There has been a trend in recent years to focus advertising more toward younger audiences, targeting those trends and ideals that appeal most to the increasing consumer power of the millennial and post-millennial generations.
Unfortunately, the skew toward youth ignores another major population group in the 50-and-older crowd. In some cases, the extent to which companies try to appeal to young audiences actually alienates this group that still makes up one third of the U.S. labor force.
Savvy companies can take advantage of this largely neglected force in the economy, reaping the advantages of having a good understanding of their audience. Not only will it increase their overall appeal to consumers, but doing so may also help to combat some harmful stereotypes about the 50+ population.
By taking the time to understand the problem here and making an active effort to address it they can realize actual growth on the strength of this very important audience.
How Bad Is the Problem?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 53 million people over the age of 50 still in the workforce, representing around 33 percent of the total workforce in America.
This significant demographic is, however, severely underrepresented in advertising; a study by AARP found that those in the 50-and-older age group only appear in around 15 percent of media and advertising images. Baby Boomers and other older generations make up one of the largest demographics in the country, but they are one of the least represented in comparison to their size.
Even when older individuals do appear in advertising, the images shown do not reflect the reality of the 50+ population. In a random sampling of 1,116 images published or posted by advertising groups and popular national brands, only around 13 percent featured older people appearing as part of the workforce. The majority instead showed the older population either at home with a partner or in the company of a medical professional, suggesting that older individuals are expected to either be retired or actively seeking treatment for medical conditions instead of being an active part of the workforce and economy.
Ageism in Advertising
The perception created by advertising doesn’t reflect the reality of life for the 50+ crowd.
Examples of this include less than 5 percent of marketing showing older individuals using technology, even though research has found that nearly 70 percent of individuals between 55 and 73 own and use smartphones. By contrast, over 33 percent of images featuring younger people showcase them using technology of various sorts.
Advertising images also tend to characterize the over-50 demographic as being more out-of-touch with modern life and are more likely to characterize them as selfish than younger generations as well. Even when they avoid these pitfalls, they’re still likely to fall back on “grandparent” tropes in an attempt to make the older characters relatable by conveying them through a connection with younger generations.
The focus on older generations in retirement or medical situations, struggling with or avoiding technology and not really understanding modern life plays up potentially harmful stereotypes about those generations. As if that weren’t enough, these trends also alienate a group that still remains one of the largest forces in the current economy at a time when companies are feeling the crunch from a wide range of economic forces.
Appealing to the 50+ Demographic
Instead of playing into stereotypes and cutting off a large portion of their potential customers, companies should embrace the 50-and-over population and embrace this largely untapped market and try to unlock its potential.
Showcase them in advertising and show them as both competent and still active contributors in the workforce. Images and media showing slice-of-life clips and scenes from the workplace should include older individuals as well, as should media revolving around using technology, attending social functions and participating in other activities.
Just as importantly, unless a product or service is designed for a specific demographic, then its advertising should include individuals from a range of ages. While it may be tempting to showcase a product as being of particular appeal to a certain age, there’s a good chance that others may be interested in it as well.
Just as most advertising showcases at least some diversity in the individuals showcased within it, including older individuals who are shown as competent and active can go a long way toward avoiding unintended ageist advertisements.
Marketing to Seniors
In addition to simply making general advertising more inclusive of the older population to increase a brand’s overall appeal with that demographic, there are also untapped opportunities to market directly to the 50+ crowd as well.
Just as you would use targeted advertising to appeal to younger audiences, directed and targeted ad campaigns can focus on older audiences as well. You just need to know the best ways to reach this audience.
While direct mail remains a popular option, it’s important to avoid the idea that seniors avoid digital media. A vast majority has and can use smartphones and computers, and many have both email and social media accounts. Targeted email advertising, video ads on Facebook (the social media network preferred by the 50-and-over demographic) and search ads on Google are all great ways to get your message out to those in older generations. Radio and podcast advertising can also be an effective medium, as can both traditional television and OTT/CTV content.