Cruise lines, casinos, and homestyle restaurants: These are just some of the industries that attract older customers, but tend to run ads and marketing campaigns featuring a much younger crowd.

Sure, we can all understand the youthful appeal of 20- and 30-somethings living it up at the blackjack table or tanning on a cruise deck. But how does this make older patrons feel? Do these ads elicit a warm, nostalgic feeling for more youthful days, or do they alienate older customers?

“You want to see what you want to be, not what you are.”
Jeff Shusterman
Opinion Market Research

Some marketers claim that older folks really don’t want to see themselves in ads. In an event covered by the Pensacola News Journal, Jeff Shusterman of Opinion Market Research told a marketing trends workshop for Visit Pensacola that according to his research, older Pensacola visitors and residents “preferred to see photos of younger people,” despite the fact that Florida is known for its senior population.

“You want to see what you want to be, not what you are,” he explained. Older beach goers want to feel youthful and spry, he said not past their vacationing prime in any way.

His view was seconded by Dick Appleyard, president of the Appleyard Agency, which handles some of Pensacola’s visitor marketing. (Appleyard is a boomer himself.) “If you are targeting my generation, you don’t show a snowbird in the ad, you show a younger demographic,” he told the Visit Pensacola panel.

He claimed that visitors of all ages, including his, don’t want to see beachgoers who look like him.

Others would beg to differ. In a recent Fast Company article, author Suzanne Labarre posits that marketers in general are not paying nearly enough attention to the 50+ population. “Marketers have it wrong,” she writes. “The most important consumer group isn’t the 18-to-24 set, as conventional business wisdom has it. It’s older adults.”

Why? Because, as Labarre points out, seniors aren’t only beneficial to traditionally older industries. By 2050, the number of people 50 and older is expected to rise to 3.2 billion — double that of the senior population in 2015. These people are, of course, buying all sorts of products.

And the ads that do represent seniors? Most of them aren’t doing it so well. Seniors are often represented as bumbling, helpless, and in the worst cases — pathetic. According to a 2014 study cited in The Longevity Economy, fewer than half of those polled felt their age group was represented respectfully.

“Boomers are not sitting in rocking chairs knitting.”
Karen Strong
Immersion Active

To find out some successful methods of marketing to seniors and what seniors do want to see, Considerable talked to Karen Strong from Immersion Active, a Frederick, Maryland, agency that focuses on marketing online to older consumers.

She believes there’s plenty of room for older people to see themselves in a variety of industry campaigns.

“This group is not the ‘grandma or grandpa’ of ’50s and ’60s sitcoms,” Strong said. “Today’s mature consumers are diverse and more active than ever before. They want the images to reflect this changing face and not who a young ad exec may think is the face of a baby boomer.

“Boomers are not sitting in rocking chairs knitting,” she added. “Madonna is 60; Tina Turner, 79; and Mick Jagger is 75. The success of active adult communities that feature hiking, and water sports is evidence of the changing face of retirement living.”

Seniors are often represented as bumbling, helpless, and in the worst cases — pathetic.

It’s important for marketers to remember that although older generations didn’t grow up online, that doesn’t mean they don’t use it now, sometimes just as often as their younger counterparts.

“Social media has become a major tool when it comes to selling to boomers and seniors,” Strong continued. “More than half of boomers who use social networking sites visit a company website or continue their research on a search engine as a result of seeing something on social media.”

And as for those out-of-touch infomercial and TV ads? Strong encourages empathy in marketing. “Respect and words of kindness go a long, long way when it comes to selling to boomers and seniors. This, of course, all goes back to showing empathy and making sure they know you understand their needs and care about the things they care about.”

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