OPINION: Alter your misconceptions about the older consumer - Mature consumers have money to spend and are highly likely to try new products, in contrast to conventional wisdom. To ignore them is foolish, Reg Starkey says

In the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, Dominic Mills asserted that ’one reason why few ads are aimed at oldies is that, by they time they get to 50, consumers are settled in their purchasing habits and it is very hard to persuade them to switch their brand of toothpaste or bank’.

In the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, Dominic Mills asserted

that ’one reason why few ads are aimed at oldies is that, by they time

they get to 50, consumers are settled in their purchasing habits and it

is very hard to persuade them to switch their brand of toothpaste or

bank’.



This reflects conventional wisdom among mainstream thirtysomethings in

the ad industry. But it doesn’t reflect the truth. According to Age

Wave, the self-styled ’leading authority’ on the subject in the US,

people of 50 and over are ’far more open to new messages and products

that increase their sense of control and security. They will switch

brands when they feel it serves them.’



Age Wave cites J. D. Power and Nielsen to substantiate its assertion

that ’mature buyers are more likely to try new things than any other age

group’.



OK, you say, but Americans are different. And, of course, you’re

right.



But isn’t it significant that just about every major consumer trend you

can think of - convenience and health consciousness to name but two -

started in the US then took root and flourished over here?



If you feel more comfortable with UK-based data, a Gallup survey

conducted in this country on behalf of Reader’s Digest as long ago as

1989, which compared the brand loyalty of two groups, one aged 16-39 and

one 40-64, concluded that brand switching ’would seem to be the norm for

both young and older groups’.



Durables enjoy greater levels of loyalty, as you would expect. But, as

you might not, the survey found levels of brand disloyalty to be ’very

high’ for most products in both groups.



According to the Henley Centre, the 45-59 age group has more income than

any other sector of the population (more than pounds 90 billion a year)

and, according to TGI, the total 45-plus market has well over pounds 175

billion a year to spend.



The other frequently quoted figure is that people aged over 50 account

for more than 80 per cent of the private (and, therefore, disposable)

asset wealth of this country. Is it their only crime that they’ve grown

older and physically less attractive than a more nubile group? It would

be politically incorrect to admit as much, so the marketing department

rationalisation is that ’young people are the future of the brand’.



Like many soundbites, this ringing declaration will not stand up to

intense scrutiny, particularly if advertising investment is related to

sales by age group. A reverse pareto principle of 80:20 (80 per cent of

the budget delivering 20 per cent of the sales) is hard to justify to an

accountant or a numerate shareholder.



The Gallup figures from 1989 show consumers both under and over 40 have

an almost equal propensity to switch brands. If we look at the bulge

moving through the population, we see the 45-plus sector growing by more

than 50,000 every month on average. If we look at male unemployment, we

find the highest concentration between the ages of 20 and 30, with the

figures halving and declining from 45 onwards.



To cite Mills’s examples, anyone who has teeth will need toothpaste,

whether they are working or otherwise. Similarly, anyone who has money

will need a bank. At 45 plus, most people still possess most of their

teeth and have significantly more money than those under 45.



People continue to consume products (and media) until the day they

die.



They often have more time, almost always possess more confidence and, in

most cases, have more money. Their priorities may change from ’image’ to

’results’ but, by any reasonable standard, older people deserve not to

be patronised by journalists, caricatured by creative people and

routinely ignored by mainstream advertisers.



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