Marketing to Senior Citizens


Here’s a little exercise that all of us should do periodically: close your eyes and say the word "Seniors". Then hold on to the first image that comes to your mind.

If I were someone who regularly wagered, I’d bet that the majority of us have an image of a very old, infirm, frail, wrinkled, possibly poor, sexless individual with gray or no hair. Most of us reflexively conjure up images of this nature because all of our lives we have been spoon fed the idea that aging is an undesirable state of being. We mostly see aging in terms of its downside, as if it were a form of poverty much more devastating than financial poverty.

We are a society that glamorizes youth and all its attendant corollaries as if this state somehow is an ideal and that once the dewiness of youth wears off, we're on the fast track to nowhere. Most of us have no respect for old age, unless it comes out of a bottle.

There was a time when I believed because the population was aging and as older people started to form the majority these attitudes would change for the better, but I was wrong. In fact, the opposite appears to be happening as culturally the mainstream is seeking an ever younger comfort level and sacrificing all the benefits that mature people bring to the table to find it.

Hollywood movies are a prime example, as the idea of a sound plot or a complex character is no longer essential to good movies so long as there’s plenty of raw sex and some fast-paced special effects. In fact, many of the newest movies wind up as blockbuster hits despite being universally panned by critics. Clearly, the target for these films are at the younger end of the spectrum, where gray matter doesn’t appear to play a large role.

Similarly. much of the TV programming today is getting more and more inane, as producers are hiring younger and younger writers for their shows. The genius that was once found in shows like M*A*S*H* or WKRP in Cincinnati can no longer be found on the small screen. And programs that are challenging and cerebral such as the CSI and Law and Order franchises tend to be the rage exclusively for older viewers.

A recent article in the entertainment section of my local paper bemoaned the fact that so many really talented show business writers were out of work because, sadly, they were considered to be too old.

The advertising industry appears to be undergoing the same metamorphosis and it shows. Many commercials running on television today leave me wondering at the end what it was they were trying to sell. Never mind remembering the brand name. But in their efforts to be “edgy” and “ironic” in their ads they miss the point of advertising, which is for people to want to purchase the product. Anyone walking through the creative department of a major ad agency today might be left with the impression that he’d stumbled into a junior college classroom, given the average age of their creative people.

Fashion magazines, such as Vogue or Elle show photographs of emaciated underage-seeming models wearing fantastically expensive designer clothing. But there’s two problems with those images: first, girls that young as a rule can’t afford to buy those kinds of clothes and second, women that are old enough to afford the clothes generally aren’t as thin as those models in the magazines

It’s too bad that those who help shape societal attitudes aren’t more sensitively attuned to the damage this youth-obsession inflicts on our culture. Yes, it’s true with age comes the odd physical infirmity and lots of wrinkles, but human beings aren’t like tin foil to be thrown out once it’s wrinkled. Think of the wisdom, knowledge and experience we are missing out on by shunning maturity. It’s an insult to older people; but ultimately it’s much more damaging to society at large.

Written by Klaus Rohrich on Saturday, 30 January 2010


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