The old man in the Brandland – communication with people 50+

The old man in the Brandland – communication with people 50+

For marketers and people working in the media, agencies and media houses the issues connected with communicating with older age groups will be more and more significant from the perspective of running business – writes Michał Daniluk.

The day these words appear in Dziennik Polski (i.e. 07.04.2011) we read: “The older are particularly prone to various marketing practices, promotions, sales strategies, manipulation and, not infrequently, to unfair market practices. They accept all the information about a product without consideration, being totally unable to judge it properly. “ What would you say if the sentence “the older are particularly prone to…” was replaced with “young people are particularly prone to…”? Wouldn’t it be just a generalization made at the same level? Today we don’t know it for sure – the UFO research (Understanding Fifties and Over), which has been conducted in several countries in Europe show how much our expectations about this age group differs from reality.

To demonstrate the scale of inattention in the analyses of communicating to the group of the older people, it is sufficient to say that even defining who precisely belongs to the group poses an extremely difficult task. To tell he truth, it is hard to say if the person over 50 should be categorized into the group of seniors or if the age limit should equal 60 or even 65 years of age. So little research and analyses are conducted using this age group that it is extremely problematic to state the boundary. Frequently it is assumed that the best moment to qualify a person as a senior is the moment they retire. The analysis of how their attitudes and behaviors change right before and in the moment of reaching the retirement age can deliver extremely interesting results – do their consumer habits change in the way important to the advertiser? Are people’s attitudes changing along with reaching a different life stage? It appears that from the cognitive point of view it is justified to set the border around the age of 50.

One should also remember that age for different people is a highly individualized parameter. The UFO research conducted in other countries demonstrated that the older usually see it through the perspective of the number of years lived but rather the way they feel. It is sufficient to say that in Great Britain almost 20% of people above 75 years old declared that they are “middle-aged”. Thus it is justified to conclude that their lifestyle can possibly be more active and closer to that of a 45-year-olds than it seems. Do such people really “treat information about a given product in an uncritical way”, as we read in Dziennik Polski? Not necessarily. The same research, conducted also in Spain, Italy and Czech Republic, have shown that the older are as diversified as the other age groups. Hence, it is difficult to conclude how to communicate with them, in the same way it is difficult to design communication with 30-year-olds. What naturally unites this age group is the physical ailments characteristic of the group – gradual hearing loss, problems with understanding complex messages or perception in general. And where it the archetype of a dignified man of the house, father and grandfather, who gives advice, provides support and shares experience?

For marketers and people working in the media, agencies and media houses the issues connected with communicating with older age groups will be more and more significant from the perspective of running business. All the demographic analyses clearly show that the population, especially in the highly developed countries, ages rapidly and the 50+ age group is the fastest growing one as far as numbers are concerned. Is it possible to completely ignore this fact and target one’s message only to the young ones? More and more advertisers start to notice the buying potential of this group and tink about how to fi their offer to reflect the existing reality better. The main problem here is not merely the attitude of the marketers and decision-makers from the agencies but the character of the changes. It is easier to accept the fact that the media themselves change extremely rapidly and we face an unprecedented technological revolution, i.e. mobile Web access or tablets, than to notice changes which happen over a long period of time. Aging of the society is a process which cannot be captured on a day-to-day basis. As in the well-known experiment – a frog thrown into boiling water jumps out of it immediately but when heated up slowly, it will boil alive. That’s how the marketers confronted with the gradual but systematic changes, prefer to face current issues than engage in something such distant as megatrends in the changes of the structure of the populations.

Those who are prepared for the changes best, will win. Another problem is that dealing with this topic can bring measurable business results even today. Is it better to cope with others in terms of bigger and bigger advertising budgets and spendings and to stand out in the crowd at all cost or maybe one should look for the potential on the market, on which there is virtually no competition? In the place where others see only a group of old, uninteresting and message-prone or, the other way round, naïve and easily influenced old people, the other ones notice an extremely important group of consumers and the potential for their brands’ growth. What seems exotic today in several years’ time can become a necessity. That’s why I watch this group carefully and I invest in researching it.