Selling to the Grays

Posted on July 8, 2014


Let’s count the number of times it has been brought to our (“our” meaning boomers and olders) attention that we are being shut out of popular advertising. Or let’s not. It’s a lot of times. That’s all you have to know. AARP Magazine has done it again, in an article titled “Who’s Afraid of A Touch of Gray?” Apparently, advertisers are. Hiss, boo. More words not written, because this is a family-friendly blog.

Here’s the jist: “There are 100 million of us (folks over 50). We will soon control over 70% of the disposable income of this country. We buy two-thirds of all new cars (people 75 and older buy five times as many new cars as those age 18-24), half of all computers, and a third of all movie theater tickets. We spend $7 billion a year online (Life in the Boomer Lane personally spends about $6 billion of that).” It goes on and on. In sum, we, alone, constitute what amounts to the third largest economy in the world, “trailing the gross national product of the US and China.”

If you are still sitting calmly in your computer chair, happily sipping your coffee with unsweetened rice milk and not calling/writing/emailing your Congressperson in a total rage, let LBL continue:

In spite of all the buying power held by over-50s, only 5% of all advertising is directed at older consumers. Advertising continues to be directed at the 18-49-year-old-demographic. AARP believes this is because of habit. This is the historic demographic, set in 10,000 BC when there was no 50+ population, and even the sages with long white beards who lived on the mountaintops were actually about 34-years-old. They just looked real bad.

LBL has a different spin. LBL believes this is also because younger consumers (the younger part of that 18-49 demographic) are more swayed by popular media, while older folks aren’t. Younger people, especially younger, younger people, are on an endless quest to hunt down the product-du-jour. They are also swayed more easily by advertising featuring celebrities.

The sad fact (even though this isn’t fact at all, only LBL’s considered opinion and she is a true nobody in the world of advertising or of rational thought of any kind) is that advertisers believe they can depend on us to continue to buy what we buy, without being courted. We will spend our dollars on solid-performing cars and Harleys, reliably travel the world or to see the grandchildren, buy tons online because it’s easier than driving to the mall in traffic, hunting for parking spaces, and then being rewarded by having to make our way through large unruly clumps of people our grandchildren’s age.

We will upgrade our computers, our cell phones, and our tablets because we are hoping that the next version is a bit more light-weight and a bit more user-friendly than the last version. We will buy clothing and music and movie tickets, more out of a sense of knowing what we like than of knowing what others like. We will buy skin care, hair care, and cosmetics because we believe they work (or because we know they don’t but we are compelled to pretend they do), rather than because a young starlet is advertising the products.

In other words, we are predictable and we are dependable. In the world of advertising, we are either a big yawn or a big question mark.

AAARP suggests that those over-50s who want to make a change in the system, start to patronize the few companies whose ads speak to us. That’s a good idea. She would go one better. She would suggest taking a short break from Words With Friends to send off a few emails of words to companies who insult us with their blatant disregard of our buying power. LBL would personally start with companies touting anti-aging products modeled by actresses in their 20s. (LBL does not buy any under-eye concealer represented by a spokesperson who earned her dark circles via partying the night before and not via decades of life on the planet.)

Will advertising ever change? LBL doesn’t know. She writes this stuff; she doesn’t predict it. She does know that, ideally, she would love to see older people advertising all products, not just those products geared for older people (hell, even baby products are purchased by grandparents.) She also believes that hot cars, cute shoes, and state-of-the-art computer technology should include older spokespersons as well. As AARP states, “the population of 50-plus consumers is projected to grow by 34 percent between now and 2030.”

We folks over age 50 are The Giant Consumer that Ate the World. We deserve to be spoken to.