Mag Study Disproves Old Adage, Consumers No More Loyal With Old Age

Continuing its aggressive push to awaken marketers to the vitality of the 50-plus market, AARP Publications unveiled a host of research on Tuesday before a crowd of 80-odd members of the media community. And while the study's overarching conclusion was predictable--in the words of publisher Jim Fishman: "People turning 50 are very much alive and part of the consuming population"--it offered long-coveted empirical data designed to debunk several myths about the 50-plus crowd.

Culled from interviews conducted by Roper/ASW with 1,070 consumers older than 50 (as well as 779 in the 18-to-49 range), the study's most interesting findings addressed popular assumptions about brand loyalty and affinity. For years, marketers have assumed that older people are set in their ways, no more inclined to switch from Crest to Colgate than they are to take up parasailing. The study, however, found that 50-and-up consumers are no more or less loyal to brands than any other age group. "Loyalty is linked to brand category, not age," said AARP Publications Research Director Stephen Frost. "Most 50-plus consumers are open to new (brand) relationships."



Similarly, the research revealed that the 50-plus crowd is not impervious to marketing messages--and like younger consumers, they don't take kindly to being ignored. "You need to target 50-plus adults in a way that speaks just to them," Frost emphasized, adding that they are keenly aware when advertisers are trying to reach them and when they're being ignored. The biggest offenders: the PC, consumer electronics, apparel, and cosmetics categories.

Marketers should also be aware that there are distinct segments within the 50-plus audience. The study identified three, which just so happen to roughly coincide with AARP: The Magazine's three age-targeted editions: 50s and younger, 60s and 70s. "Don't assume you're reaching your key customer with mass messages," Frost cautioned.

Finally, while 50-plus consumers have a reputation as bargain-hunters, their brand loyalty is rarely compromised by the lure of saving a couple of bucks. In fact, the study determined that older consumers are less likely to switch brands based on price than their under-50 ilk. "A gift of cash is not the way to go" if you're trying to inspire brand migrations, Frost said. "They aren't going to leave you for the sake of a few pennies."

Coupled with AARP Publications' ongoing trade campaign (which features the snappy and almost brutally honest tag line "to most marketers, consumers die the minute they turn 50"), the research provides further evidence that the organization is doing just about everything within its power to effect a change in mindset among youngish media buyers and planners. Although Fishman admitted a month ago that he was frustrated by the continued reluctance of advertisers to up their support of venues targeting 50-plus consumers, it seems almost inevitable that a few marketers will eventually take the plunge.

The numbers certainly support such a decision. The 50-plus population will increase by more than 22 million in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of the Census. Also, 50-and-up adults control 70 percent of total household net worth and 55 percent of discretionary income (more than $400 billion) in the United States.

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