Winning with the forgotten generation, 55+



23 October 2019

The marketing industry is overlooking senior consumers and, in doing so, missing out on a huge commercial opportunity.

Research by the Institute of Customer Service has revealed that UK businesses could be missing out on up to £27billion of revenue by prioritising the ‘millennial’ market over ‘baby boomers’. Seniors (usually defined as those aged 55+) make up one-third of the UK’s population and hold two-thirds of the wealth, but attract just 5-10% of marketing budgets.

Of the brands that are marketing to this group, many are getting their efforts wrong in the eyes of the very seniors they are trying to motivate. Research by dating app Lumen found that 86% of over-50s wanted advertising targeted at them to change, with 51% complaining of too much airbrushing and 36% put off by models looking like plastic. Seniors criticise marketing aimed at them for being ageist, based on outdated stereotypes and focusing unnecessarily on the downsides of advancing years.

Considering the average age of employees at IPA member agencies is under 34, it is easy to see that even with the best will in the world, it can be hard for young ad execs to empathise with target consumers who may be thirty or forty years their senior.

Tapping into this huge opportunity will require a major shift in mindset. To help with this we’ve identified five opportunities to better engage with this large, diverse and important target group.

1. Don’t be tempted to think of seniors as a single group

It is vital to break them down into more meaningful and actionable sub-groups. You can do this by looking at their lives – their health, working status, income, homes and relationships. When we do this, three natural groups fall out: those aged 55-64 who are likely still working; those aged 65-74 who are probably (but not definitely) retired, but may be volunteering or providing childcare support for their grand-children; and those aged 75+ who are more likely to be in solo households and possibly entering the care system.

While this approach is better than simply lumping all seniors together, it doesn’t reflect the much subtler truths of senior life. Adding other lenses over and above age and age-related factors can make a huge difference. We tend to assume that an older consumer is automatically less interesting to us than a younger one but this is not a given. Someone aged 75 who has good health, a good income and a youthful outlook may be a much more interesting prospect for your business than someone aged 60 who has poor health, low income and lives in the past. It is vital that marketers develop a more rounded and nuanced view of seniors that looks beyond mere age.

2. Help them to live agelessly

For seniors, age is just a number. The vast majority – some 84% – don’t want to be defined by their age and certainly don’t want marketing to talk to them just based on their age. Increasingly, they are living their lives irrespective of their age and defying the expectations and conventions of society. For example, according to Forbes, those aged 55-64 are now the most entrepreneurial of all the US generations and those of advancing years are doing things that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago; climbing Mount Everest or running the London Marathon in their 80s (like Yuichiro Miura and Ken Jones), working into their 90s (as Syd Prior did) or skydiving in their 100s (like Irene O’Shea). For the young advertising industry this is a major wakeup call – be very careful before making assumptions about what older consumers are like.

3. Leverage new technologies

Seniors are becoming more and more adept at using smartphones and the internet. Some 71% of those aged 55-64 own a smartphone; for those 65-74 it is 51%; only above 75+ does it really tail off to 18%. It is a similar story for internet access: 83% for those aged 55-64, 77% for 65-74s and 48% for those 75+. Seniors are also becoming frequent users of social media; in fact, they are the fastest growing user group for apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram. Globally, past month WhatsApp usage by seniors went up from 27% in 2016 to 40% in 2018, while past month Instagram usage increased from 17% in 2016 to 28% in 2018. Again, these developments challenge our preconceptions about seniors and open new marketing communication channels to reach this group.

4. Focus on the upbeat

Admittedly, seniors do face challenges (for example, health and loneliness) with Victor Meldrew style stereotypes of grumpy old men and women abound. But the evidence suggests that senior-hood is a time of increasing happiness and decreasing stress. As Helen Mirren, aged 74, said “Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab. And 70 is f*@king awesome!” Ageing is not something to be feared or avoided, it should instead be enjoyed. The lesson here is that seniors want to move on from the stresses of their earlier lives and enjoy their present and future, so they will respond well to brands who want to help them do this.

5. Keep seniors involved in society

Evidence suggests that both groups win when seniors and young people mix. We also know that seniors are already contributing hugely to society by providing emotional, practical and financial support. Some five million grandparents take on childcare responsibilities – that’s two-fifths (40%) of the nation’s grandparents. Moreover, the so-called “bank of mum and dad” would rank as the UK’s tenth biggest mortgage lender based on the estimated £6.3bn of financial assistance that parents provided to fund their children’s property purchases last year. Seniors represent an able and willing resource for work, charities and community initiatives, with 42% of those aged 65-74 volunteering formally at least once a year and 29% doing so at least once a month. We challenge you to consider using seniors as a resource to help keep them engaged in society and bridge the generational divide.

We’ll leave the last word to David Bowie – in his words: “Ageing is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been”. We strongly encourage marketers to embrace this positivity about seniors and ageing. Only when this happens will seniors cease to be the forgotten generation.

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends for Unlimited Group, and is a summary of his talk at the Festival of Marketing 2019.


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