Seniors are pretty much invisible to advertisers in America. Have companies given up successfully advertising to seniors? We get weary of watching a TV world where you seldom see anyone over 50. And when you do, they’re most often ding-a-lings, duffers, or bores.
Consumers 18 to 49-years-old are who most advertisers want to reach. So that’s who we see on TV.
Unfortunately, what we usually see brings with it reminders of our false teeth, arthritis, and incontinence problems. It’s a senior world from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every evening.
Then it becomes primetime when the only seniors you’ll ever see are fools and idiots.
Watch “Frasier’s” Martin Crane, permanently planted in his Barcalounger squatting in front of a television with his jumping dog, Eddie, by his side. On “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Marie Barone is overbearing and meddling; husband Frank is long-suffering. Both are clichés older than I am. As series star Doris Roberts, 71, says of the entertainment industry during testimony at a September 2002 Senate Committee, “They frequently show seniors in insulting and degrading ways, either mean or incompetent.”
Advertisers Haven’t a Clue
It’s not that advertisers and TV producers want to insult us. They live in a world in which no one lives beyond 49. They know not, and actually think it’s humorous to stereotype a senior as a know-nothing goof.
Turn 50 and – Poof! – you’re a goner. While we as a nation see more gray every day – a boomer turns 50 every eight seconds, with 77 million approaching retirement age – advertisers believe the viewing world is forever young.
Advertisers still don’t get it. Especially the part where we geezers are rich and spending like crazy. A new research report by Epsilon revealed that baby boomers are the biggest spenders, with an average of $548.1 billion spent each year. They are followed by Gen X, those born between 1965 to 1980, who annually spend about $357 billion.
You can read more Senior Facts and Figures for additional metrics on the senior demographic.
The World’s 3rd Largest Economy
A new AARP study found that Americans over 50 constitute the world’s third-largest economy, and just in 2018, their economic contribution totaled $8.3 trillion. And that’s not all, this demographic is also very invested in giving back to the community and often donate and volunteer to support charities. We earn more, spend more, give back, and create demand for new products and services, and yet advertisers seem to ignore us.
Even when they actually want to reach us, advertisers’ biggest blunder is thinking that old people are old. I’m sure by now you understand perfectly what I’m saying here.
Here’s another surprise. The same concepts that are important to you are important to us: respect, connectedness, independence, personal growth, and revitalization.
Seniors & Personal Worth
We all want affirmation of personal worth. If advertisers want to capture our attention on the tube, older characters must embrace some of these aspects.
Above all, don’t talk down to us. We’re not dumb. Don’t consider us that way. Remember the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial for an emergency communication device? That spot almost killed that entire product category. Elders, even those who could have benefited from such a product, stayed away in droves.
Never base your sell on fear. Better to talk about maintaining independence.
A good place to start learning about how to advertise to seniors is my “10 Commandments for Successfully Selling to Seniors.”
From AARP’S Grandparent Information Center
- Grandparents spend $179 billion each year on their grandchildren.
- On average, this equals about $2,562 per grandparent.
- Four in 10 grandparents are still working.
- One-third of grandparents have grandchildren of a different race or ethnicity.
- Grandparents often travel to and with their families to be able to spend more time together.
- In order to feel closer to their families, grandparents are texting, video chatting, and adopting new technologies.
The Biggest Myths About the Mature Market
The biggest hurdle for Madison Avenue is its belief in five key assumptions about mature consumers – some dating to the days of I Love Lucy – despite mounting research to the contrary:
Myth 1: Mature consumers are brand loyal.
This is the single biggest myth, experts say. Consumers 45 and over are just as likely as younger consumers to experiment with or switch brands, according to a study by AARP and RoperASW. “Marketers who abandon this stereotype will find themselves rewarded,” says Jim Fishman, publisher at AARP Publications.
Myth 2: Mature consumers care only about price.
Consumers 45 and up are more likely to buy higher-priced brands than people younger than 45, says Stephen Frost, research director of AARP Publications. “These consumers are not eating cat food on limited budgets.”More than 60% of them say “quality” is the most important factor in choosing a brand.
Myth 3: Mature consumers don’t shop the Web.
The image of technophobic old fogies dies hard. The numbers tell a different story: Roughly half of the 50-plus consumers own personal computers, and 70% have Internet access, according to the Senate committee. About 92% of those PC owners have shopped online; 78% have made purchases.
