Like many marketers – especially direct marketers who study real behavior, in addition to demos and psychographics – I have long marveled at marketers’ general disregard for older Americans.  It’s  as if you become 35 (30?) and fall off the face of the marketing earth.  Or all your mail is suddenly about the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed or characterized by calls-to-action such as “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” 

So I have been really thrilled to see some of these attitudes change.  Dove, Vespa and Kelloggs have all done a nice job.  Companies are utilizing online advertising to reach the 60% of seniors and 80% of boomers are on the Internet.  And there are more websites reflecting the “young” older market, my favorite being the new from Robin Wolaner. and others target a 40+ consumer who is physically and mentally active, likely to continue working at least part-time until they die or their health prohibits it (even with money, forget retirement – too boring) and very interested in romance, relationships and s-e-x.  Just yesterday there was an amazing article in the Wall Street Journal on how the sports medicine profession is branching out to embrace older athletes.  The article mentions that folks age 55 or older make up the fastest-growing segment of health-club members and that 10,000 competitors are expected to participate in the Huntsman World Senior Games, “an event in which anyone over 55 can compete in sports including basketball, triathlon and mountain biking .”  Triathlon??  Who, me? Right after my nap. It seemed that people were finally understanding that “psychographics are way more important than demographics” (Seth Godin) when marketing to seniors today. So I was quite discombobulated to read an article in AdAge (“How to Target Older Demos,” 9-24-07) that seemed to be pulling in the opposite direction.  An article in fact, that appeared to be pulling its readers back to the 1950s.The article is based on Project Looking Glass, a study completed by a marketing company called Varsity.  Varsity is unfamiliar to me.  Based on the physical layout of the AdAge page, my eye was naturally drawn first to the charts and bullets  – which is where I got into trouble with observations and tips such as:

·         Seniors 65+ share a Depression-era frugality

·         Problems with everyday activities are increased, such as bendig down or opening a package

·         Marketers should choose easy-to-see colors and feature young-looking people in ads

·         Companies should slow down voice prompts

·         If direct mail is employed, use thicker (easier-to-open) packaging

Now aside from the fact that I’m nowhere near my 60s and even I get creaky sometimes bending over, these details just sounded so lopsided compared to all of the current studies I’ve been reading!  The picture being painted was the classic “these are old people and bring on the Depends.”  What was going on here?

So I backtrack and actually read the article in question and discover that Project Looking Glass collected its data… during a month-long stay at a RETIREMENT COMMUNITY!!    I mean, the data may be perfectly sound based on a sample from a — repeat — RETIREMENT COMMUNITY — but it’s certainly not the representative and diverse sample that I assumed was the background for the article’s graphics.

A funny but serious example of how – when it comes to market research, as in most things – context is everything.


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