet organizing systems. Courtois explains that research revealed that consumers find it difficult to let go of their possessions, which in many instances represent their emotional baggage. Instead of focusing on ClosetMaid as a product to just organize stuff better, Clarke helped the company undergo a companywide brand evolution that focused on the need to “get your act together.” It made the product more about emotional well being and convinced potential customers that order out of chaos is achievable. The tagline “Together” was created to communicate what it feels like when you know where to find your things. When you have it “together” you waste less time looking for something and spend more time with the people you love doing the things that you love. Among the advertising devices used to convey this point were print ads showing a family playing together. Sales surged as the company shifted its focus to promoting ClosetMaid as the means to achieve an ordered, happy life.      

Clarke pulled out all the stops when it assisted the developers of the ambitious Pineapple Square project in downtown Sarasota. Over the course of two long, hard-fought years, the agency created a multidimensional approach to getting the three-city block retail/residential project through the cumbersome labyrinth that comprises the zoning and real estate development process. Clarke reached out to a slew of community, civic and government organizations, including Save Our Sarasota, the Downtown Partnership, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association.  

Not every group was receptive to Pineapple Square’s message, but by taking a proactive approach and engaging with concerned groups, Clarke helped the developers drive the process instead of being driven by it. This community outreach, combined with a full-court press to reach government and media, and followed up with promotion and advertising, proved fruitful for the client. Pineapple Square received a thumbs-up vote from four out of five city commissioners and, so far, is on track and slated for completion in 2010.

There is a method to Clarke’s madness when it comes to its research-driven paradigm. Hands-on techniques like in-depth interviews, focus groups and case studies mean researchers come to know their target market like the backs of their hands.  

The “a-ha!” moment, or what Pierson calls “getting to the insight,” comes after this thorough research. To proceed any other way, Pierson says, is like letting the tail wag the dog. “Too many agencies come up with the big idea first and then retrofit the strategy afterwards,” he says. “But for us it all fits together; the research drives the insight which drives strategic planning which drives execution. Research provides the matches for starting the fire.”

For example, Clarke was able to help the downtown Sarasota Kanaya Condominium project evolve into a unique offering that would appeal to an affluent, health-conscious boomer population. The developer, Harvey Kaltsas, a local alternative medicine practitioner, wanted to explore a new paradigm for downtown residential real estate development that would incorporate his penchant for healthful living. He approached Clarke at the nascent stages of the project, hoping to find some insight into what would appeal to prospective buyers.

Clarke’s research validated Kaltsas’ perceptions that YAHs would pay a premium to “live well” from a health-based luxury living orientation. This was a deviation from the conventional wisdom that “luxury living” merely meant opulent surroundings and close proximity to downtown’s cultural amenities. Based on Clarke’s research, Kanaya’s “health inspired luxury units,” were designed in keeping with feng shui principles, as well as healthy living amenities such as anti-allergenic air filtration systems and reduced electromagnetic fields in bedroom areas. The project proved appealing to YAHs who have the means to plunk down in upwards of $1 million for a condo that addresses their health concerns and green sensibilities, as well as their desire for comfort and luxury.


SOURCE: MetLife's Mature Market Institute.


Baby boomers, defined as persons born between the years 1946 and 1964, won’t be hitting the shuffleboard court. Here are some characteristics of the Young at Heart:

YAHs in their 50s, 60s and 70s are in much better shape than past generations and view themselves as being 10 to 20 years younger than their chronological age.

They see this phase of life as an opportunity for reinvention. They are switching careers, starting their own businesses or providing services to others.

Third age is no longer a stage between midlife and drastic decline, but is seen as an age of liberation when individuals combine newfound freedoms with prolonged health and the chance to make some of their most important contributions to life.

They don’t see themselves as old people who “think young,” but as young people with gray hair and some wrinkles.

YAHs want to look and feel their best, and this means taking pains to look stylish and youthful.

People in this age group passionately refuse to concede anything to age and have the financial power and desire to intervene in the aging process.

They are pursuing dozens of therapies to ward off the ravages of aging and see medicine/healthcare as a means to achieve endless youth. Retirement is seen as a continuing adventure, not a permanent vacation.

Eighty percent of baby boomers plan to work at least part time in retirement.

Forty-five percent will work into their 70s and 80s.

Grandparents are playing important roles in grandchildren’s lives and often pay for extras like summer camps, family vacations and summer French programs.

Age-denial grandmas and grandpas are bumming around Europe on rail passes, buying Harleys, dating online and going to rock concerts.

Baby boomer women spend more per trip on travel than any other age group. Travel is about adventure, learning and rejuvenation. It is a chance to check inward and take stock of their lives.

Golf camps, skiing getaways and running clubs are becoming more popular, thanks to fitness-minded boomers. More than half the 33 million Americans who go to health clubs are over 40 years old.

Baby boomers, the best-traveled generation, will relocate more than ever.

Florida will see its senior population virtually explode after 2010, due to the retirement of the baby boom generation. By 2025, as many as 22 of the state’s 67 counties are expected to have senior populations larger than 30 percent.

SOURCE: From Wisdom on the Young at Heart, by Clarke Advertising and Public Relations, based on information provided by the American Association of Advertising Agencies. 



Born: 1946-1964

Total number: 76,957,164

26.75 percent of the population

48 percent of all U.S. families

51 percent female

Over 40 million baby boomers are over the age of 50.

Estimated spending power: $2.1 trillion

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