GREY MEDIA: THE GREYNET - It’s hard to imagine an area less geared to third-agers than the internet. But, says Steve Shipside, that was before ’silver surfers’

The Oldie magazine became increasingly aware of the presence of ’silver surfers’ because of the growing number of letters it was receiving via e-mail. ’Richard Ingrams was ’converted’ when he used the internet to track down a rare second-hand book to a bookshop in Canada,’ says Nick Parker, production manager of the magazine, adding: ’As one reader pointed out, it’s The Oldie, not The Out of Touchie.’

The Oldie magazine became increasingly aware of the presence of

’silver surfers’ because of the growing number of letters it was

receiving via e-mail. ’Richard Ingrams was ’converted’ when he used the

internet to track down a rare second-hand book to a bookshop in Canada,’

says Nick Parker, production manager of the magazine, adding: ’As one

reader pointed out, it’s The Oldie, not The Out of Touchie.’



Silver surfers, the senior citizens of the wired world, are on the move.

They are taking to the net in ever-increasing numbers. ’What we’ve

witnessed is that the net is broadening its demographic appeal, with

growth at both ends of the age spectrum,’ confirms Patrick Diamond,

group account manager at BMRB and author of the BMRB Internet Monitor, a

nationally representative survey which is updated every four months.

’The 15-19 age group has grown, but so has the 45-plus group; take a

look at December 1995 - 18 per cent of the user base in Britain were

45-plus. By December 1998 that had grown to 22 per cent - an increase of

one-and-a-half million users, which is substantial growth.’



Substantial growth indeed, and a great demographic target market in

terms of time and income. So, have the country’s marketers pounced on

this hotline to the grey pound? In a word, no.



’In the main, the over-40 market is deeply unsexy, unless you’re

marketing stairlifts or funerals,’ comments Kevin Joslin, the man behind

www.togs.com (from Terry’s Old Guys/Galls), the fan site of Terry

Wogan’s Radio 2 breakfast show, and a silver surfer favourite. ’Not many

advertisers are interested, since the perception is that it’s the young,

sexy audiences that have the income; but since baby boomers are now my

age or older, then you’ve got to say they’ve missed the boat when it

comes to marketing to us.’



’I’d say the important thing about this is that it isn’t just a net

phenomenon; it’s global,’ agrees Chad Wollen, consultant and editor of

media features at the Henley Centre. ’As people enter the third age,

they are rather ignored and under-represented, so it’s no surprise the

net is doing it too - it’s sad, but not surprising.



In some ways the net would be taking a lead over marketing in general if

it were to respond positively to the fact that third-agers are adopting

it at a quicker pace.’



The Henley Centre has five cluster groups looking at different types of

net user in the UK, from which it gleans its own information about

senior netizens. Woollen says, ’One of the interesting things is that if

you ask the groups who will adopt the net, it’s the oldest age profile

who say they will be least likely to use it, but then when you go

deeper, you find there are a number of scenarios that would make them

adopt it much faster. For a start, they make a lot more long-distance

calls, keeping up with their families, and there is extended family

pressure as older PCs are handed on and e-mail is encouraged. From there

on, it’s not just applications like home shopping that appeal, but the

whole issue of community-building.



These people make classic informal moderators (of online chat rooms and

forums), or champions of the community, and more and more of them are

using the net. There are lots of reasons why the net is very interesting

to this group, but it would be both custom and practice for the

marketing community to turn a blind eye to them.’



’People in this age category have disposable time and income,’ says

Joslin. ’And they are looking to occupy their time with something less

strenuous than line dancing.’



What they do occupy their time with, once online, may come as an

eye-opener for those advertisers who would expect them to head straight

for the gardening and knitting sites. Diamond breaks down the sites

visited, revealing that 59 per cent of the 55-plus silver surfers are

visiting sites selling holidays online. That compares to 37 per cent for

the adult population as a whole. News is the next biggest driving force,

with 43 per cent visiting news sites. Weather information also proves

surprisingly popular, at 36 per cent. Sites on specific television and

radio programmes are popular (with around 7 per cent for each), and yes,

gardening does fare well (again, with 7 per cent), but such figures are

as nothing compared to the 23 per cent visiting health-related sites,

and the 18 per cent requiring personal finance information - surely a

healthy indicator for the financial products sector.



All involved agree, however, that while there are silver surfer sites,

such as www.thirdage.com, www.agenet.com, and www.hairnet.com (dedicated

to training the over-50s in the ways of the web) there is, overall, very

little effort made to cater, let alone sell, to them. ’The Oldie site

lists a few links,’ notes Joslin ruefully, ’but to be truthful I don’t

think other sites are very heavily orientated towards us.’ Which means

that, in the absence of commercial attention, an ad hoc network is

springing up on the net. Togs, for example, has a cross-marketing deal

with The Oldie - ’ their marketing people contacted me,’ recalls Joslin,

’and I said I would be happy to promote Mr Ingrams’ wrinkled organ.’



Over at The Oldie itself, they point out the example of Jack Scaife, a

specialist butcher and, according to Parker, ’an archetypal Oldie

business,’ as well as a long-time advertiser with the title. ’Jack was

persuaded to get a website, and now turns over in excess of pounds

100,000 a year through the site.’ Silver surfers, it seems, are doing it

for themselves.



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).