Digital Media: Tipping Point for 50+ Marketers?

It wasn’t long ago that we struggled to get marketers to even acknowledge the value of the 50+ consumer. The economic downturn greatly advanced our cause, as brand marketers began to realize that their bottom lines depended largely on consumers they’d previously ignored. 

Yet, while several major brands are now targeting this audience, others continue to rely on spillover of their younger-focused market campaigns to reach the 50+ consumer. 

We may be approaching a tipping point, however, where a critical mass of the marketing community targets 50+ consumers, either directly or with universal messaging that incorporates their interests and needs. And the push that may get us there could well come from the power of digital media.  

Boomer and older consumers have embraced the online world at an impressive rate. According to Pew Research, roughly 8 in 10 Baby Boomers are online, as are 6 in 10 Americans in their mid-60s to mid-70s.



Given the ever-expanding targeting capabilities of digital advertising, we could eventually see enough ROI case studies necessary to turn the tide and convince more of the marketing world that targeting 50+ consumers is worth the investment. In fact, recent research from Forrester shows that Boomers spend more online than any other generation, an average of roughly $640 every three months -- and older consumers spend nearly $500 -- making them an ideal target for marketers looking to get more bang for their proverbial buck.

While younger users may be more adept at navigating the Internet, more often than not older and younger generations are engaging in similar tasks online. Pew Research has found that the top six reasons people go online are exactly the same for younger and older users: email, search, health information, news, shopping, and travel reservations.

Furthermore, older generations are closing the gap when it comes to activities such as social networking and watching video. 

On the surface, it may seem that older and younger consumers use digital media in the same way, but their actual online experience varies substantially. This variance, in fact, may make members of the 50+ demographic more appealing than their younger counterparts.

Younger Americans use technology to create their lives. For instance, they use social media platforms like Facebook to build and expand their networks of friends, oftentimes as a means of demonstrating their popularity. Older generations, according to our research, are more likely to see technology as a way of enriching the lives that they have already created for themselves. Facebook, for them, is a means of reconnecting with friends they have already made. 

Additionally, younger users tend to be grazers, often going online as a matter of routine, and getting caught up in whatever catches their attention on a given day. In contrast, our research shows that older users are more purpose-driven. They log on with a specific, task-oriented goal in mind. As a result, older generations are a more focused audience. They are looking for solutions, open to advertising messages, and ready to take action. 

Older generations have embraced digital media because, in short, the Internet provides them with the opportunity to be the most visible and powerful generation of 50+ in our nation’s history.

This opportunity manifests itself in five meaningful ways:

  • Broad and deep access to information that helps them make better decisions about important issues such as healthcare and finances, as well maximizing the potential of this stage of their lives.
  • Product and service information and purchase opportunities that enable them to spend more wisely, get the most out of their money, and, perhaps most importantly, to shape the demand for products and services tailored specifically to their needs.
  • A forum to share their opinions, information and influence that allows their voices to be heard, empowering them to remain an influential social and political force far beyond the age at which previous generations have been rendered invisible. 
  • Connection to family, friends, community and the world that fosters a sense of belonging and allows them to engage the world around them in a more meaningful way.
  • Visibility that provides the opportunity to change long-held and outdated beliefs about what it means to be 50+.

Is there any doubt that Boomers and older consumers will continue to take full advantage of these opportunities when they lead directly to improving their lives? Doesn’t this create a goldmine of opportunities for marketers to leverage the targeting capabilities of digital media and enhance the specific benefits digital media provides to 50+ consumers?

Some will mistakenly argue that, having been marketers’ darlings until they began turning 50, Boomers have become too fatigued by advertising to justify specific targeting. The truth is that Boomers rely on businesses to provide the products, services and information necessary to create the lives that they envision for themselves beyond age 50, lives that are markedly different from the ones their predecessors led at 50+. 

Therefore, Boomers are still receptive to advertising, but they are seeking advertising that truly engages them, by addressing their specific needs and interests.

Apple comes to mind. Steve Jobs was a pioneer not only in the development of technology for all ages, but also for its marketing to all generations. In both content and execution, ads for the iPad include elements that strongly appeal to the Boomer life stage, as well as their view that technology should be simple and should enhance life, not create it. No surprise that the iPad has been a huge hit among Boomers.

Brands such as Apple that mine the potential of the online Boomer and older community will engage consumers who seek products and services for this unique stage of their lives. And, as digital media provide increasingly advanced targeting capabilities, we will continue to see more and more marketers give this powerful and influential demographic the attention it so richly deserves.

2 comments about "Digital Media: Tipping Point for 50+ Marketers?".
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  1. Chuck Nyren from Advertising to Baby Boomers, October 10, 2011 at 11:52 p.m.

    Ah, yes. Apple is a good example. Thanks, Ad Contrarian:

    Apple has used online media sparingly. The preponderance of its advertising has been conducted in traditional media -- TV, print, and outdoor.
    Lesson from Mr. Jobs: Don't drink the social media/banner ad Kool-Aid.

  2. Mark Bradbury from AARP Media Sales, October 11, 2011 at 10:34 a.m.

    While it is true that Apple advertising has been created for traditional media, it has a strong presence online. Their web site provides access to their current television commercials 24/7, and if you want to see older Apple advertising, there's a ton of it on thier YouTube channel. It's brilliantly unpaid advertising, but it's advertising nonetheless.

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