Reaching Seniors: The Hidden Opportunity in Digital Marketing

What's with the obsessions with millenials?

Engage with boomers as brandsmiths. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Collister

Spoiler alert: this article has been written by someone over the age of 60.

I want to point out (gently) to young marketers, you could do yourselves a big favor by engaging with us more mature folks. Not just in a marketing sense, as customers, but in a professional capacity as brandsmiths.

Consider older people as consumers. People over the age of 55 in the US comprise the world’s third largest economy, bigger than Germany’s. This is a demographic that is expanding even as millennials shrink. And more people are living longer than ever.

Boomers are amortals. We know we aren’t going to live forever but right now, we have a lot more living left to do. And talking of money, the over-60s control 75% of the wealth of both the UK and the US. They buy 80% of all luxury cars. 80% of Chanel womenswear is bought by women over 50. Not that you’d know this from the ads.

That’s because only 5% of ads are aimed at my generation.

L’Oreal is an honorable exception. They drafted Helen Mirren to be one of their brand ambassadors. Smart move, given 50% of all make-up products in the US are bought by women over 55.

Too many financial services companies are getting it wrong. The cliché is an ad picturing a 65-year-old in an open top sports car.

Advertising is obsessed with millennials to the extent of foisting the yearnings of 30-somethings onto people who have long passed wanting to burn rubber. The obsession with Gens Y and Z is mystifying. Brand loyalty is a myth, my friend. I have another 20 years in me, at least and, unlike most millennials, I have moolah.

This is both a real problem and a real opportunity in digital marketing.

It’s a problem if you’re a young marketing director because you are blind to a massive number of potential new customers. It’s an opportunity because digital advertising has the wherewithal to help you identify those boomers and personalize your ads to them. And, because it is so rare, they will appreciate it. Believe me. 

That leads me on to a second problem: When advertising is directed at people like me, it has probably been created by someone aged 33, the average age of the agency employee. This person has no idea about my generation. My real beef, though, is that most of the young people who now populate ad agencies (and marketing departments) don’t know how brands are built. 

It takes a particular kind of advertising.

Orlando Wood describes it in his brilliant book, Lemon, as “right-brained advertising,” which is (usually) charming, sweet-natured and populist. Ads that feature characters. A meerkat, for instance. Ads that settle in the memory. And have a long-term effect. As opposed to most ads in digital—which are shouty, unsubtle and often crass. 

Many of us sexagenarians were skilled at building brands back in the day before we got too expensive. And we can still crack it out, when given a chance. I won a Cannes Gold when I was 61 and believe I have one or two more within me. My Cannes Lions, the businesses I have helped build, the brands I have grown, the departments I have run and the people I have got started may be of value.  

Strange, but true.

Patrick is a creative director at Ad-Lib.