Photo: Shutterstock.

Fast Company hit the nail on the head recently when it published a piece entitled, “Why is marketing to seniors so terrible?

It’s a battle cry we at YouAreUNTLD have been spearheading since our launch 18 months ago. We believe that society’s stereotypes about getting older have little to do with reality and, while we are working to change that by telling stories about people living the UNLTDLife, unfortunately, most media and advertising does little to dispel misconceptions and advance the conversation.

As Toronto-based Jeff Beer writes in the Fast Company feature, older people who are living full and fulfilling lives are utterly devoid from the media landscape: “The world of ‘oldsvertising’ is a hellscape full of reverse mortgages, erectile dysfunction pills, and bathtubs that won’t kill you. If you took your entire view of the human race from primetime advertising alone, you’d see a society without old people. They don’t work, they don’t drink beer, they don’t drive cars. They don’t exist. According to Havas Group, only about 5 percent of U.S. advertising is even aimed at people over 50.”

“If you took your entire view of the human race from primetime advertising alone, you’d see
a society without old people. They don’t work, they don’t drink beer, they don’t drive cars.
They don’t exist.”
– Jeff Beer, fast company

It’s not much better here in Canada, where the vast majority of marketers tend to favour Millennials, essentially ignoring or perpetuating the tired stereotypes of older consumers. Big mistake.The group wields enormous consumer influence: Globally, older consumers will account for $15 trillion in spending by next year.

The numbers alone make a compelling business argument: There are 1.6 billion people aged 50 or older in the world. That number is expected to double over the next three decades. People are living longer in better health and with more wealth. Canada is home to 9.6 million Boomers—almost one in every three residents—and the over 50 crowd is flourishing.

That’s a lot of opportunity for smart companies to drive growth and sales.

However, as Fast Company points out: “Forget about balancing between Instagram and ‘I’ve fallen but I can’t get up.’ These statistics, along with more recent studies around how consumers want to see different generations depicted and reflected in culture, are starting to shift how some marketers try to lure different age groups.”

Cass Enright, who spent years working in advertising and is now head of digital for YouAreUNLTD, agrees it’s time for a change: “The way most businesses talk to the aging consumer is not relevant anymore and it hasn’t been in a while. It’s like a new continent is rising out of the sea and that’s this new demographic.”

Some companies get it. In her piece “Say Goodbye to Anti-Aging, the Era of Ageless Beauty has Arrived,” YouAreUNLTD contributor Fransi Weinstein writes: “We’re seeing a shift in centuries-old beauty standards that glorify youth.”

Maye Musk, the face of CoverGirl.

Diversity, or “inclusivity,” as Cecilia Diaz, strategy director at Droga5 — CoverGirl’s New York-based ad agency puts it, “isn’t a trend for CoverGirl. It’s a core part of our DNA.”

When it came to the decision to hire Maye Musk, who is now 70, as the brand’s latest — and oldest — “face,” Diaz has a clear view on why. “We believe that makeup is one way women can express themselves and their many sides. We look for ambassadors who embody that — and Maye Musk fits the bill perfectly.”

Musk, who was born in Regina, SK, is a dietitian, a business person, a model, a mother to three children (including Tesla CEO, Elon) and a grandmother. “On a daily basis, she turns herself into whoever she wants to be and rejects all arbitrary social constructs that aim to limit her ambitions, her confidence and self-expression. She refuses to live by widely accepted norms of how women ‘of a certain age’ should behave,” Diaz told Weinstein.

While the beauty industry is heading in the right direction, this refreshing attitude about aging tends to be the exception rather than the rule in advertising.

As Beer points out, this leaves a massive void for progressive businesses to connect with a group that has not only disposable income, but also an openness to brand messaging that is sincere and on point.

“The way most businesses talk
to the aging consumer is not relevant anymore and it
hasn’t been in a while.”
– Cass Enright, YouAreUNLTD

“They want brands to provide content that’s educational, informative, and more than just entertainment,” said Havas Group’s chief insights officer and SVP brand marketing at Vivendi Maria Garrido. “They’re more sincere in that when they have a good experience with a brand, 68 percent say they share it with other people.”

Enright agrees. “Content not coupons and complexity not clips. This audience wants rich, deep content backed by evidence.”

The first step in making inroads is to check ageism at the agency door: Don’t insult people or make a mockery of getting older. Older adults can take centre stage in the creative brief and marketers should commit to banishing outdated imagery (no more stock images of walking on the beach, pushing bikes or staring at a smartphone looking confused), while adjusting tone and language.

