“I’ve Fallen & I Can’t Get Up”: The Graying of America

Time is finishingMany of us know the Life Alert spot where “grandma” (Mrs. Fletcher) utters those famous words. Though not intended to be campy, the spot has taken on epic status and has a life of its own. Our aging population may not be infirmed or in need of a Life Alert, though we are aging nonetheless. Seniors (age 65+) comprise a growing % of the U.S. population due to a confluence of several phenomena–longer lifespan, the baby boomer bubble moving through their 50s and into their 60s, and fewer children borne to young families.

The first of the 76 Million Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) began turning 65 earlier this year. Even the back end boomers will soon be 50. The life expectancy for those who are 50 is now 81, an increase of 3 years vs. 30 years ago. Those 65 and older will soon outnumber children under 5. By 2030 when the last of the Boomers move into the 65+ demo, one in five Americans will be 65 or older (much like Florida today) versus one in eight today. 

There are significant societal and marketing issues as a result. As a nation we may be facing a spending crisis which pales in comparison to today’s budget issues. Our Social Security and Medicare programs were based on actuarial data of yesteryear with shorter life expectancies, and while life expectancy has increased (and that’s a good thing obviously), the number of recipients is increasing. For Social Security, what’s compounding the issue is that the ratio of workers to retirees is falling significantly. In 1970 there were 3.7 workers for every Social Security beneficiary, while in 2030 there will only be 2.2 workers per beneficiary.

From a marketing perspective, 65+ had traditionally a marketing wasteland of Prep H and denture adhesives. No need to target seniors aggressively, we thought. Traditional media “over delivers” them anyhow. True, to some extent, but short sided, in terms of growing financial influence.

Here are a few key implications for targeting the growing 65+ group:

1. Don’t patronize. Don’t overemphasize grandma and grandpa running a marathon, on the other hand don’t make them appear feeble. Realistic portryal of an aging population and their issues makes for more effective communication.

2. Respect the growing purchasing power of 65+ audience.  Many IRAs are rebounding and this group has become wiser (and more conservative ) as a result.

3. Expect seniors to work longer. In some cases this is a result of need, others out of desire to stay engaged. But there’s also he reality that the “back nine” of life may be longer than expected and there’s a greater need for $ to cover a longer life span.

4. Travel, finance, health care are categories with great relevance to an older demo. A 65+ audience is not an afterthought to these categories.

5. Seniors will play a bigger financial role in the lives in the grandchildren than any pervious generation. This is all already happening and many educations of today’s children are now funded in part by grandparents.

In the end smart marketers respect the growing influence of the 65+ market because as every Deadhead knows, “every silver lining has a touch of gray”.

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