Don't Be Ageist: Marketing to People 50 and Older | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Don't Be Ageist: Marketing to People 50 and Older

By Michael Clinton

Over the past several years, marketers, brands, creative teams, and media agencies have done a meaningful job of focusing on the importance of diversity in the representation of images and strategies in their advertising and communications efforts.

Making sure that the BIPOC community, as well as people in the LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities groups, are presented in authentic ways has been an important evolution that reflects a world of inclusiveness.

What should be next is a focus on the major social movement that is underway is the explosive growth of people aged 50 and older; this boom is reshaping everything. It is a phenomenon that will have major implications for brands, businesses, government policy, entertainment, and media. This represents a major new growth segment for everyone.

For instance, in the U.S. today, 35 percent of the population is 50 or older. This group represents 117 million people, growing to 132 million by 2030, according to AARP, including the first millennials who will reach that milestone.

But unlike past generations, this new cohort is the most dynamic group of 50-plus consumers that has ever lived on the planet.

For starters, U.S. Americans aged 50 and older spend $8.3 trillion a year, according to AARP. They would be the third largest country in the world based on this number alone. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to $13 trillion. In 2021, Americans 55 and older held 70 percent of the country's wealth, $92.3 trillion. This is a supersized market with supersized economic impact.

Many marketers have been anticipating this major consumer wave, but most don't acknowledge that we are in the middle of it right now. The sheer numbers are daunting, amplified even further in countries like Japan and Italy.

What makes this even more urgent is the fact that this new 50-plus consumer is busting through all the stereotypes that have represented them in the past. In a recent survey of 1,000 people aged 50 and older conducted by Gransnet in the U.K., 78 percent of respondents feel that their age group is underrepresented or misrepresented with outdated images, words, and messages. Nearly 50 percent report that they are now avoiding brands that ignore the contemporary versions of them.

What makes this group so different is new attitudes about aging and living longer. While they are not digital natives, they have embraced technology in their everyday lives. They are fit and healthy, as many of them were on the front lines of the fitness movement of several decades ago.

Moreover, this demographic counters all the research about brand loyalty, as they switch brands in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. This is a whole new kind of consumer that most marketers have spent no time on in their marketing, research, and strategic planning.

What needs to be done to put a focus on this significant group that is driving huge amounts of purchases across all categories?

The demographic needs to be better analyzed to avoid stereotyping and promote authentic inclusivity; marketing teams need to see and understand the value in older markets, not just youth markets.

Second is including and fostering authentic voices around the creative table that represent the 50-plus market. Creative teams need to integrate people over 50 as part of the creative development of advertising. Right now, the default position is to land on old-fashioned and stereotypical images of people over 50.

Research from A+E Networks, which conducted an AI audit with MarketCast of 20,000 television ads, revealed that only one in 10 faces was over 50. Media models need to change. In the past, age depictions were often capped out at age 54, due to shorter life expectancies. Today, if someone is 50 and healthy, they have a good chance to live to be 90.

How do marketers reach older consumers in new and different ways? Demographics are becoming secondary to psychographics, data, and consumer spending. Today's 65-year-olds often behave like 45-year-olds in the marketplace. Who is building the media model for this new future?

What we know for sure is that aging is going to affect everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, political, and religious beliefs. It's a universal experience. Creating a more realistic approach to the new 50-plus consumer will not only serve brands well but allow them to find a new growth segment for their business.

However, it is how they communicate to them that will lead to a path of success. As with many social movements, the people and culture are way ahead of the institutions that serve them. Most marketers are now able to play catch up, especially if they want to cash in on this exciting new world.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Michael Clinton is the former president and publishing director of Hearst Magazines. He is the author of ROAR into the second half of your life and the founder of ROAR forward, a new platform for the 50-plus market.