“This is a majority audience and seems to be a point of disruption, but very few brands are doing it,” Sarah Rabia, global director of cultural strategy for TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A. told Fast Company. “I could see two strategies: Either you go more inclusive, don’t define by age, but look at values and similarities between your audience, because there are plenty of things a boomer and a millennial have in common. Or you get laser-focused on this audience, but with a tone that’s upbeat, modern, and progressive.”

Either way, advertising needs to be more sincere, showcasing an older demographic that is vibrant and engaged, with lifestyles and interests that reflect reality: People are aging differently than previous generations and it’s time to bust common myths and tell those stories in advertising.

Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Woody Hibbard.

For instance, a report by the Media Technology Monitors found that 66 percent of older Boomers (defined as people 61 to 71) and 78 percent of younger Boomers (51 to 60) own a smartphone. In addition, 58 percent are likely to own a tablet, and 41 percent are likely to own a console video game system such as PlayStation or Xbox.

Havas’s 2018 Meaningful Brands study also found massive growth in the online presence of people 55 and over. In fact, 68 percent buy something online every month.

And, they’re not just researching absorbent underwear or sensible walking shoes (although those are important, too). As outlined by Chris Powell in YouAreUNLTD’s inaugural cover story, “Age of Disruption:” “Thanks to a steadfast refusal to accept the conventional notion of aging, they are a powerful consumer demographic, reshaping such industries as travel (the Canadian Tourism Research Institute predicts that people 55 and older will be the main pleasure travel market in the next decade, spending $35 million a year) and automobiles (think of heated seats that can alleviate arthritis symptoms, as well as automatic tailgates, lumbar support and autonomous vehicles).

Kijiji’s Autos Research Report seconds this, revealing older consumers are more likely to upgrade their vehicle and are quicker to make buying decisions.

All indicators are the aging population has a taste for the good life.

“A lot of luxury brands are doing things with older models, showcasing an older target group,” Garrido told Fast Company. “Part of that is affordability. I was having lunch with someone the other day from Chanel who told me that 80 percent of their fashion is sold to people over the age of 50. Most people don’t have the accumulated wealth to pay $2,000 for a jacket.’”

Photo: Shutterstock.

In August, McCann Worldgroup Canada published an eye-opening report in partnership with Ipsos Public Affairs called The Truth About Canadian Women – Over 50: The Untapped Opportunity, which identified and then busted myths about how women over 50 are viewed and ultimately dismissed. Here’s what they found:

  • An estimated 70 percent of women over 50 feel that older women are not represented in the media.
  • 59 percent of women feel they are living a fuller life after 50.
  • Women over 50 represent an economic powerhouse and, like any consumer, are set to use their power on their own terms.

Ipsos’s CEO, Darrel Bricker has a clear message for marketers: “They are half the population, their numbers are growing and they have most of the money. As Canadians age, older women are going to decide more of everything. Figure them out.”

In the YouAreUNLTD article, “Style Mavens,” Mary Chambers, chief strategic officer at McCann Worldgroup Canada, said:“Women talked to us about the ‘missing middle’ between 50 and 70, this incredible age where they’re really engaged in life. They’re starting new jobs, buying new homes, creating new companies. We’re living to an average age of 84, so we’ve got three-plus decades that we’ve been ignoring that are full of life.”

Three-plus decades? From a marketing perspective, the opportunities are staggering.

Another McCann study, Truth About Age, suggests marketers should shift from age to attitudinal segmentation, such as Ageless Adventurers, Communal Caretakers, Actualizing Adults, Youth Chasers, and Future Fearers. Nadia Tuma, senior vice president and director of McCann Truth Central (the agency’s research unit), told Fast Company. “It’s almost like the demographics that we’ve created are a barrier to us understanding people at a deeper level.”

No kidding. It’s high time to remove those barriers and challenge advertisers to speak to and of an aging population in way that is fresh, respectful, and reflects reality.

Here are some brands that are getting it right:

Related Reads:

Riding the Wave: Boomers Defy Ageism

Negative Talk about Getting Older and Lead to Internalized Ageism

The Future is Aging and the Opportunities are Infinite

Fast Your Seatbelts: Boomers Are a Driving Force Behind Auto Innovation

Words Matter: Language and Symbols Have the Power to Shape Culture and Instigate Change