Opinion: Why marketing to millennials is different in Canada than in the U.S.

Statistics show that Canadian boomers are still a market to be reckoned with

U.S. population pyramid: The bulge of the baby boom is exceeded by the millennial generation

Canada’s millennial wave is more like a ripple

As Pierre Trudeau famously said, living next to the U.S. is in some ways like “sleeping with an elephant.” So much of our news and information comes from U.S. sources, and taking U.S. statistics divided by 10 becomes a Canadian benchmark. For the most part, it is a rough indication of what we can expect.

One area where we differ greatly—and is not as widely recognized—is the makeup of our population. We toss around generational terms like “baby boomer” and “millennial” interchangeably between the two countries. The reality, however, is vastly different, and has (or should have) a profound effect on strategy.

The U.S. has been obsessed with millennials. How did they vote during the election? What are their spending habits? Are they influenced by advertising? Do they even watch TV? All valid questions, and for good reason—millennials as a cohort are a considerably larger group than baby boomers.

Not so in Canada.

For argument’s sake, a boomer is defined as having been born between 1945 and 1964; a millennial, between 1981 and 2000. Using that as a basis, the population of U.S. boomers in 2015 is roughly 78.8 million, but there are 88.6 million millennials; nearly 10 million more.


Canadian population pyramid: In Canada, boomers still outnumber millennials

In Canada, the populations are a lot closer in size—and reversed. Up here, there are 9.24 million boomers and 9.11 million millennials. It goes without saying that the numbers in Canada will inevitably shift as the boomers gradually pass on, but there’s no big rush. Life expectancy in Canada is a lot longer than it used to be.

Canadian boomers, still vast in numbers, have lots of money, time and energy. Their kids are gone, and they are retired or madly saving for it. They have a house that is paid off or close to being paid off. And they don’t feel anywhere near their age. In fact, many late boomers think of themselves as being about the same age as the early millennials (50 is the new 35, isn’t it?). Don’t treat boomers like they are old, because they’ll just think you are talking about their parents. And apparently, they don’t have a lot of grandchildren to spoil—yet.

While the U.S. may be experiencing a youthnami, Canada’s change is more of a ripple. The biggest challenge with a smaller millennial population might just be who is going to pay for all the pensions and programs that seniors will be looking for in the coming years.

Brad Sherwin, MBA, has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, strategy and communications. He is currently the director of marketing for a national nonprofit organization