Forget the popular youth target and go for the money


I had a couple of reminders last week about the persistence of ageism in advertising and, as a member of the “invisible” older age group, I sighed.

Next, as any good “boomer,” I became indignant. Then I thought about the opportunities. Newspapers have lots of 50+ readers, and we can capture this market for ourselves.

Listening to all the statistics on how much ageism there is in advertising made my head spin, and in so many ways it is nonsensical. Why would advertisers simply ignore a powerful, well-heeled (and growing) group of consumers in favour of smaller groups of adults who generally have less money to spend? Particularly the 18- to 34-year-olds.

There are a couple of key reasons, of course — some myths and some funny.

Putting aside the glamour, fun, and sexiness of ad campaigns for the youth market, ad executives in agencies and at advertisers tend to be young; they see the world through their own eyes. One article stated that when young adults were asked to guess the age of older adults (50s), they overshot by 10 years.

In ads apparently directed at older adults or ads that these adults are actually “in,” these consumers tend to be portrayed as infirm or incompetent.

Statistics are one thing, but the penny really dropped when I thought through an ad campaign running in my newspaper for a line of clothing that I have purchased from time to time. The company opened a store near my home, stocking only its own clothing line.

Their ads depict a young model in snappy outfits. But every time I went to the store — often empty — all I saw were styles I had no interest in.

After chatting with friends, I realised I was not alone in this disconnect. The clothes are lovely; it’s the advertising that is all wrong.

They are missing a huge market of women with entirely different tastes than the women in the ad. The women for whom the clothes are designed will never go into that store because the ads are reaching out and talking to younger women with a totally different lifestyle.

Then there is the mistaken belief that brand choices are made and solidified at a young age. Apparently not*, and think about it: Do you use the same toothpaste you did at 18? Buy the same brand of electronics? The same car? Wouldn’t you switch to another brand for a new benefit? In Canada we can easily, and sadly, point to the growth of the Apple iPhone at the expense of RIM’s Blackberry.

So what’s in this for newspapers? Money and ads.

The audiences for a number of newspapers are older and, contrary to popular belief, a number of studies tell us that older adults spend more and buy more “stuff” than younger adults.

Today, adults 50+ represent 40% of the adult population in Canada and their spending power should not be ignored.

And this group will only grow. Statistics Canada projects huge growth in this age group and a decline in the number of 18- to 49-year-olds. We ignore this older cohort at our peril.

So I decided to dive into the NADbank database to see if the data we have reflects the spending statistics I had just read about.

First of all, let’s look at newspaper readership. Across all newspapers in all markets, for print and online readership, there is only a slight skew to the 50+ age group; 44% of readers are 50+. Not an insubstantial group.

But when looking at paid dailies compared to free dailies, we start to see a real targeting opportunity. Forty-three percent of the audience to the paid dailies in Toronto (compared to 38% of the population) are 50+. Each week, the paid dailies are read by three out of four age 50+ consumers. For the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in Toronto, 49% of its print readers every week are 50+.

NADbank data suggests that age 50+ primary wage earners in households purchasing a variety of consumer and electronic goods buy as many, or more, and spend as much or slightly more on those goods as younger adults.

While it is unfortunate that ageism continues in much of the advertising we see and publish, it presents an opportunity for newspapers to work with advertisers to develop more effective campaigns that use our content to reach our readers with their message.

Today’s 50+ is yesterday’s 40+. And with boomers aging and no evidence that they are going to change their consumption patterns, advertisers must speak to older adults respectfully, or risk alienating them. No boomer likes to be ignored!

*Sourced from “Ageism in the Age of Advertising,” based on RoperASW Study, and Zoomer Magazine November 2012, based on research conducted by NBC Universal and PMB.

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