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Boomers as boob-tubers

LINDA KAPLAN THALER is chief executive of a New York-based advertising agency.

WE HAVE SEEN the magazine covers and the newspaper headlines, and we even heard it from the president in his State of the Union address: This year (drum roll please!), the first members of the baby boom generation will be turning 60 years old.

Happy boomin’ birthday.

As any card-carrying member of the baby boom generation knows, when boomers do something, we do it with a bang. After all, we are the most important generation, aren’t we? We’re the group that brought you civil rights; women’s liberation; sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; Ben & Jerry’s; “Laverne & Shirley” and the most disposable income in American history.

Further, because of our indisputable, downright boomable uniqueness, we’ve sometimes been dubbed -- albeit by us -- “The Greater Generation.” So, of course, it’s only natural that now that we’ve hit middle age (40 as middle age was so last generation), it’s not a mere demographic footnote in the U.S. census. It’s historic.

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Yet for the first time, all of these boomer birthday wishes have begun to make me wonder: Is our generation really as earth-shatteringly extraordinary as we have become accustomed to declaring? Or is it simply because our timing was good?

Boomers began to arrive on the scene just as the most powerful tool of modern media -- and of our own self-promotion -- came of age: the TV. Television was there for us to amplify our opinions, our tastes and our culture. We had a marketing advantage available to no other generation before us. Whether we were singing the songs of our peers on Ed Sullivan’s stage or reporting about our age group from behind a news desk, the tube allowed us put our stamp on the consumer and entertainment culture, creating the illusion of our indefatigable, generational power.

In other words, the boomers’ cultural hegemony can be traced not necessarily to our brilliant inventiveness but rather to a brilliant invention.

I recently experienced an awkward moment of self-awareness about all this when my colleagues and I were working with Revlon to launch its new cosmetics line, Vital Radiance. Boasting a slightly larger design for less shaky handling (alas, as we femme-boomers age, our lip-liner often winds up looking more like an EKG line), it is being marketed as the first line created specifically for the “50 and better” set.

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As I pored over the data culled from our focus groups, my heart skipped a few arrhythmic beats and I gasped, “I am the focus group!” A humbling moment. Meanwhile, it is no coincidence that the executive who created the cosmetic line is also celebrating her 60th this year. Starting to get the picture? That’s right: It’s all about us.

The more I thought about it, the more apparent it became to me that boomer status has been reflected in the advertising I’ve done throughout my career. In the early 1980s, when boomers were refusing to accept being past 30, I wrote the jingle, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid,” happily assuring our generation that if our kids didn’t have to grow up, we wouldn’t have to either. Then, when we threw in the towel and married, I suddenly found myself writing “Kodak moment” ads featuring precious “boomerettes” taking their first steps, flashing their first smiles.

In the 1990s, when we were moving through our 40s, there I was with my Clairol Nice ‘n’ Easy team, writing spots enthusiastically urging the ladies to wash out that telltale gray.

And now as we are approaching (and some of us, hitting) the big six “uh-oh,” what are advertising agencies doing? Spots for menopause, memory loss and cosmetic products with LARGE-SIZE TYPE.

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We’re not alone, of course, as every other ad on TV caters to an increasingly incontinent, erectile-dysfunctional, sleep-deprived, wrinkled and cranky population. And, by the way, when did we all start having restless leg syndrome? Must have happened from sitting too long watching ourselves age on the tube.

Did boomers really invent protest movements, civil rights or the very notion of challenging authority? Of course not. Americans were subverting norms 200 years before 1946, the year that boomers first touched down on Earth. But through TV, we were the first to have the means to broadcast our ideas in a massive way, creating the image that we are mind-blowingly important.

I truly believe that my client’s cosmetic product will try to give women of my generation an extra glow that reminds us we will keep shining as individuals, even into our 70s and 80s.

But it is that other glow -- the one emanating from the TV screen -- that has truly enabled the boomers to shine as a generation.

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