Going grey: why marketers need to change their old attitudes

Remember the ads for Contiki tour groups? They were so deliberate in targeting the 18-25 year old demographics they actually printed it in their advertising.

And that kind of grouping really paints a picture, doesn’t it? If you’re 18 you’re an adult, ready to party hard and face the world with your hangover or perhaps your (in)dignity intact. At 25 you’re already starting to get on a bit, probably thinking about getting married or having kids, but still able to go out and have a good time.

What about the dreaded 65+ category? What image do you associate with them? I bet it’s grey haired old dears making cups of tea, rinsing their dentures, sitting with a rug over their knees, probably in an ad for retirement homes or worse, adult nappies.

Isn’t it time the marketing teams of the world woke up and realised that people live longer these days, that the quality of life is a lot higher, that 65 isn’t the end of the line by a long chalk and that they tend to have money to spend and lives to lead?

Helen Clark is 65. Meryl Street is 66, but it would be a brave person who put them in the retirement home category. What about Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn, where would you classify them? They’re 68 and 69, so in marketing terms they’re invisible, yet they seem unlikely to fade away any time soon. Jane Fonda 77, Sophia Loren is 81. These are vibrant lives still being lived well.

And that’s just the women. What about the men? Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg, Alan Rickman, Charles Dance, Tommy Lee Jones, David Lynch … All were born in 1946 and show no sign of slowing down any time soon. They’re all 69 years old.

65+ just isn’t a single category any longer. It might have been fine to consign the entire lot to the past-tense rubbish heap in years gone by, but these days those over 65 are a broad and varied lot.

Everyone born before 1950 is in this category. Everyone. Those who fought in Korea and those who protested the war in Vietnam. Are they likely to have the same views on products, services, travel destinations, dining preferences, global warming, sustainable living and cat food? Probably not I would suggest.

If we are going to market to meaningful demographic groups, we need to think of the 65+ group as being at least three disparate sections. The old labels of ‘Boomers’ and ‘Veterans’ just don’t cut it anymore. Aspiration, vitality and intention define many of the habits of older people, just like any other demographic group, but their needs are different. For example, Boomers will be a market with very different characteristics to their parents. It’s a fact that they exercise twice as much as previous generations.

There’s one stream of thought that we should now be talking about the ‘Young Old’ (65-74), the “Old” (74 – 84 ) and the “Oldest Old’ (85+). The first – 65-75 – are more likely to carry on working than ever before. They might semi-retire, reducing their work to three or four days a week, but are still keen to keep at it. This isn’t driven by financial need so much as it is by a desire to keep contributing and to keep themselves engaged.

From 75 to 80 people are still active but definitely winding down. Our old view of 65+ really doesn’t kick in until you’re in your 80s, and that puts quite a different slant on things I think.

HSBC conducts a global survey each year about retirement and has found that 56% of those questioned are planning to ease out of the workforce by reducing their hours but certainly aren’t retiring from work.

What do these people do with their time? More than 40 percent want to travel extensively. Some want to start businesses and the most entertaining statistic in the entire survey must surely be that a growing number of people (now 21 percent of the total) say it’s better to spend all your money and let the next generation create its own wealth. Only 13 percent think it’s better to save to pass on to their children.

Almost half of respondents say when they retire they’d like to move to a more rural location. More than half (57 percent) of working age people who plan to move are looking for a  more relaxed lifestyle and interestingly, 17 percent are willing to move countries in order to get that lifestyle. The most popular destinations? The USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are the most highly ranked.

This is a golden (pun intended) opportunity for New Zealand marketers to target a new demographic. The world’s population is ageing and instead of turning a blind eye to the dear old things, we could and should be thinking about how to engage these people.

  • ​Grainne Moss is country manager of Bupa. 

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