Could The Retired Be Mobile Marketing's Next Big Thing?

A couple of things struck me on the Old Brompton Road this weekend as my son and I decided, among many thousands of Londoners, that we would not be bowed by terror and attend Stamford Bridge as normal, if you can call a rousing verse of the French national anthem normal. No, the two things that struck me were that as we talk up a mobile-first world, Millennials are nearly always the first to get a mention. However, that might not be the full story. What about the over-50s, or perhaps over-60s? What happens when they get smartphones in their hands en masse?

It struck me as a couple of former News International colleagues sat down for brunch with a retired GP friend that the next huge wave of digital activity just might be in attracting the retired demographic. There we all were, each brandishing an iPhone 6, next to the older member of our group who still had some old Nokia we'd cut our teeth on a decade or more ago. Consider this, however. We may have looked the hi-tech part, but the guys with the iPhones go on holiday once a year, are paying for kids to go to college or travel the world and generally feeling impoverished. Mr. Nokia? He was just back from his seventh golf trip of the year and looking forward to another in January. He'd left his top-of-the-range Audi sports car at the train station so he could get back to his huge house that evening where he'd be spoiling his grandchildren rotten and attending a gala dinner at one of the most prestigious golf clubs Surrey has to offer.

Yes, the guy whose kids had flown the nest to start their own families seemed, to me, to be the marketers' dream. Always out and entertaining, always playing golf and travelling, yet still in the market for toys near Christmas and panto tickets. It's a very far cry from the demographic stereotype you see on afternoon television where people seem only concerned about their dentures slipping or pulling a muscle because they don't have a walk-in bath.

As the fortnightly jokes about replacing our retired GP's phone with a pair of tins joined by string, the marketer in me was just thinking -- what happens when these guys start using smartphones in huge numbers as part of their everyday lives? What happens when computer-literate retired professionals become smartphone users?

It's interesting to see, then, that figures are suggesting that more than two in three Britons will have a smartphone by 2018 and roughly the same proportion will own -- or have regular access to -- a tablet. Now, the figures don't break down the age groups that are adopting smartphones, but it's probably fair to say that Millennials using handheld devices is not unexpected -- so maybe, just maybe, the newer trend will be for smartphones to reach the over-50s and 60s in a proportion that approaches penetration levels of people in their 30s and 40s.

I helped a London agency with research in to the over 50s a year or two ago, and the interesting point was that while the over 70s are as non digital as you would probably expect, those in their 50s were only just below those in their 40s, in terms of leading a digital life. Those in their 60s were only just behind those in their 50s. So the distinctions were not that clearly marked.

Crucially, the finding hat stood out for me was that while young working-age people had gone through a laptop stage on their journey toward digital mobility, the older demographics often appeared to be still using a desktop. This raised the question of whether consumers in their 50s and 60s would jump a generation of technology and go straight from desktop to smartphones and tablets. If they do, I think some marketers will get a surprise. Sure, the services will need to be simple and well laid out for people who are less accustomed to making decisions on a smartphone, but that's not a bad thing. However, I think marketers will find there are a lot more people out there who are willing and ready to research and buy Christmas presents, golf holidays, rail tickets, theatre breaks and the like than afternoon television ads may lead us to believe.

Round that brunch table on the Old Brompton Road I knew very clearly who I'd be targeting if I were in mobile marketing, and it wasn't the younger guys funding their brood through school, university and travelling. It was Mr Nokia with a huge disposable income and the time to spend it that I'd be after, once he'd been cajoled into joining his younger friends in to buying a phone you don't actually make calls from but instead press icons on the screen to chat and transact.

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