Kim Walker
May 30, 2014

Advertising to older consumers: 7 strategies that work

Examples of tried-and-true techniques for speaking to older consumers.

Advertising to older consumers: 7 strategies that work

The web is littered with expert opinion about how to sell to older consumers: “Say this and “don’t say that.” The problem is that these generalizations are a blunt instrument, and often downright misleading.

Take for example the oft-recycled ‘rules’ on marketing to baby boomers. The fundamental problem is that these rules are based on behavioural assumptions of citizens from specific countries and cultures, particularly the United States. Too often they represent a small segment of the age group—sometimes having a striking resemblance to those of whatever ageing ‘expert’ happens to be speaking.

While physical ageing is universal, attitudes and behaviours remain individual.

Baby boomers are universally defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. For Americans, this was a period of mass consumerism. Their behaviour was shaped by major events of the time such as the Korean and Vietnam wars, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. The situation in Europe was very different, as the continent emerged from the economic effects of WWII.

Compare these cultural influences with those taking place in China the same time, and the folly of applying generational ‘rules’ over different cultures and geographies is clear.

What we say to persuade older consumers will differ in the same ways as with any other demographic, but how we deliver the messages can provide some common tried and true techniques that deserve a mention.

So here are a few:

1) The voice of a child

We’re all suckers for our children, even grown-up ones. So when the message is delivered in the context of child-parent, it’s hard to resist. Check out this powerfully emotive ad for Tosando Music which aims to sell music lessons to older students.


2) Intergenerational

Showing the natural interaction between young and old is a wonderful way to project the changing demographic shape of our world. It is a clever, inclusive technique that lets a brand appeal across age bands. This spot from Emirates shows how.


3) Older role models

Not surprisingly, older talent are increasingly being featured in advertising directed at older people. 65 year-old Japanese actress Bibari Maeda is lead talent in advertising for Shiseido’s Elixir Prior skin care range (below). Women over 60 occupy 19 per cent of the Japan beauty market and the segment is growing at a dramatic rate. But using older talent is not a sure-fire winner. When Marks & Spencer ran its campaign with former model Twiggy surrounded by younger models, it gained widespread acclaim, but a recent campaign, based on ‘famous’ women has received a far less rapturous reception.


4) Empathy

One of the cardinal rules for copywriters is: Never talk down to a teenager. Well here’s another: Never talk up to a senior! Teenagers and seniors both know how old they are and don’t want to be reminded of their age when they’re being sold to. Talking eye to eye with an older person can be very powerful, as the Chapter Two campaign from Prudential Insurance illustrates. This campaign was partly written by the people featured.


5) Product is hero

Perhaps the most effective way to communicate across the age divide and avoid excluding anyone on the basis of their age, is to avoid using people at all. BMW advertising was famous for never featuring people, making the product the hero. Apple’s most iconic advertising doesn’t feature people either.


6) Nostalgia

Conjuring up fond memories of younger years can be an effective way to create a bond with older consumers. But the production must be authentic, immediately recognizable and relevant. See this spot for Polident denture cream in Japan. Remember, older people have been marketed to longer than other consumers so they can ruthlessly reject marketing fakes and frauds. (Note: The below video does not have sound. The ad originally ran with the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" as the soundtrack.)


7) Babies

Another way to reach across generations is to use babies or little people—a universal source of happiness. Have a look at the Evian Roller Babies spot. Could anyone of age not love this?


What techniques don’t work, you might ask? I’ll write about that next time.

Every day, more than 80,000 people around the world turn 60. They have more money and they have more time to spend it. Brands that exclude these consumers, intentionally or not, are missing out. To retain and attract these valuable customers as they age, marketers must learn to apply age-friendly principles across their entire customer journey.

A veteran of the APAC advertising industry, Kim Walker is now founder and CEO of Silver Group, a consultancy that helps businesses to profit from the power of the 50+ market. He is also co-author of Marketing to the Ageing Consumer.


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