Not older…better (and more powerful)

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CherylPearsonMcNeilbox

According to The Global Impact of an Aging World, a report released recently by The Nielsen Company which analyzed data from more than 50 countries, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are redefining what it means to be “old” just as they defined what it meant to be young and middle aged. As of 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2011, the oldest of the group started turning 65! And, because Baby Boomers in this country account for the largest share of sales of any generation throughout most product categories—companies, who have previously largely overlooked seniors in marketing plans, are going to have to sit up and take notice!

First off, let’s start by revising the terminology: “Aging” today is certainly not the “aging” of yesteryear, as “old age” continues to be redefined! I dare anyone to tell the fabulous 70 year old Tina Turner that she’s old—or 67 year old Mick Jagger who gyrated and sang all across the stage during his recent Grammy appearance. And I just saw Cher in a video wearing nothing but fishnets, heels, a corset and cropped leather jacket. (Ok, please when I am “of age” even if I HAVE the body to strut around like that, someone, anyone, please STOP ME! Great body or not, at a certain point you should want to cover up.)

These images wipe out the picture of Grandma and Grandpa just whiling away in their rockers on the porch (although there’s nothing wrong with a little R&R in rocking chairs), as the newfangled technological world passes them by. Older consumers (aged 50+) are, in fact, quite digitally savvy. According to Nielsen data, older consumers in the U.S. comprise roughly one-third (32 percent) of the active Internet audience—both at home and at work. Interestingly, the research shows that 82 percent of grandparents find sending and receiving e-mails the fastest and easiest form of communication. Apparently, a surprisingly high number of older people also pay bills, read the news, check weather, print directions, research personal heath care online, and visit social network sites. I chat more now with my seven aunts because of Facebook than I’ve ever done at any other point in my life, even when I lived in the same town with them. And you know what? I now see them as individuals with distinct personalities. They’re not just my mother’s monolithic sisters Aunt Sharon, Aunt Jeannie, Aunt Fat, et al., (yes that’s what we call her and she’s fine with it). They are funny and insightful and advice-wielding women quick to “comment” on my posts. (Aunt Sharon for instance wants to know how come I’m only “friends” with that “fine man” who’s always posting on my page, and if I’m not interested in him to find out if he’s into older women. She’s also the one who tells me my Facebook page reads like a romance novel, only without the romance! Uh huh, distinct personalities like I said!)

Online isn’t the only way to reach this demographic. Television is a good bet too as research shows that the older set watches more television than their younger counterparts. During the fourth quarter 2010, the 65+ crowd viewed over 46 hours of live television on a weekly basis (by far the most of any group). But you might not want to use Mobile phones to get their attention. Usage is significantly lower for consumers aged 65+ compared to younger demographic groups. (It’s faster for me to call 911 and get a sheriff out to check on my mom than it is for me to reach her by her Jitterbug cell phone. You see, she only buys like five minutes of time per month, so she keeps it turned off to save those precious minutes!). But, their mobile usage is rapidly catching up, so let’s hope mom gets with the program soon.

Because Baby Boomers as a group are more affluent, and many are grandparents, this is another opportunity for companies. I know you probably scold your parents for spoiling your kids rotten—but that’s what grandparents do. The data backs that up: grandparents represent a sizable target market (69.6 million strong). Grandparent households spend 4.4 percent more per year than all other households, which equals about $300 extra dollars annually. That’s a lot of power, which equals influence. And, this is good news for all of us, as “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” we are all getting older.

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is the senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for The Nielsen Company. For more insights go to http://www.nielsenwire.com.)

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