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In the realm of marketing to adults older than 50, vigorous debates arise about how best to construct advertising messages and frame offers in memorable and compelling ways. Pundit opinions fall into three overlapping theoretical camps.

Some are proponents of “Ageless Marketing” as conceived and articulated by my late colleague David Wolfe. Ageless Marketing is “marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.”

Some are impassioned about “Life-Stage Marketing,” which understands the consumer from the life-stage they’re experiencing in the present. So, for example, adults between 50 and 60 today have a lot in common such as children in high school or college, the beginning of caregiving for aging parents, accumulation of significant consumer debt, and so forth. Further, stage of life implies psychological priorities. Thus, some argue that middle-age or the “Fall Stage” includes a reduction of material pursuits in favor of accumulating experiences.

And some are committed to “Generational Marketing,” an approach for which I’m a proponent. As I write in my book, Generation Reinvention:

“… a generation implies membership in a unique group, bound by common history, which eventually develops similar values, a sense of shared history, and collective ways of interpreting experiences as the group progresses through the life course.

“One way to describe this phenomenon of generational identification is the concept of cohort effect, which sociologist Karl Mannheim wrote about as ‘the taste, outlook, and spirit characteristic of a period or generation.’ He also referred to the notion of zeitgeist, the idea that a generation has a collectively shared sense of its formative historical period.

“Marketers tap into the cohort effect when they remind consumers of cherished events and experiences from the past and connect these acquired memories with brand identity.”

Some critics deride Generational Marketing as superficial: feckless attempts to connect nostalgic memories with products. Boomers aren’t invested in their formative years, critics argue, they’re looking ahead. Formative experiences are of little contemporary consequence. What’s done is done.

Aside from my assertion that humans always recall nostalgic moments with enduring and emotionally powerful reflections—and therefore these memories can become potent motivational triggers in contemporary marketing communications—sophisticated new consumer research substantiates the affirming power of nostalgia.

Authors of a multi-continent research study, published by the Association for Psychological Science, determined that feelings of loneliness—emotions such as unhappiness, pessimism, self-blame and depression—reduce perceptions of social support. Loneliness can be alleviated by seeking support from social networks. And here’s the surprising psychological insight: nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, increases perceptions of social support. A sense of social connectedness nourishes the soul. Nostalgia functions similar to optimism in maintaining health. Nostalgia, appropriately harnessed, inspires positive feelings, including positive brand associations and affinity. (APS, Vol. 19, #10)

This does not mean that creating an advertising strategy around shared generational experiences is always on target or well-executed. Creative problems begin when brand associations are hackneyed or arbitrary.

Misjudgments sometimes occur when those outside a generational cohort superficially interpret generational experiences. We’ve seen recent ads targeting Boomers that connect brands with peace symbols, classic rock music, and the rebellious spirit of Boomer youth. Once potentially powerful as a creative approach, connecting brands to the spirit of the sixties has been done.

Other marketers create messages where psychic connection between nostalgic memories and a brand have little in common; that is, brand utilities have nothing to do with the creative message.

St. Joseph Aspirin launched a TV ad featuring Ken Osmond, the actor who played Eddie Haskell, cheeky friend of Beaver Cleaver in the hit 1950s sitcom, Leave It to Beaver. Significantly, this is the first situation comedy ever written from a child’s viewpoint, thus elevating potential for nostalgic resonance with the children of that time: Leading-Edge Boomers.

Although this ad deserves acknowledgement for resurrecting an actor who is part of Boomer nostalgia in a fairly big way, we are left wondering what Eddie Haskell has to do with headache pain relief. (Maybe the product is a palliative for the headaches Eddie often caused Beaver’s parents, June and Ward.) But brand connections between Eddie and an OTC analgesic are vague. Even minor copy changes could have strengthened ties between Eddie, the obnoxious neighborhood headache, and a popular aspirin brand of the same time. To the credit of this advertisement’s creators, contemporary Eddie helps re-position the brand for what Boomers need today: cardiovascular health. (A note of caution: Ad critiques rarely consider sales or measured changes in brand awareness/preference generated by a campaign, and these performance measures are, indeed, the bottom line in judging marketing effectiveness.)

A more recent television advertisement aptly demonstrates nuances that successfully connect a car brand with Boomer nostalgia. 

2015 Subaru Outback: Memory Lane | Stivers Subaru - YouTube

I appreciate this ad because it has several multi-generational, cohort-sensitive qualities, including clever use of nostalgia. This Boomer grandmother teaches her Generation Z grandchild about zip-lining naked in Belize, albeit to the consternation of the child’s Generation X parents, especially her perturbed daughter-in-law. Yet, one instance at a farmer’s market—an insightful moment of awareness by the daughter-in-law as the grandmother acknowledges her ability to talk with cats—conveys the value of generativity: critical teaching and mentoring moments between old and young. After several ironic twists in the ad, careful observers learn that the family had been visiting the area where the 1969 Woodstock Festival took place.

Which generation is this Subaru ad targeting? I suggest two. Boomers have had a longstanding and positive relationship with Subaru, an import that became popular during the oil shortage crises of the 1970s and continues in popularity today as a safe and durable SUV brand. The ad reinforces this relationship by evoking collective nostalgia for magical moments from the Woodstock era, such as meeting a future spouse under a stately tree near the rock music festival. Further, the ad also suggests Subaru’s contemporary relevance and value to members of Generation X as portrayed by the son and daughter-in-law. Themes of vehicle safety and off-road capacity also have been cleverly woven into the ad’s story-line. 

Successful Generational Marketing requires mastery of nuance and meaning. Linkages between a brand and nostalgic meaning must make sense. Further, all formative life experiences of a generation, from early childhood through young adulthood, have potential for development. Boomers possess a rich repertoire of shared experiences beyond those that occurred between 1967 and 1973. Potential nostalgic motivational triggers go way beyond Woodstock.

Based on thirty years of experience marketing to Boomers, I can affirm with my career and portfolio that Generational Marketing succeeds when executed properly. I have created numerous ad campaigns and promotions, dating back to 1981, that performed by generating sales, memberships, donations, inquiries, and leads.

Some argue that Generational Marketing is exclusionary:  marketing messages that appeal to a specific generation exclude members of other generations who might not identify with the message or conclude that the product is not for them.

I say, “Welcome to market segmentation.” Target marketing forces choices about who is most likely to buy a product, their common characteristics, and the most potent ways to evoke an emotional connection, to inspire a brand-consumer relationship. These choices force exclusion. As one of my mentors once instructed, “Brent, always make your easiest sales first.” Some of my successes in advertising and marketing correlate with the degree to which my team was effectively exclusionary.

