Back around 20 years ago there was a successful lifestyle magazine for the older crowd called 50 Plus. Readers Digest took notice of America’s aging population and the beachhead that 50 Plus had established in older markets and bought 50 Plus’s from its founding owners.
Certainly no slacker in magazine marketing, Reader’s Digest announced ambitious plans to run 50 Plus’s circulation up from about 550,000 to over a million in a couple of years. To do this, Reader’s Digest felt it needed a new look and a new name. 50 Plus was rechristened New Choices and launched with page after page of sparklingly youthful looking seniors all sporting the fitness look of a triathelete.
Legions of long loyal 50 Plus subscribers were outraged. They were outraged by the name change, and outraged by the replacement of the real faces of aging with air brushed faces that masked the realities of aging. The iconic Reader’s Digest, one of the smartest magazine marketers in America, had struck out with an age group it should have better understood: seniors were a sizeable slice of Reader’s Digest circulation.
The New Choices team failed to realize the importance of authenticity in the ranks of older people. Apparently, aging was not a big issue to many on 50 Plus’s subscription roster.
Most advertising featuring pictures of seniors are no more authentic than New Choices was. And was is the right word because it shut down its operations in 2002, having never gotten close to its goal of over a million subscribers.
It’s widely known in marketing circles that most people over 50 think marketers misrepresent them in ads. Yet, few marketers seem influenced by this or know what to do about it. However, the remedy is simple: Be authentic in representing aging.
A recent issue of The Economist offered readers insights into how people feel about their own aging that would come as a surprise to most people in marketing. The core message of the article is that generally speaking beyond middle age people get happier as they get older.
In one recent Duke University-based study when asked about their levels of happiness 70-year-olds reported greater happiness than 30-year-olds.
So why is it that marketers insist on showing older people acting like, looking like younger people? Probably the biggest reason is that most advertising is created by younger people to whom aging seems like one of the worst experiences in life. In not having come to terms with their own aging it is natural for these marketing types to deny aging in their copywriting and ad artwork.
Being authentic doesn’t mean glorifying wrinkles or other signs of aging. Above all it simply means being natural. When they are not poorly executed jokes about aging, most depictions of seniors in ads are unnatural. Their contrived smiles in staged settings work against the very idea of authenticity, undercutting the ad’s credibility.
In the next post I’ll talk about how to be natural in marketing communications intended for seniors – and yes, I use the word “senior” with no concern. After all, I’ve been one for over 25 years. (Does that help my credibility in talking about marketing to the older crowd?)