Why Purple Clover is aiming at an often-ignored cohort, Boomers

At a time when all the advertiser dollars seem to be going to the millennial demographic, it might seem crazy for a publisher to go in the opposite direction. But that’s just what Purple Clover is doing.

The 3-year-old site calls itself The Cool Online Destination for People Over 50, and when many news startups are squarely addressed at people born after 1980, Purple Clover unabashedly addresses issues that only someone born a half-century ago would understand. The result is articles on celebrities like Glenn Frey and Janis Joplin (the site itself takes its name from a song by another Boomer favorite, Bob Dylan, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”). The technology coverage assumes that readers, while not experts, are far from luddites. There also are frank posts on issues older people deal with, like 9 reasons I give my adult kids money and What not to say to someone who may have cancer — or as editor Larry Carlat called “the crappy sides of our lives.”

Purple Clover sprung from the mind of Lloyd Braun, of Whalerock Industries, formerly BermanBraun, a media company known for its networks for celebrities like the Kardashian sisters and entertainment lifestyle sites including Wonderwall, Mom.me and Movefone. Purple Clover has little in common even with its sibling sites, which aim younger.

Carlat, a vet of Rolling Stone and Men’s Health, said Braun had grown frustrated with existing media outlets that are aimed at their demo that felt cliched and humorless. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have site about what really matters in our life?’” said Carlat, who is 58. “He’s never seen anything like that that reflects who we are.”

Purple Clover’s site traffic is small (2.3 million multiplatform uniques in December, per comScore), but where it really took off in the past year and a half is Facebook, of all places, where, thanks to the social network’s growth in older users, the site has gathered more than 4.5 million fans. There it posts inspirational and humorous quotes and articles. Instagram also is increasingly on Purple Clover’s radar, and it plans to introduce its first original video and podcasts in the next few months.

“We are really where the audience is, and right now, the audience is on Facebook,” said Jared Heinke, who runs the digital side of Purple Clover. “We’ll probably be on Snapchat in about five years,” Carlat added.

Using Facebook for audience development obviously has its risks for any publisher, but even more so for a publication that’s as dependent on the platform as Purple Clover is. The result is thinking about what will work on Facebook “almost to unhealthy degree,” Carlat said. “It’s all alchemy and trial and error. And we’re all at the mercy of the Facebook algorithm. We have no idea what we’re going to face.” So far, though, with new fans joining at a rate of as many as 225,000 a week, with almost zero paid promotion, Purple Clover is doing something right.

Whalerock isn’t alone in media properties that have recently spied an opening to serve an often ignored older age group by reflecting the fact that Boomers are living longer and have money to spend. There’s Huffington Post 50 (“Life begins at 50”), PBS’s Next Avenue (“Where grownups keep growing”), and two-month-old CultureSonar, another Facebook-driven entertainment site founded by Al Cattabiani, an entertainment entrepreneur and investor (unofficial tagline: “We’re older, not lamer.”)

Getting ad support is another matter. For media companies that speak effectively to a demographic, there’s opportunity with advertisers who are increasingly realizing that they can’t afford to ignore any potential buyer of their product, said Jamie Gutfreund, CMO of Wunderman. There’s also a growing interest in targeting demos together — for example, a financial services company’s strategy to be thought of by millennials might be to target their parents, who, after all, are the ones millennials are likely to go to for financial advice.

“Marketers today can’t count out any consumer segment,” she said, “and most clients, if the product is appropriate, they’re open to all generations.”