Further, big brand marketers create and target messages to multiple segments for the same brand. When I handled advertising and sales promotions for McDonald’s in Colorado, we executed campaigns targeting young parents, children, Latinos, African Americans, and older customers. Each of these segmented campaigns involved sophisticated messaging that considered cultural and social nuances of the segment. McDonald’s meant slightly different things to different segments.

As I have written and instructed in my speeches, Boomers, particularly Leading-Edge Boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) have a sturdy sense of generational identification. This is due to two factors.

First, the Leading-Edge grew up during significant cultural and social upheaval. Karl Mannheim and several social science researchers have confirmed that turmoil in youth strengthens generational identification and durability of formative experiences.

Second, Boomers comprise the only generation to have grown up with just three monolithic television networks. No generation older or younger experienced this convergence of technology with youth. Boomers growing up in Alaska and Florida shared many of the same televised moments and thus learned the same cultural and social messages. We watched Eddie Haskell weekly in dominant generational percentages. We either liked or disliked Eddie, but we all recall his shifty character. This isn’t about the past or future; it’s about who we are: the sum-total of our life experiences.

Research conducted by Pew Research Center last year underscores how pervasively Boomers identify with their generational cohort, which also means this generation continues to connect with nostalgic images and metaphors from a tumultuous and transformative youth.

Almost 80 percent of Boomers identify with their generational label (and the experiences and values associated with the label), compared with just 18 percent of the Silent Generation and 40 percent of Millennials. As I've insisted for more than a decade of writing and speaking, Boomers are uniquely bound by their formative years and social history and in greater proportions than any other living generation.

Nevertheless, as a marketer, I’ve always maintained a full toolbox. The three Boomer marketing approaches discussed here can succeed when well executed. All three approaches can fail when creators have inadequate understanding of the market, message, methodology or meaning conveyed through their ads.

Ageless Marketing can inspire advertising messages that appeal across generational divides because of commonly shared values, such as the nearly universal desire for a cleaner environment. Boomers and their Millennial children share passion almost equally for greener living and sustainability.

Life-stage Marketing can offer another path to success for those who connect a product or service with a stage need. Many Boomers today need help in understanding their caregiving challenges and responsibilities. This hallmark of their current life-stage predisposes them to offers of caregiving support and education.

And Generational Marketing can create powerful associations between a brand and a segment’s formative experiences. These nostalgic associations can become instant shorthand for positioning a contemporary brand constrained by cluttered media and product/service parity. Nostalgia is rich with opportunities for deeply personal brand interactions.

Those who insist that Generational Marketing is the least effective way to create advertising targeting Boomers may simply not understand this approach at a level of expertise necessary to be successful.

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In the realm of marketing to adults older than 50, vigorous debates arise about how best to construct advertising messages and frame offers in memorable and compelling ways. Pundit opinions fall into three overlapping theoretical camps.

Some are proponents of “Ageless Marketing” as conceived and articulated by my late colleague David Wolfe. Ageless Marketing is “marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.”

Some are impassioned about “Life-Stage Marketing,” which understands the consumer from the life-stage they’re experiencing in the present. So, for example, adults between 50 and 60 today have a lot in common such as children in high school or college, the beginning of caregiving for aging parents, accumulation of significant consumer debt, and so forth. Further, stage of life implies psychological priorities. Thus, some argue that middle-age or the “Fall Stage” includes a reduction of material pursuits in favor of accumulating experiences.

And some are committed to “Generational Marketing,” an approach for which I’m a proponent. As I write in my book, Generation Reinvention:

“… a generation implies membership in a unique group, bound by common history, which eventually develops similar values, a sense of shared history, and collective ways of interpreting experiences as the group progresses through the life course.

“One way to describe this phenomenon of generational identification is the concept of cohort effect, which sociologist Karl Mannheim wrote about as ‘the taste, outlook, and spirit characteristic of a period or generation.’ He also referred to the notion of zeitgeist, the idea that a generation has a collectively shared sense of its formative historical period.

“Marketers tap into the cohort effect when they remind consumers of cherished events and experiences from the past and connect these acquired memories with brand identity.”

Some critics deride Generational Marketing as superficial: feckless attempts to connect nostalgic memories with products. Boomers aren’t invested in their formative years, critics argue, they’re looking ahead. Formative experiences are of little contemporary consequence. What’s done is done.

Aside from my assertion that humans always recall nostalgic moments with enduring and emotionally powerful reflections—and therefore these memories can become potent motivational triggers in contemporary marketing communications—sophisticated new consumer research substantiates the affirming power of nostalgia.

Authors of a multi-continent research study, published by the Association for Psychological Science, determined that feelings of loneliness—emotions such as unhappiness, pessimism, self-blame and depression—reduce perceptions of social support. Loneliness can be alleviated by seeking support from social networks. And here’s the surprising psychological insight: nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, increases perceptions of social support. A sense of social connectedness nourishes the soul. Nostalgia functions similar to optimism in maintaining health. Nostalgia, appropriately harnessed, inspires positive feelings, including positive brand associations and affinity. (APS, Vol. 19, #10)

This does not mean that creating an advertising strategy around shared generational experiences is always on target or well-executed. Creative problems begin when brand associations are hackneyed or arbitrary.

Misjudgments sometimes occur when those outside a generational cohort superficially interpret generational experiences. We’ve seen recent ads targeting Boomers that connect brands with peace symbols, classic rock music, and the rebellious spirit of Boomer youth. Once potentially powerful as a creative approach, connecting brands to the spirit of the sixties has been done.

Other marketers create messages where psychic connection between nostalgic memories and a brand have little in common; that is, brand utilities have nothing to do with the creative message.

St. Joseph Aspirin launched a TV ad featuring Ken Osmond, the actor who played Eddie Haskell, cheeky friend of Beaver Cleaver in the hit 1950s sitcom, Leave It to Beaver. Significantly, this is the first situation comedy ever written from a child’s viewpoint, thus elevating potential for nostalgic resonance with the children of that time: Leading-Edge Boomers.

Although this ad deserves acknowledgement for resurrecting an actor who is part of Boomer nostalgia in a fairly big way, we are left wondering what Eddie Haskell has to do with headache pain relief. (Maybe the product is a palliative for the headaches Eddie often caused Beaver’s parents, June and Ward.) But brand connections between Eddie and an OTC analgesic are vague. Even minor copy changes could have strengthened ties between Eddie, the obnoxious neighborhood headache, and a popular aspirin brand of the same time. To the credit of this advertisement’s creators, contemporary Eddie helps re-position the brand for what Boomers need today: cardiovascular health. (A note of caution: Ad critiques rarely consider sales or measured changes in brand awareness/preference generated by a campaign, and these performance measures are, indeed, the bottom line in judging marketing effectiveness.)

