As people move into the higher levels of personality development they become increasingly “resistant to enculturation,” Maslow said. In the context of marketing this means that older customers tend to become less influenced by traditional advertising.
Having seen and listened to tens of thousands of ads over their lifetimes it is not likely that you are going to come up with an ad that an older person views as startlingly original.
So how do you get the older customer’s attention in ads?
By doing the familiar in an uncommon way, provided of course that the customer is qualified for and has a generic interest in the product for which the ad is being done.
What do I mean by “uncommon way?”
First, I mean an ad without hyperbole. Go ahead and talk about the product if you want but do it without exaggeration. But don’t present the product as being in a superior class all by itself. Older customers generally don’t need or want to be told that an advertised product is peerless. They’ve heard this pitch so many times it is no longer believable or at best, a cliché.
Second, by “uncommon way” I mean an ad whose message is uncommonly authentic. This is not a trivial thing. As I wrote in my first book on older markets more than 20 years ago, “Like dogs and children, older people tend to have a sixth sense about a person’s real feelings about them.” To claim that the producers of the product you are doing an ad for really care for their customers doesn’t come across as authentic.
Third, by "uncommon way" I mean connecting with older people's values. The one thing that people in advanced stages of maturity usually have faith in is their values and what they believe in. So, in creating marketing messages for older people talk about them and what they stand for. By aligning the values conveyed by your message with their values you will more likely get them to read what you say and take an interest in consider the product that you are promoting.
Third, by “uncommon way” I mean a message that does not idealize aging or aging people by invoking images that are connected to life as a younger person. In the first place, as I said in a recent post, a Duke University study found that people in their 70s were more likely than people in their thirties to express satisfaction with their lives. Many will not read messages that talk about “reclaiming youthful vitality” as being one of the benefits of the advertised product.
Finally, by “uncommon way” I mean a message that does not focus on the older person in a self-centered basis. Self-centeredness is more common among younger people and runs deeper. Older people tend to think more of others and about their legacy and the ultimate meaning of their lives. Ego-centered ads tend to turn off many older customers.
In summary, when creating messages for older customers, be real in product claims, be authentic in message style and content, connect with their values,and don’t invoke the values of a self-centered person.
Keep in mind as you ponder the last point in the foregoing summary that for years many boomer “experts” predicted that the “Me” generation would enter old age as self-indulgent consumers. That is not proving to be true. For instance, even though we are experiencing the toughest economic picture since the Great Depression, philanthropy has been on the rise as the population gets older. "Giving back" is a major theme in many older people's lifestyles and aspirations.