As a Baby Boomer, I am accustomed to feeling important, which is why it bothers me that I will soon become invisible. All my life, I’ve been courted for my influence and my buying power. Once I reach 65, my opinions won’t be worth squat. In survey after survey, I’ll be lumped into an “over 65” category that assumes I think and purchase just like an 85 year old. And I don’t like it.
Companies want to know how old you are so they can understand differences in priorities and spending habits. Once you reach 65, however, you lose the preferences that define you as an individual or a cohort. You become part of a group whose members presumably all think alike – the old.
The 65+ population has significant spending power, so you would think companies would want to know a lot about them, but apparently not. This is more than dumb marketing; it’s ageist. Though seemingly innocuous, these surveys perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older people. They influence the young, and, even worse, they influence older adults who may adopt these beliefs themselves.
I tried being devil’s advocate. Maybe it’s because the surveys are mostly online, I suggested, and people 65+ aren’t online. That’s not true. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 54% of people over 65 use the Internet (up from 13% in 2000). One third of people over 75 are Internet users, and twelve percent of people over 75 use tablets. Use of technology by seniors may not be as high as with younger age groups, but if you want data about how people 65+ think and spend money, there are plenty of senior Internet users to provide answers. Of course, that is not the impression surveys give.
Next, I tried another argument. Maybe 65+ individuals aren’t major consumers of consumer products and services. As a Senior Move Manager who spends most of her time in the homes of people 65+, I can assure you they are still big consumers, although what they spend money on may change.
I admit, for companies like Urban Outfitters and H&M, segmenting age beyond 65 may not be important. But how does that explain this Chicos customer satisfaction survey:
- Under 25
- 25 – 34
- 35 – 44
- 45 – 54
- 55 – 64
- 65 or older
- I prefer not to answer
Chicos seems to think that the under 25 year old group has different opinions than the 25-34 year old group, but that everyone over 65 thinks alike. That’s odd, because I spend a lot of time in Chicos, and I’ve never seen anyone under 35, yet alone under 25. But I’ve seen a lot of people 65 and older.
What’s even more insidious is that this value system is the standard in survey creation. Grapevine Surveys and Constant Contact, two email marketing platforms, both illustrate age segmentation with age brackets that end with “65 or older.” Users who plan to design their own surveys assume this is what they are supposed to do, too.
Fortunately, some organizations get it. In a report entitled Is “Seniors”‘ One Demographic Group? ESRI, a reserch organization, concludes:
“Seniors” represents a large and diverse consumer market that will continue to grow. It has previously been under served and has significant wealth and money to spend. In the past, product manufacturers have focused on trendy products to catch the eye of young consumers while creating one-size-fits-all solutions for seniors. But seniors aren’t just one group.
Knowing the customer is key to success with seniors, just as it is with the population overall. …Companies that address seniors as discrete segments with unique needs can position themselves for success in this growing and increasingly profitable market.”
I am happy to report that some companies do see the light. Last week, I received a survey with age segmentation that went to 85. I wondered what forward-thinking group realized that seniors are not all alike. It was from a funeral home.
Sumanth N. says
Hi, my name is Sumanth and i’m in an AGING 200 class in my college.
I have to say that the rationale behind this article raises a pretty important aspect about current market stereotypes about old age. Marketing groups have the unreasonable assumption that they can lump everybody above 65 into one age group when it comes to things like feasibility studies or surveys, or focus groups but its prone to the assumption that the opinion that the elder populations opinion doesn’t matter as much. Theyre wrong though, especially since there is such a large elder population in the world, which still has a relatively large part of the market when it comes to purchasing power. From what i have learned in my class so far, the elderly shouldnt be disregarded because they are still relevant and play an important role in our society. Like the article says, “these surveys perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older people” and thats just wrong to do.
Hopefully marketers wisen up and learn to tap into the opinion of a powerful demographic
Aging 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging says
Every human being is different. Every human being has something different to offer to the world. Age is just a number. Just because someone is the same age as you or close to the same age, it doesn’t mean that you will have the same opinion as the other. Again, each person has different things to offer to the world. Many things affect a person’s opinion. For example, each person is raised different. They may have come from a foreign nation and was raised with a different culture. There is also religion to take in consideration. With that said, no two opinions are the same. Some of the younger generations believe that the older generations are not able to keep up and are too old to keep up with the new. I don’t share this opinion. The elderly try to keep up, just like the young are trying to keep up with the new technologies. Some relatives from my home country attempt to stay updated with the technologies in order to keep in contact with my family. This post relates to my class because of a theory we discussed. This theory is called the modernization theory of aging. It states that the status of older adults have declined since industrialization and the spread of technology.
Aging 200 student at the Erickson School og Aging says
I believe that categorizing age groups to determine what age group is better or advanced then other is just seems wrong. Every generations comes with all different factors and skills. Generations to generations it varies up on how modern the time have become. For the companies to just state that younger adults are mostly like to use and spend more on technology is wrong, because the older adults mostly likely to spend more only if thy are showed the same interest and help as the other age groups. Older adults try to move up with the time, trying to learn new modern things. The theory that my aging class discussed that reminds me of this post is the modernization theory. Which basically states that the older adults are declined as the society becomes more modern.
AGING 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging says
AGING 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging
I think it is very derogatory to classify all older adults as the same, because I believe with every generation comes a new set of ideologies and opinions about life. Every generation has the ability to educate the world in a newer way that differs from the previous generations. Hence I believe the opinions of each individual generation matters to the development of the world we live in. Often companies view older adults as limited in knowledge about the how to use the internet and other modern technologies but the fact remains that a growing population of older adults are very invested in the internet and have a lot to contribute to techniques of sales and marketing for younger generations. A theory that resonates with me would be the modernization theory of aging discussed in my aging and controversies book which basically states that the status of older adults decline as the society becomes more modern. This theory disregards the ability of older adults to learn and disregards knowledge they may have accumulated over time
AGNG 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging says
It is a shame that people who are 65 are categorized into the large age group of “65+”. These companies make older adults feel unimportant and stereotyped into agreeing with the younger generations that “older people can’t do certain things.” There is a lot of ageism that comes from some companies that assume because someone is older, they are incapable of doing the same things as someone younger. Thinking that older people aren’t online reminds me of the modernization theory of aging which states that as people get older and societies become more modern, older adults lose their value and respect. Older adults are disregarded in this sense which is unfortunate. Just as people 18-24 different opinions from people 27-34, people 65-75 have different opinions from those who are 76-87.
Mellisa Larmon says
The line “respect your elders” would really apply to these kinds of situations. We must not forget our parents because they are the one’s responsible for our very existence in the first place. We should not take them for granted; we should care for them till the end.
Margit Novack says
“If you want to reach seniors through social media, use Facebook,” says the Pew Research Center’s Social Media Update, released in December. But on Facebook Pages, if you are trying to target ads, you can only target up to age 65. Anyone see a disconnect here? More examples of dumb business practices that illustrate the pervasiveness of ageism.
Madeleine Kolb says
Great post, Margit, especially your last paragraph. Some of this stuff would be funny, if it weren’t so condescending. From time to time I get mail about my “pre-need cremation plans.” As an extra inducement, it indicates that I am eligible to “WIN A PRE-PAID CREMATION.” Such a deal.
No one can make you feel insignificant without your permission. Those over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 are not segments. The new consumer majority is made up of segments of one. The sooner we realize that we cannot mold youth market paradigms to fit a unique demographic phenomenon, the sooner we will truly begin to change aging. Clearly anyone using the term “seniors’ to define this new marketplace simply does not get it.