Aging America = Golden Opportunity

By Ken Klein

Older Americans control 70 percent of disposable income. Reaching them is both an advertising imperative and career opportunity in a culture that puts youth on an altar, says a new college textbook.

For starters, don’t call Boomers “old” because they don’t see themselves that way (“$ilverComm: Marketing Practices and Messages for the Age of Aging” published in 2023 by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, as an auxiliary textbook for college marketing instruction.)

This textbook, by Ohio University Professor Emerita Anne M. Cooper and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Associate Professor Young Joon Lim, makes cogent points for advertisers:

  • Follow the money
  • View the aging trend in America as a career cornucopia for young marketers/communicators, not a bed-pan turnoff
  • Figure out how to communicate to older audiences

Follow the money

Seniors control half of of consumer purchases and 70 percent of disposable income but most current marketing campaigns devote less than 10 percent of their budgets to this market, the new textbook says.

America’s sagging birth rate and increased longevity are producing an aging population. The initial wave of 78 million Baby Boomers has turned 75. By 2030, adults 65 and up will account for one-fifth of the U.S. population.

Career opportunity

The authors point to the overwhelming association of senior citizens with advertising for medical products and services. Gerontology is booming, so young professionals should consider careers in that niche in advertising, public relations and more.

AARP’s magazine readership is 37 million; its marketing/communications executive VP earned $650,000+.

Marketing and community relations for the growing senior-living market (nursing homes, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities) is top priority for management.

Messaging vs misfiring

In the U.S. culture, “old” and “elderly” are considered derogatory. Seniors say advertising relies on outdated stereotypes.

The year 2017, these authors claim, was pivotal for senior advertising. Mercedes-Benz’ Super Bowl ad featured “Easy Rider” star Peter Fonda, then 77, driving off in a luxury car “built to be wild.” The audio was Steppenwolf’s classic-rock anthem “Born to be Wild.”

Cover Girl featured Elon Musk’s mother Maye, born in 1948. Honda’s “Power of Dreams” Super Bowl ad included aging actor Robert Redford and comic book creator Stan Lee, born in 1922.

No analysis of senior marketing can overlook Viagra pitchman Bob Dole, a plain-spoken Kansan looking into the camera talking about courage. Yes, Dole is included in $ilverComm.

But another celebrity connects key points in this new textbook: follow the money, look for career opportunity in the senior market and calibrate the message.

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, born in 1946, converted his 1977 hit song “Margaritaville” into a brand that includes retirement villas in Florida and South Carolina . . . “the pursuit of fun” based on emotion.

This book — like many academic offerings — is laden with metrics. One number stands out: Buffett’s Margaritaville branding (lodging, food and more) generates $1 billion+ in annual sales.

About the Author

(en Klein @kenj_klein is former Executive Vice President of the Out of Home Advertising Association of America; he serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication.