Sunday, February 10, 2008

As Boomers redefine death, Visa misses an opportunity

It might seem absurd but true to their character Boomers are taking on yet another taboo, one might say the ultimate one, and seeking to re-write the rules on their terms. The taboo is Death.

This generational cohort has already left the detritus of previous taboos they’ve disrupted: love, sex, work, home education, taking charge of one’s health and wellness.

Taking on death has come from a fundamental life shift: it's through their ailing and dying parents that Boomers are facing up to their own mortality.

As American Demographics described it: “When 75 million American confront an issue it becomes culturally significant”. Evidence of it can be found everywhere including the current VISA campaign: “Things to do while you’re alive”

It reflects Boomers’ focus on what they want to achieve while they have the time. It represents a missed opportunity because it fails to recognize the cultural milieu of our time: it doesn’t mention death.

You might think Boomers would be afraid of the word death. They aren't. In true Boomer fashion, their navel-gazing reflection on mortality is not silent introspection: they’ve been openly discussing and debating what it is and what it means to them.

Take their reaction to Joan Didieron’s book A Year of Magic Thinking, as reported by The New York Times:

“It is both amazing and unnerving to see the public’s consciousness so thoroughly saturated with a story as personal and intimate as Ms Didion’s. It is one thing to share her journey as her silent companion in a book. It is quite another to see the trip become a public rite, with full page newspaper ads inviting everyone to come along, or to contemplate strangers making chit chat about it day after day in the ticket line, or on the theater sidewalk under the gushy blurb signs.” But that’s the baby boom for you.”

As a key engine of cultural dispersion, the media reflects the growing appetite for and dialog about death, Six Feet Under and Family Plots in TV; How to Die and 1000 Places to See Before You Die in print (which has also been made into a Discovery channel series).

Had Visa understood the cultural milieu – and been brave – it would have different a rallying cry.

Things I want to do before I die.

For Boomers, it would be a lightening rod. Death is what gives life its meaning. Acknowledging death would create a powerful context to ground aspiration rather the mediocre setting of what's possible in the time that’s left.

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