“…marketing executives are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.” – David Ogilvy
Here’s a question you’ll never hear asked on Jeopardy: “What do the TV series Law & Order and Crest Toothpaste have in common?” Business School professors can no doubt come up with a wide variety of answers, most of which will be correct in their own way. But the quick, and probably the best, answer to the question can be expressed in two words: “Dick Wolf.”
Dick Wolf is the producer of Law & Order, the longest running crime drama in the history of prime time television. Taken together, Law & Order, and two of its many spinoffs, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, amount to a billion dollar franchise. When asked during a CNBC interview what his secret was for this overwhelmingly successful brand, he answered without a blink: “an endlessly repeatable formula.”
Dick Wolf knows a lot about endlessly repeatable formulas. Long before the original Law & Order series aired in 1990, he was the lead copywriter at Benton & Bowles, the ad agency responsible for developing the Crest Toothpaste brand for Procter & Gamble. You'd have to have been hiding in a cave not to have encountered elaborate drug store displays for Crest Pro Health, Crest 3D White, Crest Tartar Protection, Crest Whitening, and Scope-flavored toothpaste, not to mention Crest White Strips and any number of Crest’s dental hygiene products. Once the Crest brand got rolling, there seemed no end in sight.
Maybe Procter & Gamble ought to seek out Wolf once more — this time, to help develop brands for Baby Boomers. The company seems to be having difficulty doing so. (Incidentally, born in 1946, Wolf himself is one of the first Baby Boomers.) Back in 2007, the company teamed up with nearby University of Cincinnati students and faculty, and other corporations, to try and develop new product ideas for consumers age 50 and above.
The group concluded that, with $3 trillion to spend just in the US, this demographic hasn't begun to be tapped. According to Procter & Gamble executive Matthew Doyle, “This consumer segment is one of the more difficult ones to open up in terms of needs and wants… No one was designing products just for them.”
Sure, there are ads for Depend undergarments, and other products for an aging population. But analysts feel that companies are not successfully making “lasting connections” with Boomers. This is not a cheap age group. Even when it is living on the edge with insufficient retirement income, Baby Boomers will spring for the things they truly want. But companies had better get on the stick: a Nielsen report shows that half of the US population will be 50 and older in 2017, and will control 70% of disposable income.
The problem is that Baby Boomers keep reinventing themselves as they age; in doing so, they defy definition. Gerontologist Ken Dychtwald observes that the minds of company executives fly to the obvious when trying to zero in on the needs of Baby Boomers. "They can only come up with products like 'assisted-living' devices for dementia or grab bars for showers… They don’t think of Lexus convertibles. They don’t think of Amazon. They should.”
Procter & Gamble, check your Rolodex files! Dick Wolf’s phone number is still there.