A more recent television advertisement aptly demonstrates nuances that successfully connect a car brand with Boomer nostalgia. 

2015 Subaru Outback: Memory Lane | Stivers Subaru - YouTube

I appreciate this ad because it has several multi-generational, cohort-sensitive qualities, including clever use of nostalgia. This Boomer grandmother teaches her Generation Z grandchild about zip-lining naked in Belize, albeit to the consternation of the child’s Generation X parents, especially her perturbed daughter-in-law. Yet, one instance at a farmer’s market—an insightful moment of awareness by the daughter-in-law as the grandmother acknowledges her ability to talk with cats—conveys the value of generativity: critical teaching and mentoring moments between old and young. After several ironic twists in the ad, careful observers learn that the family had been visiting the area where the 1969 Woodstock Festival took place.

Which generation is this Subaru ad targeting? I suggest two. Boomers have had a longstanding and positive relationship with Subaru, an import that became popular during the oil shortage crises of the 1970s and continues in popularity today as a safe and durable SUV brand. The ad reinforces this relationship by evoking collective nostalgia for magical moments from the Woodstock era, such as meeting a future spouse under a stately tree near the rock music festival. Further, the ad also suggests Subaru’s contemporary relevance and value to members of Generation X as portrayed by the son and daughter-in-law. Themes of vehicle safety and off-road capacity also have been cleverly woven into the ad’s story-line. 

Successful Generational Marketing requires mastery of nuance and meaning. Linkages between a brand and nostalgic meaning must make sense. Further, all formative life experiences of a generation, from early childhood through young adulthood, have potential for development. Boomers possess a rich repertoire of shared experiences beyond those that occurred between 1967 and 1973. Potential nostalgic motivational triggers go way beyond Woodstock.

Based on thirty years of experience marketing to Boomers, I can affirm with my career and portfolio that Generational Marketing succeeds when executed properly. I have created numerous ad campaigns and promotions, dating back to 1981, that performed by generating sales, memberships, donations, inquiries, and leads.

Some argue that Generational Marketing is exclusionary:  marketing messages that appeal to a specific generation exclude members of other generations who might not identify with the message or conclude that the product is not for them.

I say, “Welcome to market segmentation.” Target marketing forces choices about who is most likely to buy a product, their common characteristics, and the most potent ways to evoke an emotional connection, to inspire a brand-consumer relationship. These choices force exclusion. As one of my mentors once instructed, “Brent, always make your easiest sales first.” Some of my successes in advertising and marketing correlate with the degree to which my team was effectively exclusionary.

Further, big brand marketers create and target messages to multiple segments for the same brand. When I handled advertising and sales promotions for McDonald’s in Colorado, we executed campaigns targeting young parents, children, Latinos, African Americans, and older customers. Each of these segmented campaigns involved sophisticated messaging that considered cultural and social nuances of the segment. McDonald’s meant slightly different things to different segments.

As I have written and instructed in my speeches, Boomers, particularly Leading-Edge Boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) have a sturdy sense of generational identification. This is due to two factors.

First, the Leading-Edge grew up during significant cultural and social upheaval. Karl Mannheim and several social science researchers have confirmed that turmoil in youth strengthens generational identification and durability of formative experiences.

Second, Boomers comprise the only generation to have grown up with just three monolithic television networks. No generation older or younger experienced this convergence of technology with youth. Boomers growing up in Alaska and Florida shared many of the same televised moments and thus learned the same cultural and social messages. We watched Eddie Haskell weekly in dominant generational percentages. We either liked or disliked Eddie, but we all recall his shifty character. This isn’t about the past or future; it’s about who we are: the sum-total of our life experiences.

Research conducted by Pew Research Center last year underscores how pervasively Boomers identify with their generational cohort, which also means this generation continues to connect with nostalgic images and metaphors from a tumultuous and transformative youth.

Almost 80 percent of Boomers identify with their generational label (and the experiences and values associated with the label), compared with just 18 percent of the Silent Generation and 40 percent of Millennials. As I've insisted for more than a decade of writing and speaking, Boomers are uniquely bound by their formative years and social history and in greater proportions than any other living generation.

Nevertheless, as a marketer, I’ve always maintained a full toolbox. The three Boomer marketing approaches discussed here can succeed when well executed. All three approaches can fail when creators have inadequate understanding of the market, message, methodology or meaning conveyed through their ads.

Ageless Marketing can inspire advertising messages that appeal across generational divides because of commonly shared values, such as the nearly universal desire for a cleaner environment. Boomers and their Millennial children share passion almost equally for greener living and sustainability.

Life-stage Marketing can offer another path to success for those who connect a product or service with a stage need. Many Boomers today need help in understanding their caregiving challenges and responsibilities. This hallmark of their current life-stage predisposes them to offers of caregiving support and education.

And Generational Marketing can create powerful associations between a brand and a segment’s formative experiences. These nostalgic associations can become instant shorthand for positioning a contemporary brand constrained by cluttered media and product/service parity. Nostalgia is rich with opportunities for deeply personal brand interactions.

Those who insist that Generational Marketing is the least effective way to create advertising targeting Boomers may simply not understand this approach at a level of expertise necessary to be successful.

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If you would conduct a worldwide opinion survey to discover one wish for the future of humanity shared across societies and cultures, chances are that universal yearning would be for peace.

A world without war and strife, without sectarian violence, without the omnipresent threat of terrorism, certainly these are among our most cherished but unrequited dreams.

Boomers attached themselves to an idealistic quest for world peace early in their adult lives.

Some demonstrated for peace. Some molded lifestyles eschewing violence, whether through nonviolent civil disobedience or conscientious objection to military service. Some sought to influence national war policies through political engagement. Some joined the military to fight for long-term peace. Some joined the military as clergy or nurses.

The yearning for peace became a theme of many rock and folk songs, with these lyrics among the noteworthy:

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

— Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

For this generation, peace became a preoccupation.

One icon subsumed their hopes for a better future: the Peace Sign. This graphic image tapped into a collective set of values emerging during a generation's youth, from anti-authoritarian attitudes to youthful thoughts of a more Utopian society. To some it took on inspirational import about moral values similar to symbols of the world's great religions.

