What do we call older adults?

(Hint: Seniors is not the correct answer)

by Jeff Weiss

After launching Age of Majority six years, the most commonly asked question we are asked is “What do I call older adults in my marketing campaigns?” It’s a rather basic question that you think would have a straightforward answer, but this could not be farther from the truth.

My initial response is to understand what someone means by “older adults” and to define those characteristics.  Is it simply based on age and, if so, at what age does someone get “old”?  The answer to the question can put you into sensitive territory.  For example, I’m 59 and will be offended if the number is lower than that!  Is their definition based on health status, use of technology (or lack thereof), the presence of grandchildren, or something else?

The word “old” is a relative term that needs to be compared to something else and subjectivity often comes into play.  For example, I might be considered old to a 15 year-old, while my 97 year-old tennis partner calls me a spring chicken.

When it comes to labeling older adults my advice, in most cases, is not to use any labels or terms to define these consumers. And this doesn’t just apply to older people but to consumers in general.  If I tell my 27 year-old son that he is a typical millennial, he’ll quickly point out all of the ways that he is different from the typical millennial portrayed in media and pop culture.

As to the core question of what to call older adults for marketing purposes, we put that out to our Revolution55 community to understand what resonates with them. Not surprisingly, opinions varied greatly and there is clearly not one term that most are comfortable with (remember what I said about subjectivity).  We did find out that “Golden Agers” implies the next step to death, while “Mature” implies that you can’t realize this state until you pass a certain age. That makes me laugh as I know people in their teens who are more mature than some of my friends in their 70s and 80s!

Out of the hundreds of responses we got back from our Revolutionaries, these two are most indicative of the general comments we received:

“I prefer senior.  I hate Baby Boomers.”

“I like Baby Boomers.  I don’t like seniors.”

Apparently there is no pleasing everyone and using labels is bound to offend many people.

Which brings me to the comment from our community members that sums up the advice that a lot of Active Agers would like to give marketers:

“I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me.”

Active Agers are tired of being ignored and they are craving for marketers to acknowledge them in meaningful, relevant and appropriate ways that won’t offend them, including not labeling them with names that can easily turn them off.

If you’re struggling with how to engage older consumers, including better segmentation of this large and growing group of powerful consumers, send me an email and I’d be happy to chat.

Not sure where to start or what a campaign “targeting” older consumers looks like? Please reach out. We can start opening some doors for you, whether that’s through quick insights from our community of Active Agers or a closer audit of your current marketing efforts.

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