Money & Business

Note to Marketers: Don't Forget Consumers Over 50

By / Jun 25, 2014 (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)

That’s the takeaway from a new survey focused on baby boomers, which notes that many older consumers feel ignored or even forgotten by most brand advertisers. And if you are marketing to older age groups, be careful not to get stuck in traditional mindsets.

For all the talk about millennials and the need to do a better job of marketing to them, are brands missing out on a huge market that’s already there?

A recent study from the international community website high50 suggests that they are. The May survey of 1,305 people in the United Kingdom over age 50 found that just 4 percent of respondents feel that advertising is aimed at them and a mere 11 percent think that brands are interested in them as consumers.

“The 50-plus generation is at best ignored and at worst patronized, which, given that by the year 2020 half of the U.K. population will be 50-plus, is both bizarre and unacceptable,” high50 brand ambassador Mariella Frostrup told Marketing Week.

In the U.S. the situation is similar, with around 76 million baby boomers between the ages of 50 and 68, according to the Population Research Bureau. They represented nearly one quarter of the total U.S. population in 2012.

Yes, They Spend Money

As the high50 survey suggests, by ignoring people over 50 in favor of those in the 18-to-49 age bracket, marketers are missing an excellent opportunity to cash in on a large segment of the population.

A 2012 white paper by the Nielsen Company and BoomAgers puts the point starkly [PDF], calling boomers “marketing’s most valuable generation.” The report notes that traditional marketing logic has been to concentrate on the 18-to-49 age group, but the 50-plus segment is growing significantly and will make up 50 percent of the U.S. adult population by 2030.

And the conventional wisdom about boomer spending is wrong, the paper notes.

“While it’s well established that boomers have the most money to spend, there is a bias to believe that older people spend less of what they have. While this may have been true of the generations of older consumers that preceded the boomers, it simply does not apply to this generation.”

According to the white paper, 63 percent of boomer households still have at least one person working full time. What’s more, the generation represents 49 percent of all consumer packaged goods sold.

Think In Three Dimensions

But focusing on people over 50 doesn’t mean just putting them in your marketing vehicles and calling it a day.

A 2011 Ad Age white paper sponsored by AARP [PDF] suggests that marketing campaigns have to reflect who older consumers are, and two-dimensional approaches—such as television ads for arthritis medicine featuring elderly adults—don’t really work for them.

“The opportunity marketers have is to really speak to values, which is a much more emotional and simple sell rather than, ‘I recognize you’re old and now I want to sell you something,’” Lori Bitter, president of the Continuum Crew, a marketing firm focused on older adults, said in the white paper.

But that’s not always easy, considering that many people over 50 are living nonlinear lives. As the white paper puts it: “They are getting divorced and remarried, going back to school late in life, and having children and stepchildren living under the same roof—a marked change from their parents, who went off to war, got married, had children, stayed at the same company for 30 years, retired, and moved to Florida.”

How has your association marketed to older members? Offer your insights in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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