With its growing emotional and motivational subtext, the peace symbol eventually became a useful selling tool as businesses refined modern marketing techniques to create a Boomer revolution in product sales. Advertisers quickly recognized the strategic value of co-opting the symbol for product positioning. So-called "head shops" filled initial Boomer-consumer demand by offering peace symbols as stained glass sun catchers, silver necklaces, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and posters. Eventually so did K-Mart and Walmart.

On April 4, 2018, the peace symbol turns 60.

The story about how it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Boomer generation is significant.

In the spring of 1958, Gerald Holtom, a textile designer and graphic artist from Great Britain, set out to create a mark that could be used at protest events pressing for nuclear disarmament. In perhaps one of the most inspired days of identity design during the 20th century, the artist brought together semaphore symbols for N and D, surrounded by a circle representing the globe.  

On April 4th, five-thousand people gathered at Trafalgar Square in London to support the Ban the Bomb movement and to protest testing and stockpiling of fissionable materials by the world's largest industrial powers. It was on this day that Holtom's memorable icon made its debut.

Protesters walked a few miles from the square to Aldermaston, location of an atomic weapons research facility. Their placards carried the succinct message of protest in this new and undefined symbol. Yet it needed no explanation, whether viewers understood the symbolic implications or not. Reactions were not always positive; some saw Lucifer in the logo.

The peace symbol quickly spread to other protest movements representing opposition to the Vietnam War, the quest for civil rights, a growing outcry against environmental degradation, and spirited marches for gender and sexual equality. The symbol persisted through Vietnam and onward into the debates about two wars in Iraq.

The peace symbol even emerged during a nationwide protest inspired by today's youth, called March for Our Lives.

Hundreds of thousands of young and old gathered in cities across the nation to assert their impassioned pleas for stricter gun control laws. They also honored seventeen students and faculty members massacred February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

The peace symbol received overdue commemoration in a book published in April 2008 by the National Geographic Society, PEACE: The Biography of a Symbol. Author Ken Kolsbun observed that the symbol "continues to exert almost hypnotic appeal. It's become a rallying cry for almost any group working for social change."

Ironically, April 4, 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This callous slaying represents the severest liabilities of peaceful efforts to further social and political progress.

A pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement, Dr. King personified one facet of a grassroots peace movement with nonviolent protest marches, speeches and rallies. And the symbol marched with him through Selma and Montgomery, Washington D.C. and New York, and finally to his destiny with a bullet in Memphis, allegedly fired by James Earl Ray.

April 4, 2018 is a good day for pause: to contemplate a symbol and how near or far Western society is from achieving the dream of peace. And it is a day to recall one of the most revered leaders in the history of the nation: how he knowingly sacrificed his life in pursuit of some noble ideals represented by a symbol.

 

"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"- Kingston Trio - YouTube

Where have all the flowers gone? by Pete Seeger, covered by Kingston Trio

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If you would conduct a worldwide opinion survey to discover one wish for the future of humanity shared across societies and cultures, chances are that universal yearning would be for peace.

A world without war and strife, without sectarian violence, without the omnipresent threat of terrorism, certainly these are among our most cherished but unrequited dreams.

Boomers attached themselves to an idealistic quest for world peace early in their adult lives.

Some demonstrated for peace. Some molded lifestyles eschewing violence, whether through nonviolent civil disobedience or conscientious objection to military service. Some sought to influence national war policies through political engagement. Some joined the military to fight for long-term peace. Some joined the military as clergy or nurses.

The yearning for peace became a theme of many rock and folk songs, with these lyrics among the noteworthy:

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

— Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

For this generation, peace became a preoccupation.

One icon subsumed their hopes for a better future: the Peace Sign. This graphic image tapped into a collective set of values emerging during a generation's youth, from anti-authoritarian attitudes to youthful thoughts of a more Utopian society. To some it took on inspirational import about moral values similar to symbols of the world's great religions.

With its growing emotional and motivational subtext, the peace symbol eventually became a useful selling tool as businesses refined modern marketing techniques to create a Boomer revolution in product sales. Advertisers quickly recognized the strategic value of co-opting the symbol for product positioning. So-called "head shops" filled initial Boomer-consumer demand by offering peace symbols as stained glass sun catchers, silver necklaces, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and posters. Eventually so did K-Mart and Walmart.

On April 4, 2018, the peace symbol turns 60.

The story about how it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Boomer generation is significant.

In the spring of 1958, Gerald Holtom, a textile designer and graphic artist from Great Britain, set out to create a mark that could be used at protest events pressing for nuclear disarmament. In perhaps one of the most inspired days of identity design during the 20th century, the artist brought together semaphore symbols for N and D, surrounded by a circle representing the globe.  

On April 4th, five-thousand people gathered at Trafalgar Square in London to support the Ban the Bomb movement and to protest testing and stockpiling of fissionable materials by the world's largest industrial powers. It was on this day that Holtom's memorable icon made its debut.

Protesters walked a few miles from the square to Aldermaston, location of an atomic weapons research facility. Their placards carried the succinct message of protest in this new and undefined symbol. Yet it needed no explanation, whether viewers understood the symbolic implications or not. Reactions were not always positive; some saw Lucifer in the logo.

The peace symbol quickly spread to other protest movements representing opposition to the Vietnam War, the quest for civil rights, a growing outcry against environmental degradation, and spirited marches for gender and sexual equality. The symbol persisted through Vietnam and onward into the debates about two wars in Iraq.

The peace symbol even emerged during a nationwide protest inspired by today's youth, called March for Our Lives.

Hundreds of thousands of young and old gathered in cities across the nation to assert their impassioned pleas for stricter gun control laws. They also honored seventeen students and faculty members massacred February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

The peace symbol received overdue commemoration in a book published in April 2008 by the National Geographic Society, PEACE: The Biography of a Symbol. Author Ken Kolsbun observed that the symbol "continues to exert almost hypnotic appeal. It's become a rallying cry for almost any group working for social change."

Ironically, April 4, 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This callous slaying represents the severest liabilities of peaceful efforts to further social and political progress.

A pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement, Dr. King personified one facet of a grassroots peace movement with nonviolent protest marches, speeches and rallies. And the symbol marched with him through Selma and Montgomery, Washington D.C. and New York, and finally to his destiny with a bullet in Memphis, allegedly fired by James Earl Ray.

April 4, 2018 is a good day for pause: to contemplate a symbol and how near or far Western society is from achieving the dream of peace. And it is a day to recall one of the most revered leaders in the history of the nation: how he knowingly sacrificed his life in pursuit of some noble ideals represented by a symbol.