Myth 4: Mature consumers think alike.
AARP says marketers must speak to at least three groups: leading-edge boomers, 45 to 56, still in their peak earning years; the gap generation, 57 to 65, who are planning work and lifestyle changes; and consumers 66 and up, entering retirement years.
Myth 5: Marketers can reach mature consumers as “spillover” by advertising to younger consumers.
Marketing is becoming so segmented that mature consumers need their own messages, Frost says. “Very soon, the 45-plus market will represent half the population, and the traditional target of consumers aged 25 to 44 years old will shrink.”
10 Tips to Marketing to a Mature Audience
Know Your Market
In the same way that every automobile isn’t a Ford, every member of the mature market isn’t a “senior.” Those over 50 are part of a multi-segmented group, each segment having its own wants and needs. What’s more, each age segment can be defined further by income, ethnic status, health, discretionary time, and more. Is your target market in their early fifties, possibly with children still in college and likely still part of the working force? Are you talking to those in their early 60’s who may well have impending retirement and health concerns? The point is, when it comes to the mature market, one size does not fit all. It’s important that you identify the segment to whom you are selling and take the time to incorporate that knowledge in everything from your copy and design to your choice of media.
Just the Facts, Please
“Been there, done that,” may well be the battle cry of the over 50 sets. The most effective sales messages to this group explain in a clear and straightforward way exactly why they should be interested in what you have to offer and exactly what benefits they will receive.
As a whole, this market values personal ties and will take the time to get to know you and your product or service. Experience tells them that few things require an instant decision. It’s unlikely that they will respond well to pressure tactics.
Use Lifestage Marketing
Life-changing events (a child’s marriage, retirement, moving, health problems, etc.) are defining moments for this market. Use these events to create connections. For example, market fitness products by focusing on the parents’ free time now that the kids are gone – or financial services products that provide enough post-retirement security for a dream vacation.
Educate the Market
Some of the most successful campaigns educate the market on real-life concerns while subtly slipping the product message in between the lines. American Express, for example, built its pre-retirement base by sponsoring seminars on fraudulent telemarketing. Promotional events were low-key, but those attending knew the sponsor cared enough to help them protect their money
Design with Eyes in Mind
No matter how young they may feel and act, diminished vision is a fact of life for most people over the age of 50. Set type in a readable size (12 points is recommended) and use plenty of white space, bold headlines, and subheads to make a copy a pleasure, rather than a chore to read. Consider the column width when designing. While the long copy is acceptable to this group, which overall prefers a strong rationale for buying, shorter columns are easier to read than typeset across an entire page width. In photography and graphics, four-color is preferable to black and white. Choose models with some sensitivity to your market. Clearly today’s over-50 group is not confined to rocking chairs…or to the golf course. Use photography and art that reflect the lifestyle of the group to whom you are speaking.
Avoid Scare Tactics
Scare tactics and discouraging news about aging won’t motivate this group to act or buy. Consider this: Seven in ten people over 50 say they love to try new things; roughly 10 percent of those attending college are over 50; health club memberships by this group are up nearly 150 percent since 1988. Direct marketers who recognize the joys of aging stand a much better chance of reaching this market.
Don’t Call Them Names
Probably the quickest way to turn off the younger members of the over-50 group is by offering them “senior” discounts, or products designed for “seniors.”When speaking to those over 65, it pays to avoid labels such as “old” and “elderly”. As one ad executive says, “the only label these people like is ‘grandparent’.”
Demonstrate Your Credibility
If your company has been in business for 25 years, say so. If you’re new on the block, emphasize your commitment to customer service. Testimony from satisfied clients, research results, professional endorsements, documentation, and evidence are all key copy elements.
Remove the Risk
Offer a money-back guarantee, free trial period, or lifetime warranty. Reassure the reader that there are real human beings at the other end of the correspondence. Use names in your copy as you talk about the people who will be making the product, handling the account, or providing the service you offer.
We hope these tips have helped you rethink how you market to seniors. Being old does not mean being old-fashioned. Seniors are young at heart, active and modern. Our needs are not limited to adult diapers and orthopedic shoes, we also appreciate nice cars, fashion, and the love of travel.
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