Is the Nation’s Richest Market Virtually Ignored?

The advertising business seems to be way out of touch with one of the fastest growing and certainly the richest market of all: 65-plus. The reason could be that there is nearly no one in the agency business even remotely close to that age.


At age 65, most people in America don’t just start living on a tiny fixed income in a small condo and then shuffle off to the nursing home. They begin, in fact, to consider how they will spend the money that they have spent their life accumulating. That money, dear friends, is more than two-thirds of the nation’s financial wealth. In 2030, the 65-plus population will double to about 71.5 million, so please listen up.

Sixty-five-plus is the time for us to travel to places we’ve never seen, move to places we’ve always wanted to live, shed our work clothes and buy some cool vines, buy toys for our grandkids, communicate and buy on the Web, and work on our bodies to stay in shape. In short, 65-plus is a whole new life for a huge market that’s never seen so much money and never had so much time.

It’s a pity the advertising business has such a hard time relating to these people. Think they already do? Look at the spots on the nightly news tonight or check out CNN during the day. Most of the ads are done without an ounce of feeling, care or creativity.

You know people have to be coaxed into watching a commercial. So why don’t you coax the 65-plus market. Instead, you yawn, bang out the facts, shove the spots on the tube and run them with jackhammer frequency. Here’s news: You cannot bore this market into buying, not any more. We are not really interested in what the Flying Nun thinks about our bones, what Florence Henderson thinks about our pets, what Ed McMahon thinks about our bathrooms or what Robert Wagner wants us to do with our mortgages.

Look, we see the same movies you do. We watch TV, too — Mad Men, Weeds, Lost and Damages. We still laugh and cry and hang with the plot. Believe it or not, we think pretty clearly, we really do. We’re pretty fair at technology and, oh yes, we can and will fast-forward past the commercials, even skip past the banners, skyscrapers and pages we hate. The direct response people will happily tell you 95 percent of us simply won’t respond to the commercials they send our way.
But in your heads, you’ve seemed to put us away in a compartment you don’t really want to open. You might think if you weren’t able to persuade your parents of much of anything, who says you can start to do it now?

The answer: If you’re going to get the most out of your creative work, you must understand your market. First, respect us. We’re richer, stronger, smarter, bigger and more sensitive than you may have ever dreamed. Treat us with care. Don’t slam naked strategies at us. Clothe them with interesting words and pictures. Spend a few seconds indulging us. Many of us are part of the baby-boom generation, remember? We like to be spoiled.

Second, don’t start off yammering at us; invite us in. Then tell us, within reason, how and why the product works. This is tough with pharmaceuticals, but instead of people standing on cliffs staring off into an uncertain space over the side-effect copy, make the pictures as warm and helpful as you can. The Food and Drug Administration is tough, but not that tough. There’s a lovely commercial for Lipitor in which a woman’s teenaged son discovers the relationship between women and heart disease on the Internet, and he explains it to her. The spot is all about the mother’s eyes. It’s lovingly cast, shot, edited and absolutely on the money.

Third, tell a story. People don’t remember specific facts; they remember stories. I admit we over-65s can’t remember specific facts very well, but like every other generation, we love stories.

Fourth, unless you Chinese-water-torture frequency addicts want a protest action outside your offices, stop running the same spot over and over and over. We watch a ton of TV. Many of us will stop buying the product, even if it makes us well, because watching its spot makes us sick. Remember, a new commercial may have great 24-hour recall, but if you run it to death, it could kill your brand, too.

There are many good ways to get to know the 65-plus group. One-on-one psyche probes work well, but can be a tad expensive and ponderous. Groups can give you a quick top line, but may reveal little about personality.

One sure way is to think about a favorite older person when you’re creating the work — mom, dad, aunt, a great sociology professor, any older person you know and like. Would you be proud to show the spot or ad to them? If you wouldn’t be proud, then rethink the work. To help you remember I’ll rephrase the words of my old boss, David Ogilvy, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your mom.”

Piet Verbeck was a writer and cd at Y&R, Ogilvy and Bozell for Merrill Lynch, AmEx, Microsoft, Smith Barney and Nationwide. He is now general partner, Communications Partnership, and can be reached at