The world now has more 55-year-olds than 5-year-olds, so how do we market our business to these silver surfers?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Not everybody is trying to market to the world, but most business owners should think about marketing to the older generation, the silver surfers, who are actually the wealthiest group in the world. 75% of all UK and American wealth and pretty much most of the world is owned by those over 65, and most of those are actually women. As print publications have started to die a death, the old route where people would be reading newspapers are not available, and no one’s really writing tech magazines for the over 50s and over 60s, which is strange because in countries like Italy, there’ll be over a million people living over the age of 90 by the age of 2026. In Germany, Japan, and many other countries, there’s an aging population that is largely female surviving and outlasting the men.

In the UK, there’s actually a website called Silversurfers which was over 1 million subscribers and members. They call themselves the largest and fastest growing online community for the over 50s, but most businesses today are not really addressing the needs of older people, which is a  huge opportunity that companies are missing out on, not least because some of the traditional channels of publications are not available, and even those ones that are are not addressing this large and growing contingent. It almost doesn’t matter what business or industry you’re in. The silver surfer generation are the wealthiest group now in society, and they are also healthier and more active than ever before. The 75-year-olds of today are as physically active as the 55-65-year-olds 15-20 years ago. This idea of marketing to older people is often colored by a sense of what one’s own grandparents were like. But actually, people in their 70s now don’t live and breathe and work or consume in the way that older people did in the past. 70-year-olds in 2020 were the teenagers at the time of the Beatles. They have a totally different generation from the people 10 years younger than them, and the marketing messages, the visual identity, and the tools being used need to reflect that.

Too often, people in marketing are in their 20s and 30s, especially those employed to do digital marketing. They may even be in their early to mid-20s, so there’s a massive age gap between the people undertaking the PR and marketing, and the audience that they’re appealing to. In ‘oldvertising’ or advertising to old people, it’s usually a fairly disastrous collection of adverts on bad mortgages, life insurance, how long a pension will last, erectile dysfunction pills, bathtubs that won’t kill you, elevators to go inside your home, and sliding staircases. But in fact, there are a large number of people who are perfectly healthy and living well into their 80s and 90s, and are economically and physically active as well.

The statistics don’t lie

According to Havas Media, only 5% of US advertising is aimed at people over 50 even though, in 2020, the world has more 55-year-olds than the five-year-olds. Research by the Forrester group suggests that 55% of those aged 31 and below say that they enjoy trying new brands and products. But once people get to 64-75 years old, only 31% enjoy trying new things. In other words, adoption of new products and new services declines as people get older, which makes sense. People become more conservative, but that doesn’t mean that this group doesn’t still have demands. This age group is keen but also more reticent. They need a slightly different and less aggressive kind of marketing. They’re not aspirational. They’re functional. This is a group of people who are cash-rich and have an appetite for consuming things albeit with special requirements, so why do business only advertise and promote to the young? 

Havas Media‘s report, called the Meaningful Brands study of 2018, also found that 68% of over 55s have bought something online every month, so they’ve actually become digital shoppers. To help them out, there are platforms like Talkify, which is an embedded app with AI-generated text-to-audio features, and Natural Readers, which has a function where you can upload documents and have it read in over 60 languages. This allows the visually impaired to still have access to all the technical documentation for products and services that they’ve purchased. Speaking of visuals, image selection needs to be considered very carefully in marketing, because on average, most people see themselves as 5-10 years younger than they actually. No one wants to feel or look old, but people do recognise that certain aspects of their lives will need to be considered with age, such as insurance, hearing aids, or medical conditions.

How to market effectively to silver surfers

Photo from Ads of the World

In marketing campaigns, the customer groups should be able to relate or connect with the people they see in adverts, so as to encourage buying or supporting that brand. Another one of the learnings when dealing with older people is the need for simplicity. How difficult is it to set up the product being offered? How difficult is it to communicate? What about trust? Older people may be reluctant to try products or brands they had not yet heard of, so is there a way the marketing can demonstrate that there are other people that have made that purchase and taken that risk? The third element is support. How difficult is it once something’s been purchased to get help? This could be in the form of user manuals, either online or offline, access to a 24-hour hotline, or a simple phone number. Because this age group is not price-sensitive, they’re not looking at saving money on something like this. They’re thinking about functionality, simplicity, and trust checks. They’re thinking about who to ask if it doesn’t work, because they haven’t used this before. They also may or may not be able to chat online. If you think about it, many of these people can’t get online in the first place. That’s the irony of it. 

Bear in mind, some of the technology is becoming more and more available as well as being adopted by the older generation. A report in the UK recently showed that 27% of all people aged 75 and above use tablets. But because their eyes and fingers are not as good, old people are adopting bigger technology with bigger screens that have clear symbols, ease of navigation, less functionality, and assistant buttons. These can have loudspeaker systems, and some even have hearing aid-compatible audio options. 

In the SPEAK|pr methodology that stands for Storification, Personalization, Engagement, Amplification, and Knowing, think about whom you’re serving. Whether  it’s for partners, staff, or customers, is the messaging compatible? Is it simple? Does it make them want to trust the company? And does it offer support? Patek Philippe says that you never own a watch; you simply look after it for the next generation. However, the next generation is actually not thinking just about buying a legacy, because they’re not really ready to die. Before they go offline, they want to go online. They want to be entertained, they want to buy, and they want to live life to the fullest, so think about how you can help them to do that with effective public relations campaigns.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Sam Wheeler on Unsplash

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