Seniors: The Most Underestimated Market

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Seniors: The Most Underestimated Market

A quick perusal of the bookshelves in any store or library will reveal an interesting trend: Since the mid-nineties or a bit earlier, books have been coming out at an accelerating rate telling people how not to grow old — if not in actual years, then certainly in attitude. Titles like Declining to Decline1 and Age Power2 are typical vehicles for the message: “We’re rewriting the script for aging to include independence, an active lifestyle, and self-actualization.”

Nowhere is this trend taken more seriously than among Seniors, also often called “Matures” or “Veterans.” Those are the people born before 1946. Two distinct generations make up this grouping:

  • The so-called “Greatest Generation,” born 1908 to 1926, who grew up in the Depression and served in World War II.
  • The so-called “Quiet Generation,” born 1927 to 1945, whose childhood included the War and the Depression, but who have lived mostly in peaceful, booming times ever since.

They believe in deferred gratification and they trust institutions. Radio, movies, and newspapers were the media they grew up on. Indicative of the Graying Planet trend, there were still about 55 million Seniors in 2006.

Those people are increasingly both the subject and object of research. Ken Dychtwald, for example, is a psychologist who specializes in writing popular books about aging. Along with his wife Maddy, Dychtwald is the co-founder of Age Wave LLC, a business development firm aimed at understanding older people. He insists that the 21st century is going to be dominated by today’s Seniors and Boomers.

Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today, has pointed out, however, that relatively little marketing is designed to target this segment of the population. That’s reflective of underlying attitudes in business. Mega Media: How Market Forces Are Transforming News,3 a report published in 2000, revealed that the most influential executives at major media outlets had a negative impression of older audiences. This still appears to be the case. For example, the New York Times fired its legendary executive editor Abe Rosenthal and the humorist Russell Baker to replace them with younger staff.

Unfortunately for business, this bias is self-defeating: Seniors still have most of the wealth in the country, and, many of them are willing to spend it, too.

The marketing and research firm High-Yield Marketing conducted a study called Ageism in Advertising4 that shows how the practice of ignoring older people is largely a side-effect of the way market research is being conducted...

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