From the time I started studying advertising as an undergraduate, one of the most prominent and consistent maxims I’ve encountered is that, for most brands, younger consumer segments are more valuable to advertisers than are older segments. The industry’s obsession with showing youthful faces and bodies as well as the parsing of the tween, teen, and young adult populations’ every whim lends at least some evidence to the idea that older segments just aren’t widely viewed as being desirable target audiences unless one is trying to sell adult diapers, shuffleboard supplies, or denture adhesives.
The rationale for a focus on younger consumers seems to stem, at least in part, from an assumption that older people have purchasing habits and brand affinities that are so established that it’s nearly impossible, or just too expensive, to change their preferences or interest them in new innovations.
I think a great many ad and marketing professionals still more or less accept this conventional wisdom, but when I recently ran across Alison Bryant’s work with AARP on what they’ve termed the Longevity Economy, I quickly realized they’re doing so at their own peril.
Bryant’s work encompasses a number of aspects, but her conclusions related to consumer activity are most relevant for those of us in the marketing space. One finding–that “56 cents of every dollar spent in the U.S. in 2018 was attributable to the 50-plus population”–was of particular interest. In a related podcast interview, Bryant discussed the need for marketers to connect with 50+ consumers by using imagery in ads that reflected the reality of older adults instead of relying on the same tired–and even insulting–cliches that many campaigns have continued to employ (see Gustafson and Popovich’s work on offensive stereotypes here, for example).
MIT’s AgeLab is also publishing exceptional research that can inform the entire marketing process–from product design and distribution to communication–for companies that are savvy enough to realize the consumer power that the 50+ segment represents. This brief lecture from AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin gives a really nice overview of some Longevity Economy trends as well as some implications for business.
It’s apparent, then, that many marketers should be re-evaluating both the potential value of 50+ consumers and the ways in which those individuals should be approached through advertising. Considering the wealth and purchasing power this group controls, and the ability to deliver cost-effective digital ads to them, there’s simply no excuse to continue dismissing the value of older individuals as potential customers.