Marketing to the 50-plus: A Disrupted Model

We’re in the midst of a longevity revolution and with any societal change it takes awhile for our institutions to catch up. So too with our efforts to market and advertise to an aging cohort. Not long ago, people over a certain age ceased to exist in the eyes of advertisers. In my agency days, many myopic media plans were written with 18 to 49 year old homemakers in mind. Slowly we started to notice that there was indeed life after 50.

When advertisers finally woke up to the opportunities that existed amongst aging Boomers, they reached into their toolkit of trusty stereotypes and well-worn clichés. Who can forget the silver haired couple walking on a beach, signaling the benefits of retirement planning? It’s as though marketers forgot early lessons in Marketing 101. Let me remind them of a few facts. 

We have no blueprint for today’s 50-plus consumer. For the most part, we’re living longer, healthier lives than previous generations. But we’re also living cyclical, rather than linear lives. Previous generations typically moved through life in one direction: education, work, raising a family and then retirement. This model is now disrupted. Rather than taking a linear path through life, we see plenty examples of people who are blending education, work, a new family and part-time retirement.

Examples abound of people who are exactly the same age but at completely different stages in their life experiences. Here’s an example from my own life.  I had a business meeting recently with someone of similar age, whom I’ve known for many years. Not seeing each other in awhile; he was very proud to show me pictures of his baby daughter now six months old. I have a thirty-year old son who is starting a new family. I suspect that introduces some fairly substantial differences in the way we view the world and in the products and services we buy.  In the old, unenlightened marketing paradigm, we would have been thrown together into the same bucket because we’re in the same age group.

The key lesson for marketers: focus on life stage not age. We can both be 60. but I may be starting a new family and contemplating a new career. You, on the other hand, could be retired and shopping around for a walk-in bathtub.  A world of difference and as a marketer you better be sensitive to these differences.

Gerald Bramm