 

"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"- Kingston Trio - YouTube

Where have all the flowers gone? by Pete Seeger, covered by Kingston Trio

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Generational Sociology and Boomers

Karl Mannheim, a founding father of the field of sociology, conceived the essence of generational theory through a seminal 1923 essay entitled "The Problem of Generations." Mannheim insisted that when a youth cohort faces substantial turmoil during its formative years between ages 12 and 25, a sense of generational identification strengthens.

The leading-edge of the Boomer generation came of age between 1964 and 1975, an intense era of social, political, and technological changes. Protest marches, lifestyle experimentation, and social role reinvention became hallmarks of Boomer youth, a movement full of fervor, fun, and fantastical ideas about reorganizing society and culture.

Quantitative Research Supports Generational Theory

Even before I became fully aware of Mannheim's theories, and as I was finishing the first draft of Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers in 2002, I was convinced that Baby Boomers had substantial generational affinity influenced by extraordinary turmoil during our youth, buttressed by a mass-market advertising industry that had targeted us since we were in diapers. 

But I had no quantitative evidence, other than the insights I have gained since 1978 from creating myriad successful advertising and promotional campaigns targeting Boomers.  

The Pew Research Center conducted a national survey from March 10 through April 15, 2015. Researchers studied 3,147 adults who are part of their American Trends Panel, "a nationally representative sample of randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail."

Pew's study concluded that Baby Boomers have the most pervasive sense of generational identification when compared with four other living generations: The Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, Generation X, and Millennials or Generation Y. Pew concluded: "Fully 79% of those born between 1946 and 1964, the widely used age range of this generation, identify as Boomers. That is by far the strongest identification with a generational name of any cohort."

Not only do the majority of Boomers identify with their generational label, 70 percent also feel that their assigned generational label applies to them "very well (31 percent) or fairly well (39 percent)."

Research evidence suggests that shared generational values formed during external conflicts and cultural turmoil do not perish with time passing; rather, the sociological phenomena typical of Boomer youth are finding newer ways of manifestation as the generation ages. Shared generational values can also be thought of as "collective mentalities" or "dominant ways of thinking."

How can marketers tap into the powerful influence of generational values? 

One method is to employ nostalgic memories creatively, and this has been done successfully by a number of international companies, including Subaru, Ameriprise Financial, and Fidelity Investments. 

Here's how Volkswagen recently created a nostalgic advertising message targeting Boomers: 

The People First Warranty | Volkswagen “Rain” Commercial (60 Seconds) - YouTube

Another method is to address topical issues confronting members of the generation today, such as possible exposure to the hepatitis C virus infection. Gilead Pharmaceuticals directly addressed Boomers in the following commercial: 

Gilead TV Spot, 'Hepatitis C and Baby Boomers' Original - YouTube

Whichever method advertisers use to attract attention and instill positive brand impressions with Boomers, it is critical that creative directors and copywriters understand subtleties and nuances of what it means to have reached adulthood during the Vietnam War era.

Like all generations, we retain positive memories of our youthful years and struggles. Like all generations, we have contemporary needs, wants, and concerns unique to our generational journey.

Appropriated vs. Acquired Memories

Generational theory recognizes that memories we appropriate from other generations — meaning we experience those memories vicariously — are not as powerful as memories we acquire through experiences during adolescence and young adulthood.

To members of other generations, Woodstock may sometimes be seen as a hackneyed cliche. To Boomers, the festival represents a time and place when everything changed in dramatic ways, whether or not as individuals we attended.

To members of other generations, being at risk for infection with Hep C may represent a moral failing of too much "free love." To Boomers, the possibility of being infected hearkens back to memories of long-lost lovers when "making love" was not seen as something awful but rather natural. 

Advertisers need cogent advice from those who understand generational nuances, not just those who are strategic and creative, and that, in a nutshell, is the purpose of my consulting business.

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Having grown up in Topeka, Kansas, I have a profound and ironic connection to the nascent Civil Rights movement. Before 1954, which happened to be the year I started Kindergarten, racial segregation was common in American schools, as it was in Topeka, especially elementary schools.

Public school administrators forced African-American children to attend schools often encumbered by substandard facilities and many miles from their homes, although white-only schools existed in nearby neighborhoods.

This inequity of course led to Oliver L. Brown et. al. v. The Board of Education of Topeka

Brown et al. v. Board of Education was a case that contested the Kansas statute of 1879 permitting the segregation of public elementary schools. At the very least, the national focus accorded to the Brown decision and its unprecedented outcome in the Supreme Court make it a legal landmark. The plaintiffs argued that separate elementary schools were an impediment to black children's education.

I had no awareness of this Supreme Court decision during my first few years in elementary school, and Southwest Elementary School (now Whitson Elementary) remained mostly white. There is not a single individual of color in any of my class photos from that time.

However, as we started the 6th grade, my class anticipated a special teacher, someone who had developed a celebrity status in our school—Mr. J. B. Holland.

A kind and erudite African-American teacher, Mr. Holland stopped by our class three times weekly to teach science. Up to that point, I had been an average student, demonstrating modest enthusiasm for learning, but Mr. Holland stimulated a dormant zeal for science; he set fire to my passion for learning about chemistry and biology. I remember rehearsing arcane and difficult biology terms, with atypical effort and repetition, to impress this extraordinary educator and to win his encouragement. He commanded attention in the classroom, and his wit and clarity opened minds.

I was not alone in my reactions to Mr. Holland. Here is how he has been described in historical background information concerning Monroe Elementary School, epicenter of the Brown decision:

J. B. Holland might have been one of the "supreme" black teachers of Topeka. Frank Wilson served as principal in the newly-integrated Whitson Elementary School over Holland, who had once been principal of Monroe Elementary School. Wilson praised Holland as "one of the most outstanding teachers I had ever come across." He also said that parents were anxious to get their children into a class with Mr. Holland because of his reputation as an entertaining and motivating instructor: "They would fight and bleed and die to get into that class."

Growing up in a significant crucible of racial divisiveness, I nevertheless owe my lifelong passion for learning to a man who probably lived daily with veiled and obvious Jim Crow realities everywhere in Topeka but inside his magical classroom. I know from subsequent adult conversations with my classmates that Mr. Holland was an influential early mentor to most of us in our long-term educational quest.

This story has been permanently encapsulated as oral history in the Library of Congress, my firsthand witness to the American Civil Rights Movement.

Many Baby Boomers who received stimulating and inspiring lessons in life from Mr. Holland owe his memory a debt of gratitude.

