Marketing to Seniors, not to Old People

(originally posted March 2012)

Over the past few decades, we have witnessed incredible advances in healthcare, medicine, and wellbeing. Combined with the longstanding trend of a growing US population, senior citizens are now the fastest growing demographic in America. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, over 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. That’s a heck of a lot of candles! Not only is the senior citizen demographic rapidly growing, but it’s also rapidly changing. Seniors are living longer, healthier, and more active lifestyles. And after a lifetime of being frugal with their money, they are ready to spend. Over 60% of healthcare spending and a whopping 80% of luxury travel spending can all be attributed to adults over 50.

Seniors are also branching out of their comfort zone a bit. Although most seniors were at least middle-aged when the internet and related technologies really began to take off, over the past 5 years internet usage by seniors has doubled.

One mistake that marketers have made with older Americans has been to lump them all together. Adults aren’t all marketed to the same way, so why are marketers and advertisers treating all seniors the same? They could start to fix this error by segmenting by age.

Baby Boomers

This group includes adults ages 50-64. They are an important part of the economy, holding more than 25% of America’s disposable income—that’s $3 trillion! Out of all seniors, they are the most active online; besides simple tasks like reading news reports and emailing, over half use social media or handle their finances online.

Mature Seniors

This segment includes seniors ages 65-73. They are increasingly willing to spend more of their disposable income, especially on their families and grandchildren. A study by Google and Nielson found that over 50% have made online purchases and more than 60% get their news online.

GI Generation

This sub-demographic includes anyone over the age of 74. Typically they are more conservative than younger generations, value the human component of business, and expect high levels of customer service. They are active with technology, but usually only use laptops or desktops and stick to activities such as email and search.

America is getting older. Retailers, marketers, and advertisers absolutely must embrace this trend. Some industries that have already jumped onboard may surprise you—fashion and beauty companies are taking big steps to welcome an aging population. For years, the media and Hollywood have put a premium on youth. Looking at any runway or fashion magazine cover, you would see twenty-something models and celebrities. Or worse, you would see celebrities who were edging closer to middle-age but desperately trying to resist the inevitable by pumping themselves full of botox and silicon. But the fight against Mother Nature is futile and today’s seniors know it. But they also know that life doesn’t stop when they start to show signs of aging. Living long and active lives, older Americans are ready to embrace a wrinkle or two.

The market has spoken. And because of older generations’ deep pockets, Hollywood and Madison Avenue have listened. Last week, Donny Deutch, chairman of advertising company Deutch Inc., appeared on the Today Show and spoke about the changing tide in beauty. “There is this huge population, men and women, moving through the population: the Boomers. They have all the money…Women are gonna say no, no, no, no. This is what beauty is now.” He went on to note, “Madison Avenue is actually following the money.” Older women are redefining beauty with a message that women are beautiful at any age. Especially Baby Boomers, older Americans no longer want to look like they are 10, 20, or 30 years younger than they really are. They want authenticity. They want to look their age, they just want to look as beautiful as possible for their age. You can see this ideal reflected on magazine covers and television commercials across the country.

At 54, Ellen DeGeneres became the newest Cover Girl. At 62, Meryl Streep graced the January cover of Vogue. And at 90 years old, Iris Apfel became the newest face of MAC Cosmetics and the inspiration for a new line of Jimmy Choo accessories. These women have proved that aging doesn’t mean getting old.

The beauty and fashion industries both have realized who their market really is and are changing their marketing and advertising strategies to align with their target audience. What other industries embracing an older America? And which ones haven’t gotten the message yet? Let us know in the comments!