Dave McCaughan
Aug 25, 2015

Old is gold: Growth will come from 60-somethings

Dave McCaughan speaks at a lot of conferences (only sometimes with his boxers on the outside) and always learns something. Kicking off a new series where he'll share his learnings, here's a report on a conference about marketing to the 'silver' set.

Dave McCaughan
Dave McCaughan

If you have any common sense, then marketing to today’s aging population is simply a must.

Not the 'grandmother' image of aging you might have had in the past. You know what I mean. Say the words 'aging population' and people the world over get a picture of a kindly, grey-haired granny with a bun on her head, a bit of a stoop, probably making scones in the kitchen or whatever the cultural equivalent might be. That stereotype of an older population is just hard to crack. But if you want your business to succeed in the next decade then go where the growth is and that is today’s vibrant 60-somethings.

She probably has more than a third of her life left to live. In Tokyo she would live to be in her mid-90s, in Bangkok pretty close to 90, as it is in Sydney (well, 87). And for most of the next 15 years at least, her health will not change much. She is a lifelong brand trialist, a brand swapper who has grown up trading up with technology more than any generation in history before or since.

Of course what you define as an "aging” population might vary. Personally, after over 25 years of looking at the aging opportunity I tend to be interested in the vast potential of the 60- to 90-year-old age groups. However as I recently learnt, marketers back home in Australia think the issues of marketing to the aging is kicking in at 45 or so.

I was asked to be one of three speakers at a July seminar put together by Legends&Leaders, who had invited a small but very senior group of marketers to hear about some of the myths of marketing to retiring baby boomers. The other speakers were creative legend Tom Moult and Jane Mathews, a very experienced international account director and recent author of Midlife Manifesto.

My claim to a seat was having spent most of the last 15 years based in East Asia, where four of the five oldest demographies of the world are located and learning about the slow, but fast gathering, pace of marketing to 'silvers' as some kindly try to call them. That would be Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Given all my wife’s relatives back in Rome I guess I have been studying that market as well. So what I brought to the mix was some comments about myths mostly based on the developed Asian markets experiences but also applicable to Australia and the West in general:

  • They don’t buy things: Today’s 50- to 70-year-olds are the baby boomers, the greatest spenders in history. No matter the market, do you really think people who have been buying all their lives are stopping at middle age?
  • They don’t have any money: Really? They have the biggest pensions / superfunds, they have active lifestyles, they think shopping is a hobby. What they shop for may be changing, but the old days when you bought your last fridge at 50 and just made it last are long gone.
  • They don’t trial: Actually we don’t really know. Up until literally the last couple of years almost no major ongoing purchasing panels in the world included people over 60, so evidence as to what they trial, what brands they stick to and how much they swap is thin. But what there is indicates that they are as likely to trial as their children. After all, whether they grew up in Western Sydney as I did or in Osaka, the members of this generation have experienced constant newness their whole lives.
  • They don’t use technology: Do the math. If you are 60 today you were the first generation to master the remote control, the VCR, the computer at work, the mobile phone, the laptop at home, the smartphone and more. Again it is a generation that has always been adopting and adapting.

In reality the boomer generation, if that is what you want to use as a starting point for discussing aging populations, is really just middle-aged kids who want to keep on living forever and would just like to continue enjoying things as much as possible.

Tom Moult uses the example of Pink Floyd’s classic album, The Wall. He talks about the impact that record (and yes it was a 'record' [Actually a two-record set. -Ed.]) had on a generation. How it symbolised the desire to be more than just 'another brick' and the restlessness of a generation that could and did see itself as different. Of course that might be the hubris of youth. But the young at that time were different. The first mass generations born into or very near middle class, they grew up at a time when they did not realise it, but there was such a thing as 'disposable income' available that allowed them to go to university, sit around and listen to music, dressed in a manner which, in saying they were free to chose a style actually provided a uniform for 'freedom'. In other words the Boomers. And maybe a 'boomer' psychologically as much as demographically, because it is a generation in which people were allowed to dream and think they could do more with their lives.

Tom asks the question, "Are they really any different now that they are 55?” Maybe they are not wearing bell bottoms and flower-patterned shirts—or maybe they are wearing the latter again as the fashion of the permanent vacation that is retirement? Maybe they don’t actually want to rebel anymore. Probably they want to keep and reap the benefits of their earlier rebellions. The near affluence and goods and lifestyles that came with it. But they still want to play and sing 'their' songs in their heads. After all, you can bet that as Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Elton John and others are touring Australia in coming weeks the audiences will have a heavy dose of grey-haired rockers singing every word, dancing like they were 20 again and reliving 'the first time I saw them'.

Jane reminded us that Tom Wolfe dubbed them the 'me generation', defined perhaps by another hit of their late childhood in (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. So a generation that in recent years has copped some criticism for its selfishness, and that took to life always demanding more, is unlikely to just sit back and take whatever is handed out now. Right?

Tom made the very valid point that in their decades of growing and building families it was all about 'needs-based' marketing. Now it is about 'aspiration-based' marketing. The products and services are there to help achieve something. And that usually means achieving more memories. But there lies the conundrum of the aging population: Just as they want to explore, enjoy and experience, they hit boundaries. Tom loves to equate the rise of cruise marketing with aging boomers. He also points out that a desire for a more adventurous experience also grows.

Take Spain's El Camino Trail. Personally I know of five boomers from Australia and Japan who have attempted stretches of it this year. A decade ago most might not have heard of it. Now it is both a goal and an aspiration. Ahh, but there is a downside to all this adventure-seeking. Companies and brands are not ready for it. You can want to go trekking, or drive that convertible across the USA or complete the London marathon. Your body is keen and still capable. Your mind wants the next goal. Your psyche is built on a self belief that you have decades to enjoy. And then you find out that travel insurance for 65+ adventurers is really hard to find. The future consumers are ready to spend, but the market is not equipped to take their money.

Understanding today’s growth market is about understanding that people in the middle age (and yes, that starts at maybe 45 now and stretches to 70) are not looking to fool themselves. As Jane pointed out in highlighting a YouTube video popular for explaining beauty tips, 'Enjoy your lines' is the new mantra. Starting, as is inevitable in any marketing trend, in Japan nearly a decade ago, major beauty brands there, such as Kanebo and Shiseido, caught onto a simple truth: The mature woman of today does not believe in trying to look 25. Instead, she wants "to look as good as I feel”. Taking advantage of life’s experiences and showing you have learnt by them. Staying fit, or trying to get that way, is really about being happy to be who you are and enjoying life.

Reunions are key. They are part a 'continual revival' mentality that is framed by enjoying the past and using it as a motivator to try something new.

When I first started studying the potential of an 'aging Australia' in the late 1980s, retirement was a nice way of saying 'waiting to die'. The average person retired with six to seven years to live. Now we live in a world where retirement is a fluid idea, and life is more about doing something different rather than waiting for it to stop.

Like I said: It does not matter if you are in Sydney, Hong Kong or Tokyo. If you are thinking about growing your business, you had better get serious about talking to the new growth market.

Dave McCaughan is thought leader and storyteller at Bibliosexual.


Campaign Asia

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