Marketing to older customers
Marketing to older people — the very phrase can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach. And yet this huge and lucrative market is no niche — it encompasses consumers from all walks of life who just happen to be over a certain age. Rachel Miller investigates
“For individuals, old age is a relative concept,” says Mark Beasley, managing director of RHC Advantage, the UK’s only independent marketing agency to specialise in mature audiences.
Businesses need to make sure that they are targeting their products and services at all ages, including the over 50s. But older in years does not mean “old” in outlook.
“Nowadays, dads of 45 are wearing jeans, and they are not even dad jeans, they are trendy jeans and they’ve got trendy shoes on too,” adds Beasley.
Marketing to older customers: the savvy baby-boomers
Today’s 45-65 year-olds are the so-called ‘baby-boomers’ who have grown up with marketing and advertising and who have profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent employment pensions. Many of them are relatively well off but don’t fit a stereotype.
In fact, many businesses ignore this age group on the basis that they want to catch their customers young and try to keep them for life. The perceived wisdom is that older people are unlikely to switch brand allegiance.
But this is quite wrong, argues Beasley. “First, it ignores the commercial potential of older age groups and second, it makes the blanket assumption that ‘advertising does not work’ for older consumers.”
Older customers represent huge potential
There’s no doubt that older people form a massive customer base. Given that there are currently more adults in the UK over 45 than under, the over-50s represent a huge market for businesses.
“Anyone who is foolish enough to devise and operate a campaign which ignores almost half of the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands,” stresses Beasley.
But what’s needed is the right sort of advertising. Research by direct marketing agency Millennium in 2008 found that 55% of over-50s believe that advertising treats them in a patronising manner. Businesses should also make sure their activities are lawful under theEquality Act 2010, advises Beasley.
Marketing to older audiences
When it comes to addressing the needs of this market, businesses often fall back on clichés. “Older people are not a single segment,” Beasley points out. “This market is too large, too diverse and too complex. The other mistake that businesses make is in believing that there is something different about older people.
“Older people don’t behave any differently from anyone else,” he adds. For example, it’s a mistake, he says, to think that older people are more set in their ways. They are just as likely as anyone to switch brands and suppliers if their needs aren’t being met. Neither are they more inclined to respond to discounting than anyone else.
As this is a group of experienced consumers, how do you market to older customers? It’s all about inclusivity — and not stereotyping. “Inclusivity means not excluding older people, rather than actively targeting them,” concludes Beasley. “For instance, some brands seem to go out of their way to appeal to younger people, even though older people are also potential customers.”
Over 60 and overlooked
Everyone knows the world is ageing. So why is business doing so little about it?
IN THE next few decades, the “baby boomers”, the large generation born in the 1950s and 1960s, will grow old. As they do, their sheer numbers and their different attitude to age will create new markets in the world’s rich countries. Yet business remains largely obsessed with youth. Many companies seem blind to the fact that their customers are greying. Some have started, with uneven success, to market and advertise to an older population and to design products and services that meet its special needs. Few, though, see the elderly as an exciting group to sell to.
In industrialised countries, the over-60s already account for 20% of the population—compared with less than 12% in 1950. By 2050 that proportion is expected to rise, on average, to a third, reaching over two-fifths in Japan (see chart 1). However, companies still spend 95% of their marketing and advertising budgets on the under-50s. Many businesses have not yet shed the outdated view that the mature market is made up of stingy old-timers set in their ways. Unless you are in the business of prescription drugs or retirement homes, the argument goes, why bother?
One good reason is that the old are wealthier and healthier than ever, and the self-indulgent baby-boomer generation in particular is determined to enjoy itself to the end (see chart 2). According to the United States Census Bureau, the poverty rate among Americans over 65 has dropped from 35% in 1960 to 10.2% today, compared with a fall from 22% to 11.3% for the population as a whole. Senioragency International, a consultancy specialising in marketing to the elderly, says that the over-50s own three-quarters of all financial assets and account for half of all discretionary spending power in developed countries. Over two-thirds of them own their own homes, three-quarters of which are unencumbered by a mortgage. In America, they control four-fifths of the money invested in savings-and-loan associations and own two-thirds of all the shares on the stockmarket.
Not only are the elderly wealthier, they are also healthier and have more time to spend their money. A few decades ago, most people had only a few years to live by the time they retired. Most workers retiring today can look forward to 15-20 years of free time and, thanks to medical advances and healthier living, remain active for most of it.
