One of the first ‘laws’ (those of us at Age of Majority like to share) of marketing to older consumers is to be very careful about assigning them labels. No one wants to be called “old” or lumped in with any group that by nature is associated with aging – i.e. silver, grey, senior and so on.
I’d suggest that grouping people together of any age can be a dangerous proposition, but especially so when it involves people over 50. I totally get it, having entered the ‘countdown’ to what we call Active Ager (55+) status. I don’t expect to think of myself any differently the day I turn 55. I’m not seeking any special status or group membership solely due to my age. Actually, I’m hoping it’s pretty seamless. Much like those U2 song lyrics – “nothing changes on New Year’s Day” I’m thinking nothing much will change on birthday no. 55.
I’d hazard to guess that most people my age feel the same way. Do they really want to be treated or thought of any differently? Does the 55 year-old recreational hockey player want other players to “take it easy” on them? Does the 55+ worker ask for (borrowing from a common basketball term) “load management” or some recovery days after finishing a big job? Does the older artist want their creativity judged in a different light?
Larger issues around ageism have contributed to the idea that when you’re assigned an “age” label, you are somehow, automatically no longer the same person, perhaps even a lesser version of yourself. Ouch!
Of course, we do still use age labels – i.e. masters leagues for sports, seniors communities or centers for people 50+, boomers, millennials for marketers, etc. Age-specific labeling had its place (I guess) in the past, but we continue to see a negative reaction to the practice. I think it comes down to the decreasing relevance of age when many of us just see our lives continuing along a path that we hope continues to be rewarding, healthy and even filled with some positive surprises along the way.
Is feeling ‘old’ inevitable?
Needlessly to say, health is a big factor in just how seamlessly we can continue to live. Reality is that health issues can throw us a big curve ball in our quest to maintain a mindset free of age-related concerns (AoM research found this is the #1 thing that “makes us feel old”). But ‘feeling’ old is usually a reaction to something happening to us. It’s not inevitably linked to turning a certain age.
I would suggest that the big takeaway for anyone looking to appeal to the so-called aging population (especially for those attaining Active Ager status) is to realize that we don’t see ourselves much differently, even if you’re intent on giving us names or labels. We still like the music we’ve always liked (with a desire to discover new artists). We still like the activities we’ve always liked (with a desire to explore new ones). Personally, I still enjoy socializing with people of many ages (it makes for better stories). I still like working with younger and older colleagues (I learn a lot from both and hope I can even return the favor a bit).
I think my experience isn’t unlike that of many people my age. That is, we think of ourselves as “ageless” to the extent that, while we totally get that we’re getting chronologically older (there will always be reminders of that), we have no desire or plan to define ourselves any differently. And that’s why age-related labels have and will become increasingly irrelevant in defining our preferences, behaviors and passions.
This is the mindset we bring to understanding “older” consumers at Age of Majority. Today we call them Active Agers because it’s a more relatable and acceptable term to a world that’s still struggling to understand the fading distinction between what it means to be young and old. As the meaning of aging itself continues to evolve this “label” may too change.
Personally, I think a broader appreciation for this mentality will serve the marketing world (and all of us) well. Who really wants to be defined by labels or names? I think a little less labelling and a lot less pitting of generations against one another can only be a good thing.