Most of us consider ourselves lucky if we find a single mentor early in life — someone who has the wisdom and compassion to lead us closer to our dreams, talents and values. It is even rarer to discover a mentor later in life who nudges us to reconsider where we’ve come from and where we’re heading next.
One man I first met just eight years ago had an influence on me that changed the way I pursued a marketing career fettered by twentieth-century baggage. His name is David B. Wolfe, and he finished his work and gave us his final gifts during this lifetime on Saturday, December 3, 2011.
As a young advertising executive I had three demographic priorities as I planned campaigns and made media buys: adults 18 to 34, adults 18 to 49, and adults 25 to 54.
These arbitrary, age-based segmentations meant more investments in younger markets because most believed that the value of older consumers falls with rising age. Traditionally, post-50 consumers faded from marketers’ radar screens altogether, except of course for age-specific products addressing health deficiencies due to aging such as Geritol and Depends.
Today, youth-dominated marketing has become increasingly counterproductive. The 25-to-44-age cohort, which spends most per capita on automobiles, housing and housing related products, shrank by 4.3 million people in the first decade of the new century. People 40 and older now outnumber 18-to-39-year olds by 138 million to 87 million.
Then along came David.
For over 25 years, he has been an articulate and respected author and spokesman for Ageless Marketing and a paradigm shift toward understanding changing consumer needs as we age. David stood among a handful of thought leaders who recognized the idiosyncrasies of customer behavior in middle-age and beyond — those who understood the economic potential of older consumer segments. He then provoked innovative thinking about marketing to older adults through two seminal books: Serving the Ageless Market and Ageless Marketing.
David was also a visionary in identifying shifting business values paralleling population aging, a maturing, if you will, of the value that companies and their products bring to our lives. He brilliantly expressed these insights as coauthor of the influential business book, Firms of Endearment.
His most recent book, Brave New Worldview, investigates how society’s values are dramatically changing as a result of underlying trends of aging demographics and psychosocial maturation of the human species. For one, we’re finally learning to think with both hemispheres of our brains, an evolutionary change that may be fundamental to survival of humankind.
Because of loving assistance from friends and colleagues in The Society, a mature marketing think group David cofounded with Dick Ambrosius in 1993, this book will be published soon. It is noteworthy and characteristic that David devoted all his diminishing energy to finishing this book, editing and polishing up to and including the final day of his life.
David will be missed by many colleagues and friends worldwide. Yet his legacy will live on for generations. And every person reading this homage can pay tribute to the memory of a cheerful and thoughtful man by recognizing and elevating the economic and societal importance of aging consumer markets.
Among all the accomplishments of his lifetime, David will be remembered as an articulate and forceful friend for the ages.
Note: It was my privilege to interview David earlier this year for my radio program, Generation Reinvention. You can listen to David’s final reflections about his work, his books and his values by visiting the WGRN network show page.