Marketing to older people — the very phrase can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach. And yet this huge and lucrative market is no niche — it encompasses consumers from all walks of life who just happen to be over a certain age. Rachel Miller investigates
“For individuals, old age is a relative concept,” says Mark Beasley, managing director of RHC Advantage, the UK’s only independent marketing agency to specialise in mature audiences.
Businesses need to make sure that they are targeting their products and services at all ages, including the over 50s. But older in years does not mean “old” in outlook.
“Nowadays, dads of 45 are wearing jeans, and they are not even dad jeans, they are trendy jeans and they’ve got trendy shoes on too,” adds Beasley.
Today’s 45-65 year-olds are the so-called ‘baby-boomers’ who have grown up with marketing and advertising and who have profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent employment pensions. Many of them are relatively well off but don’t fit a stereotype.
In fact, many businesses ignore this age group on the basis that they want to catch their customers young and try to keep them for life. The perceived wisdom is that older people are unlikely to switch brand allegiance.
But this is quite wrong, argues Beasley. “First, it ignores the commercial potential of older age groups and second, it makes the blanket assumption that ‘advertising does not work’ for older consumers.”
There’s no doubt that older people form a massive customer base. Given that there are currently more adults in the UK over 45 than under, the over-50s represent a huge market for businesses.
“Anyone who is foolish enough to devise and operate a campaign which ignores almost half of the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands,” stresses Beasley.
But what’s needed is the right sort of advertising. Several studies in recent years have found that many over-50s believe advertising treats them in a patronising manner. Businesses should also make sure their activities are lawful under the Equality Act 2010, advises Beasley.
When it comes to addressing the needs of this market, businesses often fall back on clichés. “Older people are not a single segment,” Beasley points out. “This market is too large, too diverse and too complex. The other mistake that businesses make is in believing that there is something different about older people.
“Older people don’t behave any differently from anyone else,” he adds. For example, it’s a mistake, he says, to think that older people are more set in their ways. They are just as likely as anyone to switch brands and suppliers if their needs aren’t being met. Neither are they more inclined to respond to discounting than anyone else.
As this is a group of experienced consumers, how do you market to older customers? It’s all about inclusivity — and not stereotyping. “Inclusivity means not excluding older people, rather than actively targeting them,” concludes Beasley. “For instance, some brands seem to go out of their way to appeal to younger people, even though older people are also potential customers.”