In 2007 the first of Japan’s baby boomers started to retire. Fifty years of marketing practice said they were finished as a target group because we all knew that the only thing you try to sell to retirees is insurance, hair restorer and small blue pills. Wrong. The fastest growing category for sales that year turned out to be electric guitars.
Which only makes sense really. In nearly every country in the region the fastest growing demographic is the late middle-aged. And that is simply because life expectancy is now sitting in the late seventies or close to ninety in some. That means that when you retire, you’re likely to have up to a third of your life to live, and enjoy.
We have moved from a world of ‘the aged’, ‘silvers’ and ‘seniors’ to what we should call new ‘life builders’. The idea of aging well is now more likely to be interpreted as making the most of who you are. Two years ago I discovered that five of the Western world’s biggest FMCG makers were all using Japan as a test case for understanding aging.
From Shiseido to L’Oréal to Fuji’s very successful Astalift the beauty industry is now refocused on helping the late middle aged sustain their looks. And that is an important difference. We used to market to the ‘aged’ the idea of ‘covering the cracks and painting out the grey’. Now we see that people want to simply reflect on who they feel like, and communicate that. Not just with new telco packages and universally designed phones with bigger buttons, but with the latest social media.
Our own studies have found that the 60+ group is just as likely to be involved in using social media as their adult children. And of course we all know the Facebooks and weibos of Asia are having great success with grandparents staying in touch with family, with each other, and with trying to find new friends. Our study found that the middle class new life builders of China, Japan and India were actually more tech savvy than their Western counterparts. 70 per cent said they used their mobile devices as the primary way to connect with the world compared to just over 30 per cent in Europe.
A few years ago in interviewing then 62-year-old men, one gent explained to me that he and his generation had gone through more change, more technology and more re-learning than any generation in history. And he said that I should not be surprised that as the first generation to use television, learn to use a remote control, to fly on a plane to a holiday, invest in mobile phones, buy or use a PC, discover the woes of spreadsheets and the delights of email, that it would be silly to think that he would not take advantage of all the technology and innovation available to enjoy the next few decades of his life. And that included the new guitar his sons had just bought him for his birthday.
We are moving from ‘seniors’ being a niche to ‘new life builders’ becoming the core engine for brands’ growth.
Dave McCaughan is managing director of McCann Worldgroup Hong Kong