Many others growing up elsewhere also had positive formative experiences directly or indirectly because of African-American mentors: coaches, ministers, college educators, physicians, civic leaders, professional athletes, Hollywood actors, and, of course, Martin Luther King.

Baby Boomers sat on the front row of racial integration in America, and now it is our time to demonstrate our thankfulness for the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the brave souls who led this nation's Civil Rights movement.

I encourage those who grew up during the 1950's, 60's and 70's to reflect upon their own discoveries and awakenings that were nurtured by African-American heroes, personal and public. Please post your memories and appreciation in the comments section.

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Churches have had declining attendance for several decades, and today only 20% of Americans attend weekly services. Between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors yearly.

Can churches turn this around?

In my keynote address at a national conference for leaders of The United Methodist Church, appropriately called Boomerstock, I emphasized novel generational strategies, coupled with intelligent branding and marketing tactics.

My recommendations boil down to two fundamental marketing principles: 1) understand the target market — in this case Baby Boomers — through nuanced psychological and sociological insights; and 2) develop the product and evolve branding to satisfy market needs, including current religious, spiritual and socioemotional motivations.

Boomers, as they are today, must become the renewed priority of churches. Dr. Steve McSwain, religious thought leader and communications professor at the University of Kentucky, stressed this demographic priority in his Huffington Post article:

America is aging. Go into almost any traditional, mainline church in America, observe the attendees and you’ll quickly see a disproportionate number of gray-headed folks in comparison to all the others. According to Pew Research, every day for the next 16 years, 10,000 new baby boomers will enter retirement. If you cannot see where this is headed, my friend, there is not much you can see.

I would modify Dr. McSwain's conclusions slightly: every day 10,000+ Boomers reach age 65, or traditional retirement age. They do not all retire. Many continue working beyond the traditional retirement age. However, with aging comes renewed interest in deeper existential questions and fundamental religious concerns. Erik Erikson's notion of generativity prevails. Searching for spiritual answers is becoming part of the generational zeitgeist once again, somewhat reminiscent of the spiritual and religious movements of the 1960's and 1970's. The explosive growth of mega-churches showcasing contemporary worship themes is partly testament to this trend.

Boomers today have the money and latent motivations to revitalize churches throughout the nation. This opportunity is awaiting enlightened church leadership ready to envision and co-create religious institutions for the 21st century.  

Here are a few excerpts from my speech:

BOOMERS: Launching a Ministry Movement - YouTube

 

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Waking from a fitful dream, he struggled out of bed and stumbled to a barred window. From this perspective in the asylum, he beheld a clear night, a large morning star enchanting him. The sight of stars always inspired him. Just as we take a train from Paris to Amsterdam, he thought, we take death to go to a star.

About a year later, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He was 37 years old.

Life started more hopefully for him. He was son of a country minister who valued education. He memorized more than three-fourths of the Bible. As a young man, he lived in Paris and worked for his uncle who was a successful art dealer. He learned and mastered four languages.

He also fell deeply in love with his landlady’s daughter, who rejected him in favor of another. This rejection devastated him and led to his being fired from his uncle’s gallery.

He decided to follow his father’s footsteps and devote his life to God. Preachers being punished by the Methodist Church were often sent off to southern Belgium to coalmining territories where retched conditions prevailed. He volunteered for this assignment, finding special inspiration working with the poor and oppressed. He was quite effective as a spiritual counselor, and the miners nicknamed him “Christ of the Coal Mines.”

Church leaders did not see him as an asset but rather as undignified, so they fired him. Again, he sought refuge in his family and even became captivated by his widowed cousin, Kate. He declared his love for her, which Kate and her parents found repulsive.

Finally, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to pursuing art. His younger brother saw potential in his paintings and agreed to support him with a monthly stipend. An art dealer, his brother believed the older brother’s paintings might sell in Paris.

During the next ten years, he moved around Europe while befriending artist peers. He started an artist’s union in a town near Paris where notable artists visited and painted with him.

The stipend his brother, Theo, gave him was adequate for living expenses but not for models, canvases, and expensive oil paints. He often lived solely on coffee, cigarettes, bread, and the psychedelic liqueur absinthe. He had a habit of putting his paintbrushes in his mouth, exposing him to lead poisoning. He also sipped turpentine from time to time.

These horrible health practices and the hallucinogenic effects of absinthe contributed to occasional spells of madness and thus the asylum that I described at the beginning of this story.

Yet he worked at a feverish pace. He wrote, “The power of work is a second youth.”

During ten years of prodigious output, he created over 2,100 paintings. Yet he did not gain the favor of rich art collectors. People in the town where he lived treated him viciously and even signed a petition asking government officials for his removal.

During this decade of frenetic work, his younger brother was only able to sell a single painting for the equivalent of $2,300 today.

Vincent van Gogh, who preferred to sign his paintings with just Vincent, felt despondent, lonely, and rejected for most of his adult life. He shot himself in the chest as a final act of self-loathing, although he did not successfully kill himself outright. He died two days later in the arms of his devoted brother, Theo.

Today, we view Vincent as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. The 1889 painting inspired by the clear night while he was in an asylum became known as “The Starry Night” and is housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His painting called “Irises” sold for $54 million dollars at auction. Another painting, a portrait of a doctor who cared for him in the asylum, sold for $83 million dollars.

Vincent’s story can be a lesson for all of us. He went to his grave seeing himself as a loser. He felt unloved, misunderstood, and rejected by all but his younger brother.

Most of us experience some of the pain that followed Vincent through his life. Maybe we fail to achieve our most private dream. Or we lose in love. Or we feel misunderstood. These feelings are part of the human experience.

Vincent’s story teaches us that in the end we may never know the full scope of our impact on the world. Our total influence may emerge after we are gone.

Next time things don’t work out, remember Vincent, an asylum and a painting called “The Starry Night.” It is a priceless masterpiece and one enduring legacy of a downtrodden and defeated man who created the work.

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This is a true story about how 12-year-old Darci Lynne Farmer gave my brilliant next-door neighbor hope for a future he would not live to see. A sparkling YouTube video of the Oklahoma City ventriloquist's audition for America's Got Talent would be the last video he would ever watch. 

When my wife, Becky, and I walked into the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital that bright June day, he seemed as lucid as I remembered him during our many conversations and neighborhood gatherings spanning more than two decades. He was engaged, intellectual, funny, and circumspect. His animated chat careened from philosophical to silly, connected to transcendent, and physical to existential.

