Rethinking Marketing: The AgeLab Dichotomy

Products not only do a specific job, but tell us something about the individual who buys them.

Marketing and advertising young innovations to older generations has always met with challenges. This week the New Yorker ran the article Can We Live Longer But Stay Younger, detailing Joseph Coughlin's research and work. He founded AgeLab, an innovation center designed to explore and alleviate the challenges associated with the progression of aging.

The purpose of AgeLab is to encourage and incubate new technologies and products for aging people, according to the New Yorker, but it approaches these challenges with innovation and a young eye. People are living longer today, but inventors and marketers still target products and advertisements to millennials and even younger generations.

One innovation in particular caught my attention -- a suit designed to make people aware of the physical difficulties of old age, but also the mental state associated with it.



The New Yorker tells the reader that the suit mimics what it’s like to age as people lose mobility of the cervical spine, for example. Bands are placed around the elbows, wrists and knees to simulate stiffness.

When wearing the suit, people become conscious of things they might have not noticed in the past, such as a little extra weight and slowness in movements when doing someone. Small tasks for a younger person suddenly become giant undertakings such as reaching for a cup on the top shelf or softly placing a plate on the counter.

“We’re doing a lot of work in the on-demand economy, which was made for millennials but is working better for boomers,” Couglin told the New Yorker.

For example, the delivery of prepared meals or the ability to have a cooked meal or groceries delivered are important assisted living services that can come to anyone’s home. While millennials want them for convenience, boomers want them to help their parents.

Marketers are marketing to the wrong message to baby boomers. Many of the innovations thought to make it easier for young adults make it even easier for the aged -- for example, meal services, deliveries of prepared foods, or companies like Instacart, Uber, and Lyft. These types of services were created for younger generations, but have a major impact on older ones because they allow people to remain and feel independent in their own homes. 

Do a search on “prepared foods for boomers” and then add the keywords “delivery” and you’ll find articles that talk about in-store ready meals and how boomers want to know more about what’s in their fresh food. Few, if any, talk about marketing to boomers or their parents and none provide data.

Older adults will not buy anything that reminds them they are old, according to the article. Search — paid and organic — can solve that paradox. Search is the first place consumers go to find services and answers to unanswered questions, especially when they want to feel as if they are keeping up with the times.

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