The #1 Thing Businesses Need to “Get” When it Comes to Marketing to Older Adults

by Jeff Weiss

In a recent conversation about ageism with a friend of mine who is also in the Longevity Business, she asked me what brought older adults together. What is that commonality those most older adults can relate to?

I had never been asked this specific question and it gave me pause. Having conducted hundreds of research polls, surveys and focus groups that have resulted in over five million data points, there’s lots of input that can shape this answer but I had never thought about it in this way.

My friend suggested that fighting ageist prejudices was the common factor amongst older adults and that seemed like a logical answer. After all, seeing depictions of older adults being frail and unable to use technology must annoy most older adults. However, ageism and other prejudices are not black and white. People see things the way they want to see them and what might be disturbing to one person has no impact on someone else.

Case in point is several ads that we asked our Revolution55 to review under an ageist lens. When shown the ads and asked about whether it was ageist or not, results were inconclusive, with some Revolutionaries appalled by the ads while others found them funny. Perspective and internalization are likely to be driving these different sentiments.

Apparently a desire to fight ageism is not the common theme that brings older adults together. So what is it? Or perhaps there is no common sentiment that unites this large and influential group.

After further thought that included our research, experience and my personal dealings with older adults in my life, I came to the conclusion that there is one thing that the vast majority of older adults have in common, regardless of their age and other demographic and psychographic data.

My belief is that older adults don’t want to be told that they are old.

Suggesting that a product, service or experience is for you because you are old(er) is the kiss of death for many brands and products. Largely because of the ageist stereotypes that exist, older adults and particularly Active Agers, don’t like to think of themselves as old, regardless of their age. Old = bad in our society for many, including the media, so to be considered “old” is not something that people aspire to.

Let me provide some examples that drive my response. First, and based on several studies that we have done over the years, the vast majority of older adults do not want to be associated with the term “senior”. Whether that means being called or referred to as a senior or being presented with offers or products that reference seniors directly, older adults are generally turned off by this language and look for alternatives if they exist.

Our research around what older adults want to be called supports this assertation as the term “senior” ranked low on the list. While there is no clear term or label that works for everyone, any term, such as Golden Agers that implies the next step is death, were considered inappropriate. Older adults have no desire to be associated with terms that suggest they are “over the hill” with not a lot to live for.

We also asked our Revolutionaries to choose the most appealing name for a community should they ever consider moving out of their home despite a desire to age in place. Communities that use the term “Senior” in their description were ranked low, while terms such as “Active Communities” and “Lifestyle Communities” scored higher. This was not surprising as the perceptions of older adults towards senior communities and retirement communities are less than favorable.

Finally, I recalled a conversation that I had with my mother almost five years ago when she was 89 and living on her own. She had fallen in her condo a few months ago and while she was able to get herself up and off the floor, she did some damage to her lower back. She was lucky as it may have been days before anyone realized that there was an issue. A scary thought for all of us.

As the youngest of four, and the favorite child of course, I was sent in to convince her to wear a PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) device in case of a future fall. Before I could even get the words out of my mouth, my mother shut me down. “Those things are for old people and I am not old!”, was her response. Apparently the thought of being seen wearing one of these devices was enough to put my mom off and she was not going to move off her stance. Wearing a “special” necklace or bracelet implies that you are old despite the clear need to use one. We see the same thing with many older adults who avoid wearing hearing aids for that same reason, although I argue that wearing a hearing aid is far less ageist then clearly missing out on conversations.

To finish the story about my mother, we came to an arrangement that did not involve her wearing a PERS device that met everyone needs. But funny enough, she moved into a “retirement home” shortly after our conversation and now she has to wear a PERS necklace. When I refer to it, she says it’s no big deal and everyone there has to wear one. Funny what happens when you remove the fear of judgement from the equation.

Why is all of this important why do I think it is the #1 thing that businesses need to consider when marketing to older adults? Assuming that you see the immense opportunity to target, reach and sell to older adults, you need to engage them in ways that are meaningful in realistic and authentic ways. Language and imagery are two key components to doing this and any efforts that insinuate that using your product because they are old will go on deaf ears and sometimes turn them off your offering altogether. Instead, you need to appeal to their hopes and desires that can be associated with the joys of aging. Because the last thing we want to think about is the next step in our life is being our death.

If you are interested in uncovering unmet needs so that you can make your products more usable, desirable and marketable to older adults (of all ages), contact me and let’s have a discussion on how we can help you do that.

Connecting with Caregivers

Connecting with Caregivers

New study provides a compass for companies and organizations appealing to the increasingly important family caregiver audience.

Download Now

Recent Posts

Find us on YouTube

recent posts