Free time and health, combined with relative financial comfort and a greater readiness for self-indulgence, are creating a mature market eager to consume and explore. Over the past two decades, consumption by the over-50s in Europe has increased three times as fast as that by the rest of the population. In industrialised countries, people over 50 buy about half of all new cars and have a weakness for the top end of the range. Even Harley Davidson, the maker of the legendary motorbike, cannot escape the age wave. Long gone are the days of young easy riders: the average age of its customers today is 52.
A marketing challenge
Getting to know long-ignored older customers, however, is hard work for marketing youngsters who are used to lumping all people over the age of 60 into a grey basket of frailty, tweed and stinginess. Advertising’s creative types, the people who dream up commercials, are considered ancient by the time they are 35. Finding the right way to communicate with an older audience is a challenge for them.
Many advertisements still caricature older people in order to make younger audiences laugh—as in the soft-drinks advertisement that portrays an adolescent using his grandfather’s trembling hand to shake his can. Yet the over-50s make up the largest share of TV audiences, spending 30-40% more time in front of their boxes than the rest of the population.
Jean-Paul Tréguer, the French founder of Senioragency International and author of “50+ Marketing” (Palgrave, 2002), says that not so long ago European company executives would laugh when he tried to convince them that they should pay more attention to older consumers. Now, he says, everybody is talking about them, but no one knows what to do.
America is a few years ahead and has developed a better understanding of the nuances of marketing to the old. The Centre for Mature Consumer Studies at Georgia State University, for example, segments the elderly into four groups—“healthy hermits”, “ailing outgoers”, “healthy indulgers” and “frail reclusives”.
Ken Dychtwald, author of “Age Power: How the 21st Century will be Ruled by the New Old” (Putnam, 1999), prefers to segment them according to stages in their life—tracking people as they become, for example, empty-nesters and grandparents, or (sometimes) single again. Travel companies such as Grandtravel and FamilyHostel have followed that road with packages for older travellers and their grandchildren.
Better segmentation, however, does not mean that marketing departments always get it right. When Gerber, a maker of baby food, realised that many older consumers with dental and stomach problems were buying its products for their own use, it decided to launch a line of similar food called Senior Citizen. Ageing shoppers, however, had no appetite for showing up at the cash register with purees designed for the elderly, and the product was withdrawn.
The most successful advertising campaigns targeted at mature consumers focus instead on active and healthy lifestyles and introduce positive role models. Rejuvenated patients cycling with their grandchildren or practising tai chi are far more effective than the stereotype of a frail arthritis sufferer.
Even the youth-obsessed cosmetics industry—Lancome once ditched Isabella Rossellini as its model because she was considered too old at 42—is getting better at portraying women over 50. Since such women make up more than half the market for face cream in developed countries, that is a wise move. Last year L’Oreal recruited the then 57-year-old French actress Catherine Deneuve to promote its hair-care products, while Estée Lauder asked Karen Graham, its star model in the 1970s, to be the face for a new cream for the mature market.
It is not all about image and communication, however. Products and services also need to suit older consumers. Some companies are catching up with the need to adapt to older users—the food industry in particular. Unilever’s margarine products were in decline until it launched its Proactiv spread, which reduces cholesterol. The advertising campaign focused on happy consumers—mostly over 50—attesting to their lower cholesterol levels. According to Jean Marc Liduena of Unilever Bestfoods Europe, the success of Proactiv was responsible for turning round Unilever’s margarine division.
Packaging and design are also slowly adapting to the mature market. When Danone, a food and beverage giant, decided to target older consumers with its new calcium-rich Talians mineral water, it made sure that customers would have no problems with the bottle. The label was designed to be clear and readable, while its larger and easy-grip cap is simpler for arthritic hands to open.
Design for all
A similar approach has been adopted by other industries as well. Once it had identified the older population as a promising growth market, NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese telecoms company, launched a new mobile phone. Called Raku-Raku, or “easy-easy”, it has a panel with larger buttons and easier-to-read figures. After its launch last September, over 200,000 units were sold in less than two months.
Products and services adapted to older customers often benefit everybody. Three years ago RATP, the Paris public-transport network, asked its older passengers what they disliked most. The metro map layout came high up their list. So the RATP introduced 150,000 copies of a simplified and more readable map, originally supposed to co-exist with the old one. But its instant success with all passengers—old and young alike—led to the old map being replaced by the revised one.
