As the baby boomers age, their sheer numbers and their unique attitudes to ageing will create new markets. Yet marketers remain obsessed with youth. Many have cottoned on to the largely ignored older segment, but few see "the elderly" as an exciting proposition, even though in industrialised countries the over-60s already account for 20% of the population.
Senioragency International, a French consultancy specialising in marketing to the over-50s, states that this greying market owns three-quarters of all financial assets and accounts for half of all discretionary spending power in developed countries. Over two-thirds of them own their own homes, three-quarters of which are unencumbered by a mortgage. In the US, they control four-fifths of the money invested in savings and loan associations and own two thirds of all the shares on the stockmarket. Not only are the elderly wealthier, they are also healthier and have more time to spend their money. Most workers retiring today can look forward to 20 years of free time and, thanks to medical advances and healthier practices, remain active for most of it. Over the past two decades, consumption by the over-50s in Europe has increased three times as fast as that of the rest of the population. In industrialised countries, people over 50 buy 50% of all new cars and have a penchant for the top end of the range. Even the eternal rebel marque Harley Davidson can't escape. The average age of its customers today is 52. The marketing challenge is to stop lumping the older generation into the category of grey, cranky has-beens living on a pauper's pension. Many ads still caricature older people in order to make younger audiences laugh, yet the over-50s make up the largest share of TV audiences, spending 30% to 40% more time in front of their boxes than the rest of the population. Jean-Paul Tréguer, the founder of Senioragency International and author of 50+ Marketing, says not so long ago company executives would laugh when he tried to convince them they should pay more attention to older consumers. Now, he says, everybody is talking about them, but no one knows what to do. He believes the most successful ad campaigns focus on active and healthy lifestyles with positive role models. "Grandparents cycling with their grandkids or practising tai chi are more effective images to promote arthritis medication than showing an elderly sufferer in pain." It is not all about image and communication. Products and services also need to suit older consumers. The food industry is particularly responsive. Unilever's margarine products were in decline until it launched Proactiv spread, which reduces cholesterol. The campaign focused on happy, active consumers over 50 attesting to their improved health benefits. According to Trendwatching.com founder Reinier Evers, testament to the boomer and third-age (60+ market) power is this new wave in custom-made products for the mature palate, a trend he terms "maturialism". "It's a vital combination of 'mature' consumers pursuing a seemingly restrained 'best of the best' materialism, driving the trend in ditching mundane goods and services for more professional, premium versions. From heavy-duty power tools to state-of-the-art cameras to grown-up ice-cream flavours, the delights associated with maturialism are enjoyed on a more intimate level: the pleasure of consuming - and sometimes subtly showing off - premium goods and services, with the 'professional-grade' or 'mature' label justifying the purchase of items that might otherwise have been considered 'flashy'." Brands as disparate as Braun toothbrushes, Canon digital cameras and Haagen Dazs ice-cream are finding lucrative returns in investing in the older consumer. DoCoMo, a Japanese telco, launched a mobile phone called Raku-Raku, or "easy-easy", with a panel featuring larger buttons and easier-to-read figures. After its launch in September 2004, over 200,000 units were sold in less than two months. Locally, Rotary Australia boasts figures that should hit home with marketers. According to an independent study by McNair Ingenuity Research, the average age of Rotarians is 60, although 14% are under 50. They're active, 63% play sport, their average income is $74,000, 68% are employed, 71% travelled by plane domestically in the past year and 61% travelled overseas in the past two years. Interestingly, 72% undertook major renovations in the past 12 months. Finally, here's a thought for marketers in their 30s - If you're 35 now, you'll be a senior yourself in 15 years. For information on maturialism visit www.trendwatching.com
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