Marketing to Older Adults: More Than a Cheap Laugh and a Fast Buck

November 4, 2009

by David Weigelt

“Switzerland Named Most Competitive Economy, Topping U.S.” This was a headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal International Edition a few weeks ago. Having recently spent a week in Switzerland, this didn’t surprise me, even in a time when the rest of the world is wrestling with the economy. They have their challenges, but there is an obvious difference in consumer confidence among the Swiss. And why not, with a 4% unemployment rate, a relatively low tax rate and, dare I say it, health care for everyone (without a government option)? They have a lot to be confident about.

It should have come as no surprise that Switzerland, St. Gallen University to be specific, hosted the World Aging and Demographic Forum I attended. This event addressed “important topics related to demographic change and its effect on the labor market and social security, on health issues, on the development of new products and markets, and on changing lifestyles in society.”

It was an enlightening mix of thinkers and doers. There were members of parliament from Canada, Lords from the U.K., ministers of health from Africa, and the United States’ leading economist on demography, David Bloom. As a marketer, I was both humbled and inspired to be among such a group.

I attended sessions with topics such as work and welfare, health, and innovation and markets. As the conference progressed, it became clear to me that I, as “just” a marketer, played a critical role in the mission of this group. Without intelligent and consumer-specific communications strategies, these academics, policy makers, and executives would never realize success.

When the time came for us marketers to speak, I was in the good company of 50-plus marketing icons like Dick Stroud, from 20 plus 30 Consulting, Kevin Lavery, from Millennium, and Florian Kohlbacher, from the German Institute on Japanese. To a packed room, we shared stats on why the mature markets were important and the effect the economy was having on them. But these people didn’t need to know why; they wanted to know how.

  • How do we segment the most diverse set of older adults in history?
  • How do we connect with them via the Internet and social media?
  • How do we cost effectively reach them in large numbers?

As we answered their questions, something dawned on me. As someone who looks to market to boomers and seniors for non-altruistic reasons, I had better help these people meet their goal of advancing the state aging if I ever expect you – the marketer of a product or service that could benefit from the increasing needs and wealth of the mature markets – to do the same.

You see, a culture of ageism still dominates most societies (certainly in the United States, even in places you wouldn’t expect, like Japan). But the zeitgeist is changing. For the first time in history, adults over the age of 40 are the consumer majority. What countries like Singapore, Sweden, and Denmark, (ranked among the top five for Global Competitiveness and also countries with an aging population) know is that (to steal the words of Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology) “demography is destiny.”

We have a responsibility as marketers. As targeting boomers and seniors becomes increasing popular, it is imperative that we don’t screw it up. There are all kinds of stereotypes that surround the elderly. Frankly, some of them are funny (and I’ll be the first to acknowledge the value of being able to laugh at ourselves). However, adults in the second half of life are more than a cheap laugh or a fast buck. There are many layers of wealth (beyond financial) that our country’s mature population possesses – something we need to keep this in mind as we increasingly focus our marketing dollars on them.


More advertisers? Not for More Magazine

August 25, 2009

by David Weigelt

“The Readers Are Over 40. (Don’t Tell Advertisers.)” is a New York Times feature that delves into the current struggles of More Magazine, whose average reader is age 51.

Even though More’s newsstand sales are outpacing competitors like O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, Real Simple, and Martha Stewart Living, many advertisers won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole – especially luxury brands.

What’s even more contradictory is that More’s 51-year-old average reader makes about $30,000 more per year than the average reader for Vogue, Allure, and Harper’s Bazaar. At a $93,000-per-year average, More’s readers even beat the readers of Esquire ($66,800) and GQ ($75,100).

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2009 Generations Online Report

March 27, 2009

by David Weigelt

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released the 2009 version of its Generations Online report. As we suggest in our book Dot Boom, older generations are generally following suit with younger adults. Pew states, “Much as we watch demographic and age groups move up in degrees of access on our thermometers, we can probably expect to see these bars become more level as time goes on.”

A few takeaways include:

  • 70-75 year olds make up fastest growing segment of online users
  • Email most popular online activity for adults 64+ while email usage is waning for younger adults

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Baby Boomers Eating Up Cosmetic Dentistry

June 29, 2007

In a column published in Dental Economics, Dr. Craig Cooper analyzes the affect of baby boomer consumers on implant dentistry. He attributes the growth of the implant dentistry industry to baby boomers discretionary spending: “Folks who prefer driving BMWs to Fords want the best when it comes to dental care … and many are willing to dig deep in their pockets to pay for it.”

Sadly, some of Cooper’s general assertions are incorrect.

  • “By 2017, many of the baby boomers will have died.” In 2017, the oldest baby boomer will be 71-years-old and the youngest will be a mere 53. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, average U.S. life expectancy is at an all-time high of 77.6 years. Something in Cooper’s math isn’t adding up. Even if there was “only” 10 years of heavy demand for implants, what practice would want to ignore that?
  • “It will be impossible to replace their business due to the size of this population group and its high per-capita wealth….Also, this group and subsequent generations might not be able to spend as lavishly as the baby boomers did.” Marketing to baby boomers is not about questioning the future wealth of the younger generations. (According to a study on Echo Boomers, born between 1979 and 1989, there will be little difference in how they spend discretionary income.) Properly crafted messages can appeal to both the old (primary) and young (secondary), packing quite the one-two punch. It’s also important to remember that many boomers are still paying for the dental care of their now adult or almost adult children.

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Seniors Optimistic About the Futures in Their Homes

May 31, 2007

A study conducted by the Internet Home Alliance Research Council found that homeowners over the age of 65 worry less than younger homeowners about living independently, feeling secure in their home, using the bathroom independently, seeing a doctor on short notice and staying connected to family. Read full article.

Overall, they found that seniors are optimistic about having a fulfilling retirement and make choices about their home’s location, design and upgrades that reflect their positive outlooks. Tim Woods, vice president of the council, predicts that “older seniors may be realizing that the aging process is taking less of a toll on them than they expected.”

Menopause Is No Longer a Four-Letter Word

May 31, 2007

An estimated 37 million women in the United States are menopausal, making this inevitable experience no longer a taboo topic. This is due in large part to the mass amounts of boomer women facing menopause and the variety of (sometimes controversial) treatment options available. Read the full article.

It is rare that any two women have the same menopause experience, so appealing to this could be quite lucrative for marketers.

Boomers Are Talking, and Their Friends Are Listening

May 31, 2007

A new study of 502 U.S. baby boomers, titled “B2F Connections,” found that boomers serve as important information sources for fellow boomers when making purchasing decisions. Read complete article.

The study, conducted by Weber Shandwick, said that most boomer to friend conversations and word-of-mouth recommendations are very personal in nature and rich with personal opinion. So you’d think that no topic would be off-limits. Au contraire, as boomers follow a strict “code of silence” when it comes to financial services.

Contrary indeed, since they are the ones that seem to need it the most.

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