55-64. The lost demo.

As seen in March 21, 2008 Philadelphia Business Journal

We are too young to be old.
We are too old to be young.

But marketers should ignore us at their peril.

For many marketers 55 to 64 year olds are an afterthought. In our youth, we changed the nation, protested the Vietnam War, and forced our leaders to listen to us. Yet today to many companies we are yesterday’s news, other than to the obvious industries travel, finance, senior living communities and healthcare. It is particularly ironic that although we are the first generation of youth that made marketers pay attention to our buying influence, we are now largely ignored.

The majority of most marketing programs are geared to one of three targets–a youth audience, adults aged 25 to 54, or “seniors” 65 and older. Where do the 22 million largely affluent households headed by someone aged 55 to 64 fall in this planning? Have we fallen into a black hole?

“Target the young. Older consumers are set in their ways. Media will over-deliver the older consumer anyhow”, are words I may have foolishly uttered to many companies at an earlier stage of my business life.

Was I wrong? I actually may have been right years ago, but certainly would be wrong today. Years ago, those in the 55 to 64 years old group were among the “old” in lifestyle, thought, and buying patterns. They married younger, had children when they were younger, worked at their employers longer, retired, and died younger. This age group exhibited “older” lifestyles. They were brand loyal and they maintained their buying habits from their youth.

What has changed?

First of all there are a lot more 55 to 64 year olds than ever.

The 55-64 year olds are the leading edge of the 79 Million Baby Boomers and this age group is growing dramatically. In 2020, the 55 to 64 year old age group will have grown 34% from today while growth of the 25 to 54 year old group will be essential flat.

Moreover, the 55 to 64 year old of today does not ascribe to “age appropriate behavior”. We view ourselves as being on a journey of self-discovery. Despite obesity, diabetes, and “going” problems, we are still far healthier than our parents were at this age and will live 15 to 20 years longer than our grandparents.

And while some of us are now even eligible for social security, we view ourselves as 15 years younger than our chronological age. We are not our parents, at least in action and spending. Most of us were in high school and junior high when President Kennedy was shot and every one of us remembers where we were that fateful day. It defines us and is a common thread among all us in this group.

We have significantly more money, time and a desire to have fun far beyond what our parents did at our age. Even though our longer life expectancy should make us even more frugal and concerned about saving for our 80’s and even 90’s, we are still willing to spend for goods and services that bring us immediate joy.

So if we are still so vital, what are the 5 things that a smart marketer should do to recognize our importance?

1. We don’t like messages targeted to young consumers that you think are relevant to us as well.

Craft specific messages for us. Ever hear of segmentation?

2. Don’t patronize us either.

Clearly since we think we are 15 years younger than we are, don’t assume the messages featuring healthy active people in their 70’s are relevant to us either. (Although it’s OK to use Dennis Hopper, a 70 year old, as a spokesperson. We liked him in Easy Rider and later in Blue Velvet).

3. We are cynics, but not “cranky old men and women”. Don’t b.s. us.

4. Don’t take us for granted.

Our brand loyalty is not forever. We are open to new products and services—and new technologies too.

5. We know we are aging.

We are far more knowledgeable about health and aging than our parents were. We seek to age SLOWLY. We will remain vital for many years.

When thinking about whether to target a 55-64 audience, a smart marketer should remember the Willie Sutton quote about why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is”.

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