Hey Marketers, Age Up!

Last week I read “In a Graying Population, Business Opportunity”  in the New York Times. This smart primer on the state of our aging union examined “gray marketing” now that the first boomers are turning 65. At MIT, they’ve invented a special suit to simulate the physical deterioration. Creaky knees, anyone? Ken Dychtwald, an indefatigable advocate of rethinking aging points to all the opportunites to redub retirement as “rehirement.”

I was hit with three simultaneous reactions:

The Ego Protection Fault Line: In “What She’s Not Telling You,” we exposed five reasons women don’t always do or buy what they say they will. This article exposed one of our Whole Truths, Ego Protection: if products are overtly designed for boomers in a way that gives away their age or uncool factor, like obvious big buttons on phones, they fail. Boomers still see themselves as younger, so if a young person is turned off to a boomer feature, so are they. The GAP learned that lesson the hard way when their concept store for midlife apparel, Forth &Towne flopped by assuming ‘older’ women wanted to look well, older. The Whole Truth? They do want to look their age, but the age in their heads is about 15 younger than the age on their ID.

DejaVu All Over Again: I feel like I have read this article for years. This age resistance issue just won’t die with marketers. No matter how old they are, marketers are blind or at least averting their eyes to the reality of their aging customer base. Dare I admit that in 8 years, I could be featured when they rewrite this again in 2018? Like many women my age, I pass for a lot younger. I think young, I feel young and I like Lady GaGa’s music and I don’t wear pantyhose. But I generally keep my digits under wraps because I think that fellow marketers instantly marginalize anyone over 45…and in some environments, take that down to 40, 39, 38.. Media targets still cling to the dream team of 18-34, 25-40. Even older-suited categories like financial services and healthcare prefer to pursue the ‘peri-retirees’. Are we afraid of our own mortality? Are we in denial of our own mirrors? When will marketers younger and older, start facing the truth and chasing the big money in the marketplace?

The New Age Defiance:  I loved that the piece featured an 86 year old redhead who had her place wired to monitor every move, support her positive health behaviors and keep her at home. My redhead Mom lived at home till 82, still keeping up her crosswords, her high celebrity IQ and her calorie counting. At 91, my Dad relied on his Jitterbug phone, his Lifeline (which saved his life multiple times) and his at-home exercise bike which he pedaled while practicing speech therapy on his tape recorder. My parents were from a generation that aged with spirit and dignity. I think that our next generation of boomers will age with defiance and wishful thinking that will keep them younger longer. If it’s Ego Protection that preserves their youthfulness, so be it. I just hope that the marketers who are smart enough to recognize their power get over their stultified attitudes toward what’s old and what’s beautiful. Like her or not, Grandma ain’t going down easy.

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July 9, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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