Marketing to Silver Surfers

Recently my elderly father bought himself a new mobile.  He strode, sorry wrong verb, he’s old.  He shuffled nervously, into a gleaming temple where products aren’t so much on show as implied by bright colours and a lot of chrome.  His entrance appeared to provoke a tangible sense of horror in the youthful sales assistants, three of whom managed to get away leaving one bewildered young man facing the slightly wary, watchful but relatively innocent and wrinkly face in front of him. 

I’d positioned myself in a secluded vantage point, partly to enjoy the show, and partly to ensure nothing went awry and my dad came out with the £15.00 Pay as You Go Vintage model he needed and not an iPhone.  Or started swearing loudly in public (again).  As it was, I needn’t have worried, in what must have been record time he was out again with required £15.00 phone, leaving a pale and visibly shaking young man wiping his brow.  Poor lad, from the way he bundled the new phone into a bag and took the payment at high speed, it may have been his first time; selling to old people.

Are they worth selling to?

It’s rare in advertising that you’ll find many images of them; it’s rare in advertising or marketing that you’ll find many of them actually working in the industry.  It’s an established fact in marketing that old people don’t buy anything, as after the age of around 49 our consumerism gene fails, we remain terminally loyal to our brands and are too busy buying cheap loaves of bread along with milk to soak it in.  The target market for nearly all marketing agencies are those in their twenties, thirties and (at a push) their forties (if it’s possible to live that long?).  However, there’s a problem with this; old people have certain qualities that make them perfect for just about any product; money, lots of it.  They’ve generally paid off the mortgage, got the kids out of the house and have a private income they don’t have to work for; how much more of a target do you need?

So how do you do it? 

Many advertising agencies and professionals admit that partly because their own demographic is at the young end of the scale, there’s a perception that older consumers are too canny to be tricked by bright but translucent marketing gimmicks.  This may well be true, but it doesn’t mean they are impossible to lure.  Here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Treat “them” with respect; in fact forget the “them and us” equation, it’s a load of rubbish.  Old people are nothing but older people with a young person inside, or at least one in the past.  Generally, as you get older you notice you don’t feel any different to the way you did when you were eighteen.  Don’t think there are things you can’t say in front of them; they’ve not only heard it all before they’ve probably tried quite a lot of it out for themselves; several times.  If anything, they’re probably less easy to offend than younger people!
  • Don’t talk down to them; in most cases they’re probably a bit more savvy than you, having experienced life without the product you’re trying to sell them for many years, they’ll probably see the advantages of living with it; if it has any.  Explain how the product in question can help or relate to their lives.
  • Remember old people are pretty darn bright.  It comes back to that reason that marketing executives are keen to steer away from them.  They’ve had kids, grandkids and long since learnt the art of seeing through, shall we say, the odd white lie.  One major marketing firm admitted recently that they avoided selling to ‘the older sector of the community’ simply because it was easier to fool young people into buying stuff.  The trick here is to be honest with them, they’re highly likely to be honest right back at you and they’ll actually appreciate honesty more than all the sales talk in the world.
  • Don’t generalise with older consumers; this is good advice with any consumer, but the older we get the less worried we are about trends, fashions and fads.  In general though, if a product is perceived as cool, most young people will fear imminent death if they don’t have it.  Older consumers have learned to live with the concept of imminent death and tend to be less afraid of going with their own tastes and needs.

Why bother?

But why bother if they’re nearly at the gates of that great Residential Care Home?  Well it doesn’t mean they aren’t consumers with money to spend and you can’t ignore that collectively, we are all living longer, healthier, lives.  Marketing and advertising agencies may long have classified the over 50s as technically dead, but that misguided truth has, thankfully, left the building.  It probably wasn’t using a zimmer-frame, either, but was jogging and dressed in the latest expensive kit.   “Old” people are, compared to many of us, wealthy people of independent means, and they are often willing to spend significant amounts of those means.  In terms of marketing demographics, this could make old people the new young.

Guest Author
Terrifying though the thought may be, blogger outreach marketing, shouldn’t be entirely focused on the young (and poor).  Marketing to mature consumers has long been a bête noir for the advertising industry which is only now beginning to take up the challenge; it may be a big challenge, but it’s a potentially lucrative one.

3 Responses to “Marketing to Silver Surfers”

  1. This a very well written article and I couldn’t agree more. You should not write of older users because they are still potential customers but just advertise to them in a different way because they are not going to be following all the latest trends and do not need an item because it will make them cool or increase their street cred

  2. I’ve noticed too, that you need to determine not just that you are dealing with an older person, but is their mind old or young. Certainly experience and passage of time cause us to change our habits and spending over time, but mentally some seniors remain very engaged and up to date (even on technology), while many don’t. A friend of mine in his 80′s was a joy to talk to; he was up on everything, sharp as a tack with the insight of experience. Even as his body failed, his mind was still engaged and wondering what was new to explore – in life in general as well as technology.

  3. Mack O. Wheeler says:

    Way back in 1917, novelist Norman Douglas wrote: “You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.” But still, more than a century later, despite the many clues, we tend to underrate the role of advertising in daily life. It’s a forgivable oversight: it’s not easy to take seriously the marketing neverland where cartoon bears pitch toilet paper, where the Ty-D-Bol man patrols your toilet tank in a tiny rowboat, and where a tin of Folgers coffee can heal a marriage. Yet the influence of marketing can’t be ignored: worldwide, advertisers now spend upwards of $600 billion a year trying to influence what you think, do, and buy. It took the United States four years to spend that much on its post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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