Selling to the 50+ crowd
Boomers are forcing businesses to take a new look at how they market to people of a certain age

Morris Dascal's pass-times are typical of those of any 15-year old. He plays guitar in a rock band, downloads music onto his iPod, and jostles with pals at a weekly shinny hockey game. But Dascal isn't 15, he's 51.

"I know I don't act my age, said Dascal, president of a local ad agency, with a laugh. "But as long as I don't look in the mirror, I still feel like I did when I was a teenager."

Dascal isn't alone. Led by the baby-boomers, Canada's 50+ generation is forcing businesses to take a new look at how they market to older Canadians. The stakes are huge. Canada's seniors control own a vastly disproportionate share of the country's wealth.

Many have paid off mortgages recently and with the reduced debt and run-up in real estate values, they now feel "house rich." This is all happening as their children are preparing to leave the family nest.

The good news for marketers is that not only does the 50+ crowd have the cash, they are not shy about throwing it around.

But for businesses, getting their hands on that money is no easy matter. The boomers,-- who are well on their way to forming the crux of the 50+ demographic,-- have been marketed to all of their lives and are wise to gimmicks. Like Dascal, who along with his wife just purchased an Infinity G35, 2-door sports coupe, one of the most prominent boomer traits is their refusal to act their age.

"When my son Shawn finishes playing his video games, I often take over," said Dascal. "It's interesting because although we are from different generations, we have a lot of the same tastes."

According to one expert, identification with the younger generation is a common boomer characteristic. "They have an image of what it is to be old from their parents,-- gray and in poor health-and they say to themselves, "that's not me,"" said Martine Langlois, president of the Quebec Federation of Senior Citizens.

For example when the Quebec Federation of Senior Citizens launched it's recruitment drive three years ago, they realized in early testing that the model used in their ads, --a beautiful woman who visibly in her 50s,-- was not connecting with the group's 50 to 60 year old target audience.

"The model had gray hair, but that group doesn't identify with gray hairs, even though many of them also have them," said Langlois.

According to Brian McConnell, a branding consultant who advises companies on how to sell to seniors, today's 50 and 60 year olds have a visual image of themselves that is between 10 and 15 years younger than their chronological age.

"They don't see themselves as old," said McConnell, at a recent forum organized by the Montreal Marketing Association, where industry pros shared their tricks about selling to this choice group.

According to McConnell, marketers have to be creative in both product design and advertising, because boomers have been consuming all of their lives. "Many of them have so much stuff in their houses that they don't know what to do with it all," McConnell said.

That said, this Botox-stuffed, Viagra-charged, peroxide-laced generation is willing to adopt new products that bring tangible benefits, in particular those that make them look and feel younger.

Among the categories that do well with boomers are pharmaceutical and pet products as well as adventure travel and spas. They are also big fans of anything health related including organic food and sushi restaurants.

Boomers demand quality and they have the cash to pay for it, as long as the product delivers comparable value. That said, businesses should avoid overcharging, because seniors will eventually catch on and they have long memories. "They are information junkies and they want to know everything about a product," McConnell said. "But they also do a lot of price shopping."

The jury is still out on how long the boomers will continue to fight the aging process, but judging from Dascal, the war looks like its still in its early stages. Dascal's band, UBOver40, plays at a variety of parties and charity functions, and his guitars remain one of his favorite topics of conversation.

"I've got band practice tonight," he said with a smile. "I can't wait."

 

Sidebar: Marketing to the 50+ crowd

o Design a good product. Seniors have the cash and are willing to pay if the quality is there.
o Keep the spin reasonable. Seniors want open communication about a product's benefits. They don't want to be told what to buy.
o Seniors hate telemarketing. Find another way to break through
o Use actors that are younger than the target group's age range.
o For print ads use bold, large, easy-to-read type that accommodates seniors' declining eye-sight.
o Don't ignore the Internet, which seniors are increasingly adopting.

Highlight this quote: "This Botox-stuffed, Viagra-charged, peroxide-laced generation is willing to adopt new products that bring tangible benefits, in particular those that make them look and feel younger"

peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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