Marketing to “Old” People

I put the word “old” in quotation marks because it reminded me of something I said when I was a teenager.  I was sitting in the kitchen at my girlfriend’s house while her mother was making dinner.  I said someone was “pretty old, like 40.”  Without missing a beat or turning around, her mother said “Watch it Billy.” I learned that “old” is a matter of perspective, as well as a state of mind.  Which brings me to this week’s subject:  Marketing to those 50+ years old.

My friend Steve just sent me a blog posting from Harvey McKay, the celebrated author, speaker and business owner, in which Harvey talks about the work of Dr. Ken Dychtwald, another author and speaker, and an authority on 50+ year olds.  Dychtwald’s conversation with McKay touched on many subjects related to age, but I was fascinated by a few points:

  • Marketers focus a disproportionate amount of their attention and funds on the 18 – 34 year old demographic, a group that is a shrinking percentage of the overall population.
  • The 50+ population is the fastest growing group in the U.S..
  • The 50+ group has more disposable income because they are coming out of the recession in much better financial shape than their younger cohorts.
  • 70% of all wealth in North America and Europe is controlled by people aged 50+.
  • Retiring at 65 was started in a time when life expectancy was only 45 – 50, so few made it to retirement.  Life expectancy for those born in 1950 or later is now in the high 60s to high 70s and improving every year.

While this covers some of the demographic data, there is also a psychological facet to aging.  Many of those in their 50s, 60s and 70s do not think of themselves as “old”.  I am on the board of directors of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC).  From the data we see, many CCRC’s are facing lower occupancy rates.  This is due in part to the inability to sell houses to fund moving into a CCRC.  But we are also seeing that many people in their 50s, 60s and even 70s are not ready psychologically to move into a retirement community, even a community with many activities.  They see themselves as too young and want their independence.

So what does this mean for marketers?  First, you need to be in the game.  I just looked at the May issue of the AARP Bulletin, the monthly publication of AARP, an association of 40 million people age 50+.  It is full of ads for home alert devices, Jitterbug phones, gold coins, elastic-waist pants and financial products offered by AARP’s partners.  Where are consumer goods, cars, food products, etc.?  Clearly people over 50 still eat, bathe, clean their homes, drive, etc.  I don’t know the cost of advertising in the Bulletin, but it seems like there must be some “mainstream” products that would have a large enough market in the 50+ category to justify advertising in this publication.

And how about advertising messages targeted to this demographic?  Many people in the 50+ group do not have a deep understanding of technology and are worried about security.  With Apple’s ease of use, seamless integration of devices and built-in defenses against malware and viruses, it seems like it would have natural appeal to this population.   Could Apple show people 50+ in its ads?

And lest you think marketing to those 50+ is purely a consumer play, Dychtwald gave another interesting statistic: The highest amount of entrepreneurism in the last ten years in the U.S. has been among 55 to 65 year olds.  So while Inc. magazine is full of great stories about 20 and 30-somethings starting the next tech company, there are a lot of 50 and 60-somethings starting businesses that need business products and services.

America is a youth culture, I get that.  But by confining your marketing to those under 40 you are missing a growing population with active lives and higher levels of disposable income to spend.  Think about it next time you wonder: How can we grow sales?


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