Recently I was on a conference call at work, the subject of which was marketing to seniors; we were referred to an outline of a book by Dan Kennedy entitled, No BS Guide to Marketing to Lending Edge Boomers & Seniors: The Ultimate No Holds Barred Take No Prisoners Roadmap to the Money.  Quite a long title and I was to later learn that the only thing worth remembering is the ‘BS’.  As a senior (I’m not sure if I’m a ‘Leading Edge’ senior, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what works in marketing to me and my peers), so I listened and read the outline with particular interest.

There is a section in the book that talks about our heroes and that people selling to us should be aware of who our heroes are and talk them up when possible or at least don’t degrade them during your communication with seniors.  I couldn’t wait to see the list.  When I saw the list, I was waiting for the punch line, this couldn’t be real!  Who was on the list of heroes you ask? John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Oprah and Meryl Streep.  These are people that we supposedly ‘identify’ with.  Really?!!!  Five very polarizing people – 2 very conservative male actors and 3 very liberal female entertainers.  I thought this list was totally contrived.  I identify with none of these people and they are certainly not on my list of heroes.    So I wondered whether I was out of step with my generation or the author was, so I did a little research on the author, Dan Kennedy.

I quickly learned that he felt very highly of himself as being a ‘leading edge’ Boomer.  In his book introduction he states, “I have, and in random rotation drive, three classic automobiles including a Rolls-Royce convertible previously owned by Dean Martin.  I also have a stable full of Standardbred race horses and two homes, blah, blah, blah”.  He goes on to liken himself to Paul Newman, who used to race automobiles as a hobby, while Dan harness races for fun.  He then says, “I am the gold standard for seniors, if you can figure out how to successfully sell to me and satisfy me as a customer, you can open the vault to all boomer and senior gold . . .”

I guess I should have been impressed, but I’m typically more impressed with people who don’t have to tell me how wonderful they are, but still I wondered where he got his list of heroes and was he out of step or was I?  So I sent an email blast to about 25 of my peers asking them who their heroes were and to send me at least one male and one female ‘hero’.  I said nothing else, I didn’t give them the list of five that Kennedy put forward, no coaching, no prodding, just give me your heroes.  The results are in and my initial reaction to Kennedy’s list was justified and my faith in our generation renewed.  Four key findings from my survey:

  • The most popular response was a parent or parents or grandparents
  • Many cited heroes that were just people they knew, ordinary people who did extraordinary things to make this world a better place in which to live.
  • Five world leaders were named: Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, George H W Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill
  • Not a single actor, actress or entertainer was named!

Other ‘heroes’ named included: Jesus Christ, Condoleezza Rice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Pat Tillman, Carly Fiorina, Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Sally Ride. 

Hero groups: Navy Seals, Mercury 7 astronauts, anyone in the armed forces

Thank you to those who participated in the survey!

I realize that my sampling was very small, but I’d bet Mr. Kennedy’s Rolls-Royce (then maybe I’d be a Leading Edge Senior) that if he actually did the survey, instead of providing his own BS that he wouldn’t find many entertainers as heroes for our generation.

Care to chime in?  We’d love to hear who your heroes are.

Pomp & Circumcise

by Bob Sparrow

     This week’s road trip is a virtual one to college campuses – much like how my college professors described my experience on college campuses – virtual. The ‘old’ definition of virtual according to my iPhone is ‘slightly short of or not quite accomplished’.  Yep, that sounds like something my professors might have said.  But I digress.

     This year will see 1,781,000 bachelor degreed students (That’s right, over a million and a half more people out there looking for jobs that aren’t there) sitting through their ‘last college assignment’- their commencement exercise.  Few of them will actually be paying attention to what is being said by their commencement speaker.  Pre cell phone, students who were mostly hung over, stared blankly into space as the speakers droned on.  Today, they’re tweeting, texting, taking pictures of that girl from Psych class who said she wasn’t going to wear anything under her gown, or they’re staring blankly into space.  It turns out students are well-justified in not paying much attention; most commencement speeches are either too pedantic or the start of some comedians summer concert tour.  This year students get the added advantage of having Obama and Romney preach to them about their responsibility to vote . . . for them.

     Advice has come from a wide variety of sources from Winston Churchill to Kermit the Frog.  Guess which one said, “Don’t be content to be a tadpole, work your tail off, get out of the swamp.”  Then there’s the famous ‘sunscreen’ speech.  It was supposedly given by Kurt Vonnegut in a commencement speech at MIT, but was actually written by newspaper columnist, Mary Schmich, as a commencement speech she would have given had someone asked her.  No one did.  In it she extols the virtues of flossing, singing, stretching, but most of all using sunscreen.  Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell and Stephen Colbert have given some truly humorous commencement speeches.  Pulitzer Prize winning humorist, Russell Baker’s comments to Connecticut College in 1995 still hits home today: “The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it.  I have been out there.  It is a mess.

      One that truly inspires, not only for what it says, but for who said it, is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, which included the following:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

     He finished his speech with, “Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”

     If you guessed Winston Churchill on the question above, you got it wrong, but he is known for giving the shortest commencement speech on record.  He gave it to his old preparatory school, Harrow School, in 1941 – he was a bit preoccupied at the time.                                                                                                                                                           “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”.

That’s it.  It strode off stage, lit a cigar and got back to the war.

     And finally, Matthew Gilbert, columnist for the Boston Glove gave the speech that no graduate wanted to hear:

     Unfortunately, after a final night of Dionysian revelry, you will awaken to a strange, frightening, and unfriendly world. A world in which you must sacrifice all you hold dear for a paycheck, a world that strips you of your youthful vigor, a world in which a truck driver is paid more than a teacher, a world in which the glass is always half-empty.  In short, you will become that which you had hoped never to be: your parents!”

Congratulations grads and welcome to the mess – you’ll get used to it.