Mr Tréguer argues that designing for the young excludes the old, while designing for the old includes everybody. With its population of over-60s reaching almost 25%, Japan has been at the forefront of a trend to create so-called “universal-design products”—products that can be used by anyone, regardless of age and ability. In 1999, members from 17 industrial associations created the Kyoyo-Hin foundation—the foundation for universal products—and in 1998 the Japanese government proposed to the International Organisation for Standardisation a new global standard for products and services accessible to people of all ages. New guidelines were published last November.
The approach has worked for Fiskars, an American company: its “soft touch” scissors, which operate like secateurs and are therefore easier to use, but are also modern-looking, have been a hit with people of all ages in America. The same goes for Oxo’s arthritis-friendly, contemporary-looking range of cooking utensils.
To help young designers to understand older users’ limitations, Age Concern, a British non-profit organisation, has developed a “through other eyes” training programme for retailers. It tries to simulate the physical limitations that older customers experience when shopping. Ford, a car maker, has come up with something called “the third-age suit” to help its design engineers—most of whom are under 40—grasp the needs of ageing drivers. The outfit adds about 30 years to the wearer’s age by stiffening the knees, elbows, ankles and wrists. It also adds material at the waist—a rotund stomach affects people’s ability to sit easily—and it has gloves that reduce the sense of touch. Ford’s lucky designers also have to wear yellow scratched goggles to find out what it is like to have cataracts.
The exercise has been fruitful. Thanks to the third-age suit, the company’s cars are now easier for everyone to get into and out of; their seat belts are more comfortable to wear; glare has been reduced; and the controls are more readable and reachable.
Such initiatives, however, remain the exception rather than the rule. Despite the prevalence of grey hair in boardrooms, companies are only just waking up to the impact that shifting demographics will have on consumption. The vast majority of them are ill prepared for a transformation that, as Mr Dychtwald puts it, will turn a world focused on the young into a gerontocracy.
I created this questionnaire to ask people about some of my final pieces to find out if there is a strong message behind these posters that i have created and to find out which ones they prefer out of my first drafts. This is a copy of the questionnaire i created.
These are the different responses i got from the questionnaire.
1, I prefer the right blue image, and the green one on the left.
2, An old man has got an iPod, one of the slogans has song lyrics. Saying that boring people have dial up phones.
3, they are trying to use up to date advertising techniques to show old people being left behind.
4, Other than health and health insurance you’ve got no chance.
5, its not fair because everyone should be given the chance to see new products at whatever age. Just because it’s a new iPod doesn’t an older women doesn’t want it.
1, Out of the blue images, I prefer the image on the right and the left image for the green ones.
2, They look like they are a play on the advertising techniques used by Apple and look like they are aimed towards an older generation.
3, I think the message being put across is how advertising is perhaps aimed mostly towards the younger generations.
4, To be honest I don’t think the elderly are considered much in the world of media and advertising.
5, I can understand why perhaps the older generation are not considered in different types of advertising but it isn’t fair as the older should be considered in the world of advertising.
1, I prefer the left image out of the blue pictures. I also prefer the left out of the green images.
2, They seem to be some sort of advertising images aimed towards older people rather than young.
3, That maybe advertising should be aimed for older people rather than the younger people as you usually see in advertising of today.
4, Thinking about it you don’t see much advertising which is aimed towards older people.
5, It isn’t fair because why should the elderly get the same recognition in the media as the younger get.
1, I prefer the right out of the first images and the right out of the second images.
2, The link between the elderly and the advertising, rotten apple reference of this. The “older Generation” also a link to older people.
3, It looks like the images are trying to say that advertising should be more for older people rather than the younger audiences that they are usually intended for.
4, The elderly do not seem to be included in the majority of todays advertising however i have not really thought about that before.
5, I think it is probably because most of the products being advertised are for younger people probably because the business expect to get the business from this audience of younger people.
From the feedback i gathered that many preferred the right image from the blue pictures and the left image which which matched my opinions on the final pieces. I thought this was important to get this feedback as i wanted to make sure the final message was quite clear but enough to make the viewers to stop and intake the image which will make the meaning stronger. Many of the people answering my questions realised that a lot of todays advertising is aimed towards the younger generations and thought it was unfair which all of the responses and emotions provoked my question are exactly the responses i was looking for from my final pieces. My posters have also raised question which is also what i want and have left the viewers thinking about the situation.