Kim Walker
Jul 24, 2013

Six silly excuses for not marketing to ageing consumers

Many marketers remain fixated on youthful consumers, basing their reluctance to reach out to older citizens on outdated reasons or stereotypes.

Six silly excuses for not marketing to ageing consumers

Let’s put this into perspective. While populations of younger age segments in developed markets have stagnated or are shrinking, the 50-plus population across Asia-Pacific will grow a whopping 33.5 per cent in the 10 years ending 2018. Furthermore, many of these older consumers have money and the time to enjoy it. A recent report revealed 54 per cent of high-net-worth-individuals in APAC are over 56.

This undeniable demographic phenomenon is a game-changer, and companies that remain fixated on youth and are ambivalent or even actively exclude older consumers, take a huge and unnecessary risk. All the research points to an older world, but many companies can only think young.

Much of our business is focussed on helping companies to innovate and create new products and services opportunities to exploit population ageing. Other companies need help to keep their brand appealing and accessible without necessarily making obvious appeals to older customers.

Since Silver Group began, we have heard many silly excuses why it is ‘too difficult’ or even ‘dangerous’ to include older consumers in a marketing strategy.

Here is my pick of the silliest six among them:

Excuse #1: We get them anyway

This is probably the most stupid of all. The basis of this argument is that marketing communications that are created to appeal to the 18–35 cohort will also be seen by and influence their parents and grandparents.

If the marketing communications are optimised to appeal to a younger person, then it doesn’t matter how much they are seen by older people—they will instinctively be labelled as ‘not being meant for me’ and ignored. Studies in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere all conclude that older people believe that many marketing communications are not intended for them—and they are right.

Excuse #2: Older people don’t change brands

The assumption here is that by the time a person reaches their 50s their ‘shopping basket for life’ is fixed and that the buying preferences established when they were younger are difficult and expensive to change.

While our research shows there is a relationship between brand preferences and age, they are far from fixed. If this argument had any validity, older people would have rejected e-book readers rather than accounting for a third of all users in the US, and rising.

Excuse # 3: Explicit advertising to the old alienates the young

Of course, there are exceptions. It would be silly to target a fashion campaign at teens showing the clothes modelled by people looking like their parents or grandparents. However, the corollary of this is not that older people should be banished from advertising to avoid alienating their children’s generation. Increasingly, older people are being tastefully and respectfully used in advertising. The latest ad in a series for featuring CGI old age pensioners, was the Most Recalled ad in the UK just last week.

Increasingly, world-class companies, such as Apple and Marks & Spencer, have shown that it is possible to create successful advertising that can appeal across the age spectrum.

Excuse #4 Older people are stuck in their ways

This argument assumes that the spirit of change, adventure and experimentation is solely the province of the young. Research has shown that in many countries the desire to try new things increased with age, as does the ability to pay for them.

Excuse #5 Older people are technophobic

There is some truth to this argument in some markets particularly those that have experienced rapid economic development. Our analysis of internet use shows that nationality, education and socio-economic group are more relevant influencers of online use. Across the markets of Asia-Pacific, the new crop of boomer retirees are substantially more tech-savvy than older ones.

Excuse # 6 It ain’t broke

The final and by far the most frustrating reason why marketers have been so slow to change is the conservative marketing culture in which they work. This syndrome is best described as: "Being youth-centric has done us OK for the past decades, so why change now?"

We used to laugh about the adage "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM". At the time, IBM ruled the computer industry. The reason we are still talking about the aversion that marketers have for older consumers is the assumption that "Nobody ever got fired for targeting the young." Soon they will.

Each of these silly-six excuses is based on an outdated myth or stereotype. They partially explain marketers’ reluctance to spend their time and budget on older consumers.

Marketers need to catch up with reality and reflect the importance of the older consumer’s spending power.

Kim Walker is founder and CEO of Silver Group, a consultancy that helps businesses profit from the power of the 50-plus market. He is also co-author of Marketing to the Ageing Consumer.






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