Grandma’s Got Soul (Kia Soul)

August 20, 2013
kia soul

Some 25 years ago, Oldsmobile sought to shed its dowdy image with an ad campaign titled “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”

TV spots featured the offspring of celebs like William Shatner, Harry Belafonte and Ringo Starr — along with their fathers, of course. Alas, the campaign couldn’t save Oldsmobile from the axe as General Motors pared down its brand offerings after the turn of the century.

Some of today’s automakers are having similar issues. Hoping to appeal to a younger demographic, they rolled out a range of hipster designs like the Kia Soul (above), Honda Element and Scion xB — only to find that their best customers are in the Werther’s generation. About 42 percent of the buyers of these soulful subcompacts are Baby Boomers, the Wall Street Journal reported, vs. only 12 percent in the 18-to-34 age group that marketers are aiming at.

Older buyers say they find the vehicles practical, comfortable and fun. Younger consumers, meanwhile, are struggling with student debt and stagnant wages; they also are more likely to forgo a car altogether than previous generations of Americans, who viewed getting a driver’s license as a sacred ritual.

I’ve long held the view that marketers shouldn’t write off the boomers just on the basis of age. This is a generation that has been swept along on a tide of massive change during its lifetime: From the birth of TV to the Vietnam War to the computer age, boomers have had to be flexible and willing to adapt. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re confounding the expectations of marketers.