According to Hong Kong’s 2011 census, 30 per cent of the population will be over 65 years old by 2041, and despite the pollution, stressful working life and tiny flats, Hong Kong boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with an average life span of 82.2 years. However, most of the ads in mass media targeting the elderly focus on insurance, wealth management, healthcare and cruise holidays.
Are marketers and agencies spending too much of their effort and budget on young consumers and neglecting the growing aging population in Hong Kong?
Campaign Asia-Pacific talked to several senior agency executives and clients to find out some of the challenges and opportunities of marketing to the so-called 'silver-dollar consumers' in Hong Kong.
Eric Leong, senior strategic planner at Grey Group Hong Kong, said brands tend to focus on younger customers. “The youth segment represents the future growth of the brands and their survival," he said. “In many ways, brands are like people—we like to be seen as lively, popular and relevant. Brands want to be seen in the same way—the older we are, the younger we want to be seen."
However, Andrew Wong, GM of Starcom MediaVest Group Hong Kong, said his agency's big clients like P&G, Richemont and Samsung actually do not ignore the elderly demographic.
“Silver-hair consumers have the consumption power for luxury brands and products,” Wong said, adding that there are many well-off people who take early retirement and are looking for ways to find fulfillment in the next stage of their life.
However, Tom Kao, Asia CEO at The Gate Worldwide, said he cannot think of any client that specifically targets this segment.
“We work with Bank of China Private Bank, for instance, but they tend to segment their customers by their social status and affluence level, rather than by their age.”
Samantha Wong, MD of Hong Kong-based advertising agency Adbrownies, said she believed most advertisers do not purposely focus on the youth and ignore the elderly. “However most products are for younger targets, and they are the one with the biggest buying power, and in many cases, they are even the buying decision-makers for the elderly.”
The latter fact is one that some brands have used to their advantage. Florence Wong, MD of ZenithOptimedia Hong Kong, said Hong Kong still has a strong culture of taking care of the elderly. She pointed out that a recent advertisement for OSIM uDivine massage chair (left), for which Andy Lau was the brand ambassador, has become a hit for many consumers who would consider buying it for their parents.
Samantha Wong added that when it comes to products like fizzy drinks, most consumers are young. Clients like these cannot afford to target who they want, but only their main demographic.
According to Florence Wong, 18 per cent of Hong Kong's population is over 65, roughly 1.2 million people, of whom 200,000 are poor. However, one million are well-off, quite mobile and are often spending their retirements between their ‘retirement houses’ in Guangdong and in Hong Kong. And Hong Kong people have a strong saving culture, Wong pointed out.
Leong believes that many brands fixate on the need to look young at the expense of looking for opportunities to capitalise on the growing market segment of mature consumers.
As increasingly aging populations are a global phenomenon, Leong expects some brands to start to make the shift to cater to older consumers. How they approach them will be very interesting, she said.
Alice Lee, general manager of Media Palette Hong Kong, said brands usually reach out to this mature group through traditional media, including TV, radio and print ads in free newspapers. However, unlike in Western countries, there is still very limited media space for special interests for the elderly in Hong Kong.
Andrew Wong noted that in the past, traditional media was an important medium to reach the older generation. "However, we are seeing data from Facebook showing that in the past two to three years, the biggest growth age segment of users is the 45-year-old plus, as they are keen to communicate with their [children's] and grandchildren's generations."
He said the same fast growth rate is happening with smartphone use among seniors, while the uptake rate among younger consumers is very much saturated.
Michelle Leung, head of marketing at Green Science International (the maker of traditional Chinese medicine supplement brand NutriGreen), added that apart from traditional media touchpoints, silver-dollar consumers also prefer more personal interaction. Word-of-mouth is a key influential factor amongst the silver-dollar consumers, she pointed out. They tend to share their own experiences with their peers and are more likely to believe what they hear from people they know.
Building personal relationships beyond just employing traditional media is the key challenge in engaging this market, she said, adding that NutriGreen is using a team of health advisors to help build closer personal relationship with these consumers.
Media Palette's Lee added that some products suit the silver-dollar consumers, although commercials should avoid being too obvious.
Lee cited a Canon digital video recorder ad (right), which showed that even older family members can use the video recorder effortlessly, as an example of a campaign that appeals to young and old. "Hong Kong people are still young at heart, even when they are over 60," she said.
Leung added that older consumers generally have stronger brand loyalty and can make perfect brand ambassadors. "The silver-dollar consumer segment definitely has its difference, as well as appeal, for marketers," she said.