Vivian Boyko adjusts her ring light, freshens up her lipstick and tucks a loose strand of hair into her I Love Lucy red wig.
3-2-1 — record.
At 69, Boyko is taking TikTok by storm, one follower at a time.
The Saskatoon grandmother joined the social media platform to promote her book about a time-travelling granny. Six weeks after posting her first video, it became much more.
“There were a million views and all of a sudden there were thousands and thousands of followers and comments and messages that I couldn’t keep up with. And from there, it lit the fire,” she says.
Boyko is considered an “Oldfluencer.” One of a growing number of people over 58 who is putting a new spin on what it means to age. She’s part of the baby boom generation, born between 1946-1964, that is healthier, wealthier and more influential than any age group that came before them.
Boyko’s three sons thought their mother’s new passion would fizzle out once she realized how hard it was to attract TikTok followers. Two years later, she has millions of views and 378,000 followers from all over the world.
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“I think our age faces a stereotype that we’re done, that we’ve raised our families (and) now we’re just going to sit in a chair — that’s not the way it is,” Boyko tells Global News’ The New Reality.
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Instead, like Boyko, baby boomers are living out their bucket lists, tackling new challenges while shredding those stereotypes along the way.
And because of the sheer size of their demographic, they pack an economic punch.
“Hands down, they’re the largest economic driver in Canadian and U.S. culture,” says Sabaa Quao, chief creative officer for Cossette, one of the largest communications and marketing companies in Canada. “More than millennials, (generation) X and Z combined.”
Big boomer business
It’s estimated that Canadians over age 55 control 60 per cent of total consumer spending. Compared to other age groups, they buy more cars, fashion and just about everything.
Yet only one-10th of marketing dollars is spent on this demographic.
Quao admits older generations are at times looked at as an afterthought.
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“When I started, I was 26 and there was an obsession with marketing to generation X and ‘how do we connect to them?’ A decade later, the obsession was millennials, now it’s generation Z. And so this focus on the youth market never really goes away.”
He says smart brands understand they need to appeal to more than one audience.
“You just can’t assume that you can use one generic way of speaking to everyone anymore,” Quao adds.
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During the pandemic, the Quebec government had a problem. Young people were tuning out of COVID-19 awareness campaigns. So Cossette’s creative team found a secret weapon. They used Oldfluencers to deliver the message on social media to connect with young people.
“It stood out because you saw older people doing things that you would see from younger influencers on TikTok,” Quao says.
The campaign went viral with 35 million views from all over the world.
Another reason it worked, Quao believes, is because it connected young people to their grandparents’ generation.
“I think of my kids and my parents and their relationship, and they will listen to things from my mum or my dad more than they might listen to me,” he says.
Own your age
Caddis Eyewear took its strategy one step further. Its campaigns are designed for those over 40 because they are the ones who need glasses.
CEO Tim Parr knew he had more than a concept when a venture capitalist told him it would never work because everyone wants to look 15 years younger.
“I don’t believe in A-HA moments, but it was the biggest A-HA moment that I’ve ever had,” Parr says. He now had a mission.
Only real people in their 40s, 50s and 60s are featured in Caddis ads, along with their stories and their feelings about aging.
“We’re in the age movement,” he told his co-founders. “We’re going to redefine what it means to age in modern and contemporary culture.”
“Our mission is to get this message out and create a platform for people to have this discussion about age,” he said.
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Parr got some unexpected advocates when broadcaster and author Katie Couric discovered his eyewear and called him out of the blue.
That led to other celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Matthew McConaughey and Jimmy Kimmel jumping on board and joining the conversation.
“We are introducing a new concept that says that it’s good to be where you’re at in age,” Parr says. “The thing that is most attractive is that when someone feels really comfortable, when they’re 60, 70, 50, 40, it doesn’t really matter. There’s just an authenticity about them.”
Dollars and sense
While age might not matter to boomers, it should matter to companies.
David Soberman teaches strategic marketing at Rotman School of Management. He calls healthy active baby boomers a marketer’s paradise.
“You have boomers who actually have a lot of money, a lot of leisure, and also with the increase in life expectancy. I mean, if you’ve got a boomer on your side as a good customer, when they turn 60, there’s a good chance they’ll still be your customer and most of them will live till they’re 80.”
And like Quao, Soberman says it pays off. “Companies that happen to be focused on categories that have an older demographic seem to have done better recently.”
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Jeff Weiss is the CEO of Age of Majority, a research firm that helps companies market to active agers. He splits his time between Toronto and Boston and doesn’t understand why more companies don’t get the message.
“Who’s more likely to spend $250 on a pair of running shoes?” he says.
Be true to yourself
Award-winning jazz singer Molly Johnson doesn’t just accept her age, she owns it. At 63, she’s been part of the Canadian music scene for decades.
“I decided to stop colouring my hair when I looked at the kinds of music I was writing. Very authentic. I wanted myself visually to reflect the authenticity of the music,” Johnson tells The New Reality.
How did her music label react to her decision?
“Fantastic.” She tells how the CEO of Universal Music Canada, Jeffrey Remedios, called her a legacy artist.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, what does that mean?’ He said, ‘I think it’s because you’ve outlived all the a–holes.’ And I went, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I have,’” she says.
But Johnson admits it wasn’t always easy.
“When you hit 50, you’ve built a career. You’ve raised your kids. You’ve wiped down the kitchen counter, I don’t know how many millions of times You’ve been so focused on others. It’s a difficult turning point.”
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Today Johnson is preparing for a spring tour in France. She says she’s always surprised at the teenagers who show up. And she hopes being true to herself sends a message to others.
“Young girls see me with this platinum white hair and (being) sparkly and giggly and ready to rock. And I hope that I inspire (them), that they look forward to life as it unfolds for them.”
Never too late
Life unfolded unexpectedly for Melissa Davey. At 65, she had spent most of her career working in the corporate world. Then the film buff won a day on set with film director M. Night Shyamalan in a silent auction. Over lunch, he asked her what she really wanted to do.
“Oh, I want your job,” she told him. “And he said, ‘Well, you better hurry up.’”
For her first project, Davey tackled a topic she felt passionate about. “Women are marginalized and become invisible at a certain age,” she explained. “A woman’s age is not her story.”
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Her current project Climbing into Life is about Dierdre Wolownick, who at 66 became the oldest woman to climb the notorious El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. She had only started climbing at 60.
Four years later, Wolownick did it again to celebrate her 70th birthday.
Wolownick is the mother of Alex Honnold, whose own climb without safety gear was captured in the Academy-Award-winning documentary Free Solo.
“What I learned from her is it’s never too late to entertain the thought that you might be able to do something that you were pretty sure you couldn’t do,” Davey says.
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Today at 72, as she is currently editing Climbing into Life, she has one message she wants people to take away from the film.
“I just want people to think about all the dreams they’ve had and just pick one that seems simple and go do it because you can. And you can actually almost do anything you want as long as you’re physically capable. It’s possible.”