Herbert I. Jacobson had turned 86 nine months earlier. He looked and seemed to be in his sixties rather than shooting for the tenth decade of life. He never once needed hospitalization throughout his long life, but in May he became dehydrated and required hospital care. After being re-hydrated and stabilized, his physicians sent him home for a quick recovery. Yet he did not get better, and within another week he needed emergency hospitalization, this time for severe electrolyte imbalances. A life-threatening situation spiraled out of control, leading to deterioration of his kidneys and heart. Physicians declared his condition terminal.

Within minutes after our arrival, Herb launched into a conversation that Dr. Robert Butler described as life review. Dr. Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and psychiatrist, identified life review as a cathartic process that helps those diagnosed with a terminal condition affirm value and meaning in their lives.

Dedicating Everything He Had to Helping Another Girl, His Daughter

When she was a child, his daughter became inflicted by Gaucher disease (pronounced go-SHAY), more likely in people whose ancestors originate from the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish population. Herb tirelessly lobbied, fund-raised, cajoled, and pleaded for financial support to fight and treat this cruel disease. He testified before Congress, pressing elected officials until the nation’s legislators agreed to support funding for The Metabolic Clinic at Children's Hospital Colorado, recognized internationally for its expertise in diagnosis and treatment of metabolic disorders.

We discussed his years as a volunteer docent at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. He served as a guide for an exhibit called “Space Odyssey,” an immersive, interactive experience to teach guests about the cosmos. He loved to grab the attention of children touring the museum. His favorite icebreaker joke would be to ask a child like Darci her age. When she answered, “Twelve,” Herb then would reply, “When I was your age, I was fourteen!”

A former school teacher who loved teaching children, he sometimes shared his grave concerns about the future. A child of the 1930’s, raised in a New York orphanage, he knew deprivation on a level most cannot comprehend. He had spent formative years enduring hardships without parents and stable surroundings. He grew up scrabbling for means to a good life. He believed that the US Constitution does not automatically transfer from generation to generation with inviolable guarantees. He was concerned that today’s digital distractions and cultural narcissism might crumble the nation’s foundations. A young generation lacking rigorous liberal education, rich with history and its lessons, worried him most.

Five days before Herb died, this spunky twelve-year-old girl from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, appeared on the twelfth season premiere of America’s Got Talent, a reality show on the NBC television network. The popular talent contest features singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and other performers of all ages competing for a top prize of one million dollars and a chance to headline a show in Las Vegas. Aware of his pessimistic perspective, I brought with me an anecdote to assuage his concerns about the nation’s future. I loaded a YouTube video onto my iPhone and said, “I want you to feel optimistic about the future for our nation’s youngest generations. Here is an example of possibilities for a brighter future.” 

Petunia

She walked onstage with an endearing smile. She carried a puppet she calls Petunia – a whimsical white rabbit with large pointed ears and wide eyes encircled by mascara. She announced to judge Simon Cowell that her name is Darci Lynne. When asked by Cowell why she decided to enter the show, she answered, “Well, it was one of my big dreams, but also I would like to keep ventriloquism alive because it’s not common.”

Then she looked at her animated puppet and said, “Are you ready?” Petunia replied, “Hit it!” as orchestral music lifted. Darci Lynne feigned surprise by saying, “You’re going to sing? Oh, boy!” Suddenly Petunia opened her mouth wide and began singing Summertime.

As Petunia astounded the audience, Darci Lynne smiled sweetly, innocently. The five judges became flabbergasted, not quite believing that a petite child, so young and inexperienced, could sing with such force and in tune without moving her lips. Not once. She demonstrated poise, self-confidence, rapport with the judges and audience, shocking mastery of ventriloquism for such a young age, an uncanny ability to split her personality between Petunia and the real Darci, all while achieving vocal range beyond the reach of most children.

Darci Lynne Sang A Timeless Song Popular During Herb's Youth

Her song seemed perfect for the tastes of a dying man who had spent years cherishing music that helped define his formative years, causing him to eventually store over 35,000 jazz and Big Band recordings on his beloved iPod. Summertime, an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, is one of the most covered songs of all time, with interpretations by performers ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Janis Joplin.

After she finished, studio audience members jumped to their feet and honored the gifted girl with a standing ovation. Her shy giggles transformed into Bambi tears. Speaking in turn, each judge praised her for a charming performance. Judge Mel B said, “You make my heart melt. You were brilliant! I’m trying to describe how amazing it was. You know what?” Mel B jumped up and slapped a buzzer.

The Golden Buzzer may be activated only once by each judge per season. Mel B’s buzzer slap meant that Darci Lynne would advance to the final live shows without needing to compete at lower tiers. As gold confetti rained from the studio ceiling, the Oklahoma City girl became overcome by sweet emotions: disbelieving, crying, squealing, and jumping with joy.

Herb Jacobson

Herb was charmed and astounded by her talent. He was uplifted by her bold and sophisticated interpretation of a hit song from his youth. His final request was for me to share this video with Sharon, his wife, soon after he passed away.

An amazing ninety minutes concluded as he weakly transferred from a recliner to his hospital bed. A few others in the room began to weep. He saw this sadness and said, “I’m sorry ... I’m sorry.” These words expressed his regret for leaving his family yet revealed courage that he had accepted his fate.

He completed his life journey holding onto a secular theology articulated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century. Heschel wrote:

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

As we stood to leave the ICU, knowingly saying goodbye for the last time, he stretched out his hand to shake mine, his face a mystery in this moment so full of meaning. I said, “I’m not going to say good-bye, Herb. Rather, I’ll see you again.” He appeared quizzical, reflective. I shook once more. “I’ll see you again.”

Bolstered by his life review and entertained by a gifted girl from Oklahoma, Herb Jacobson’s final hours became a summertime day glorified with radical amazement. He was ready to spread his wings “and take to the sky.”

Darci Lynne: 12-Year-Old Singing Ventriloquist Gets Golden Buzzer - America's Got Talent 2017 - YouTube

UPDATE

This story has gone viral on Twitter, with thousands of readers expressing sadness, joy, love, and gratitude. I'm so pleased that my post has garnered a wider audience, bringing public attention to the life of a good neighbor and a father figure to me. Of equal beauty is the following Tweet from Darci Lynne's mother, Misty Farmer: 

And my heart melted once again when I discovered a Tweet from Darci Lynne, written in the plainspoken style of a remarkable young lady: 



Brent Green is the author of six books about Boomers, business and aging. His newest book is Questions of the Spirit: The Quest for Understanding at a Time of Loss. Copyright 2017, Brent Green & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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This is a true story about how 12-year-old Darci Lynne Farmer gave my brilliant next-door neighbor hope for a future he would not live to see. A sparkling YouTube video of the Oklahoma City ventriloquist's audition for America's Got Talent would be the last video he would ever watch. 

