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Marketers Are Committing ‘Business Suicide’ by Ignoring 50-Plus Consumers

Boomers and their parents are over 110 million strong. With more than $2 trillion in spending power, they are many times richer than their younger counterparts and account for 55% of discretionary income in the United States, says Colin Milner, an authority on the 50-plus market. Yet the vast majority of marketing dollars are spent on adults 35 and younger, he says.
“That’s business suicide,” says Milner, who is CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), a professional association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry.

Milner points to a study released Nov. 7 by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center that found the 2009 median net worth of households headed by adults 65 and older ($170,494) to have been 47 times that of their counterparts younger than 35 ($3,662).  From 1984 to 2009, the Pew center found, median net worth for those 65 and older rose 42%, but for those under 35 fell 68%.

“The 50-plus consumer is virtually invisible to marketers,” Milner says. “And when marketers do focus on this group, 75% of them get a failing grade. Older consumers say that marketing targeted to them is patronizing and stereotypical. Simply put, it fails to reflect their stage of life.”

What can marketers do? Milner offers five tips:

  1. Take the time to fully understand this group’s needs, dreams, desires, expectations and capabilities.
  2. Commit to the market by ensuring your products, services, staff, philosophies and procedures are in line with what this group is seeking.
  3. Be visible in the places that older adults frequent for their information – television, newspapers, Facebook, to name a few.
  4. Become an advocate for older consumers. Since 95% of marketers are not focusing on this group, those who do will reap significant rewards. The Dove Real Beauty campaign is a prime example.
  5. Avoid “graywashing.”  Coined by Milner, this term means, that companies shouldn’t mislead consumers by promoting useless and expensive “antiaging” products or stating that a product or service is geared to “seniors” if it really isn’t, Milner says.

What will be the impact of making such changes? “A Nielsen study done a couple of years ago showed that by ignoring Boomers, marketers could miss roughly $230 million in sales of consumer packaged goods alone, or around 55% of the overall sales in the United States,” Milner says. “However, the opposite is also true. Those who focus on this group in a meaningful way stand to gain their fair share of the older consumer’s business.

“The opportunity is unprecedented,” Milner says. “How marketers and businesses respond may very well dictate their future.”

In May 2011, ICAA launched a groundbreaking initiative to help. Created to encourage more positive, realistic views of aging and shift society’s perceptions of aging, ICAA’s Changing the Way We Age® Campaign provides marketers and businesses with tools for reaching an older population as part of its Rebranding Aging program.

These tools include ICAA’s communication guidelines aimed especially at media and marketers, with words and phrases to avoid and/or use sparingly, and appropriate substitutions, image recommendations and strategies to use when preparing materials for older adults. Part One of these guidelines is posted in the “Rebranding Aging Toolkit” available in the “Media and marketers” section at

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