When we walked into the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital that bright June day, he seemed as lucid as I remembered him during our many conversations and neighborhood gatherings spanning more than two decades. He was engaged, intellectual, funny, and circumspect. His animated chat careened from philosophical to silly, connected to transcendent, and physical to existential.

Herbert I. Jacobson had turned 86 nine months earlier. He looked and seemed to be in his sixties rather than shooting for the tenth decade of life. He never once needed hospitalization, but in May he became dehydrated and required hospital care. After being re-hydrated and stabilized, his physicians sent him home for a quick recovery. Yet he did not get better, and within another week he needed emergency hospitalization, this time for severe electrolyte imbalances. A life-threatening situation spiraled out of control, leading to deterioration of his kidneys and heart. Physicians declared his condition terminal.

Within minutes after our arrival, Herb launched into a conversation that Dr. Robert Butler described as life review. Dr. Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and psychiatrist, identified life review as a cathartic process that helps those diagnosed with a terminal condition affirm value and meaning in their lives.

Dedicating Everything He Could to Helping Another Girl, His Daughter

When she was a child, his daughter became inflicted by Gaucher disease (pronounced go-SHAY), more likely in people whose ancestors originate from the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish population. Herb had tirelessly lobbied, fund-raised, cajoled, and pleaded for financial support to fight and treat this cruel disease. He testified before Congress, pressing elected officials until the nation’s legislators agreed to support funding for The Metabolic Clinic at Children's Hospital Colorado, recognized internationally for its expertise in diagnosis and treatment of metabolic disorders.

We discussed his years as a volunteer docent at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science. He served as a guide for an exhibit called “Space Odyssey,” an immersive, interactive experience to teach guests about the cosmos. He loved to grab the attention of children touring the museum. His favorite icebreaker joke would be to ask a child like Darci her age. When she answered, “Twelve,” Herb then would reply, “When I was your age, I was fourteen!”

A former school teacher who loved teaching children, he had sometimes shared his grave concerns about the future. A child of the 1930’s, raised in a New York orphanage, he knew deprivation on a level most cannot comprehend. He had spent formative years enduring hardships without parents and stable surroundings. He grew up scrabbling for means to a good life. He believed that the US Constitution does not automatically transfer from generation to generation with inviolable guarantees. He was concerned that today’s digital distractions and cultural narcissism might crumble the nation’s foundations. A young generation lacking rigorous liberal education, rich with history and its lessons, worried him most.

Darci Lynne with Petunia

Aware of his pessimistic perspective, I brought with me an anecdote to assuage his concerns about the nation’s future. I loaded a YouTube video onto my iPhone and said, “I want you to feel optimism about the future for this nation’s youngest generations. Here is an example of possibilities for a brighter future.”

Five days before Herb died, this twelve-year-old girl from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, appeared on the twelfth season premiere of America’s Got Talent, a reality show on the NBC television network. The popular talent contest features singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and other performers of all ages competing for a top prize of one million dollars and a chance to headline a show in Las Vegas.

She walked onstage with an endearing smile. She carried a puppet she calls Petunia – a whimsical white rabbit with large pointed ears and wide eyes encircled by mascara. She announced to judge Simon Cowell that her name is Darci Lynne. When asked by Cowell why she decided to enter the show, she answered, “Well, it was one of my big dreams, but also I would like to keep ventriloquism alive because it’s not common.”

Then she looked at her animated puppet and said, “Are you ready?” Petunia replied, “Hit it!” as orchestral music lifted. Darci Lynne feigned surprise by saying, “You’re going to sing? Oh, boy!” Suddenly Petunia opened her mouth wide and began singing Summertime.

As Petunia astounded the audience, Darci Lynne smiled sweetly, innocently. The five judges became flabbergasted, not quite believing that a petite child, so young and inexperienced, could sing with such force and in tune without moving her lips. Not once. She demonstrated poise, self-confidence, rapport with the judges and audience, shocking mastery of ventriloquism for such a young age, an uncanny ability to split her personality between Petunia and the real Darci, all while achieving vocal range beyond the reach of most children.

Darci Lynne Sang A Timeless Song from Herb's Youth

Her song seemed perfect for the tastes of a dying man who had spent years cherishing music that helped define his youth, causing him to eventually store over 35,000 jazz and Big Band recordings on his beloved iPod. Summertime, an aria composed in 1934 by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, is one of the most covered songs of all time, with interpretations by performers ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Janis Joplin.

After she finished, studio audience members jumped to their feet and honored the gifted girl with a standing ovation. Her shy giggles transformed into Bambi tears. Speaking in turn, each judge praised her for a charming performance. Judge Mel B said, “You make my heart melt. You were brilliant! I’m trying to describe how amazing it was. You know what?” Mel B jumped up and slapped a buzzer.

The Golden Buzzer may be activated only once by each judge per season. Mel B’s buzzer slap meant that Darci Lynne would advance to the final live shows without needing to compete at lower tiers. As gold confetti rained from the studio ceiling, the Oklahoma City girl became overcome by sweet emotions: disbelieving, crying, squealing, and jumping with joy.

Herb Jacobson

Herb was charmed and astounded by her talent. He was uplifted by her bold and sophisticated interpretation of a hit song from his youth. His final request was for me to share this video with Sharon, his wife, soon after he passed away.

An amazing ninety minutes concluded as he weakly transferred from a recliner to his hospital bed. A few others in the room began to weep. He saw this sadness and said, “I’m sorry ... I’m sorry.” These two words expressed his regret for leaving his family yet revealed courage that he had accepted his fate.

He completed his life journey holding onto a secular theology articulated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century. Heschel wrote:

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

As we stood to leave the ICU, knowingly saying goodbye for the last time, he stretched out his hand to shake mine, his face a mystery in this moment so full of meaning. I said, “I’m not going to say good-bye, Herb. Rather, I’ll see you again.” He appeared quizzical, reflective. I shook again. “I’ll see you again.”

Bolstered by his life review and entertained by a gifted girl from Oklahoma, Herb Jacobson’s final hours became a summertime day glorified with radical amazement. He was ready to spread his wings “and take to the sky.”

Darci Lynne: 12-Year-Old Singing Ventriloquist Gets Golden Buzzer - America's Got Talent 2017 - YouTube


Brent Green is the author of six books about Boomers, business and aging. His newest book is Questions of the Spirit: The Quest for Understanding at a Time of Loss. Copyright 2017, Brent Green & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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