Active lifestyle central to targeting

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There is a classic scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in which The Cart Master pushes a wheelbarrow through a plague-riddled medieval village, saying, "Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead." As the bodies pile up, one insists: "I'm not dead."

That's how I believe many marketers treat aging Americans. But the 50-plus market is not dead yet.

Look at the data: People 50 and older represent 37% of the adult U.S. population. More importantly, they control most of the money in this country, accounting for $2 trillion in income and 50% of all discretionary income. Are they saving it for their children and grandchildren? Hardly.

They're out there spending and enjoying themselves. They travel several times a year. They spend more on entertainment than any other age group.

JEWELRY, CARS AND COSMETICS

They spend more on jewelry, sports cars and cosmetics than other age groups. There are 60 million grandparents who spend more than $700 a year per grandchild.

This is a dynamic market. A few industries have figured that out.

The travel industry looked around some years ago and saw most of the people on cruises and packaged tours were older. In fact, 80% of leisure travel is done by people older than 50.

The financial industry also has a grip on the mature market, although it wasn't difficult to figure out that the 50-plus market is a primary target. This age group controls 77% of the assets in this country.

Also, of course, the pharmaceutical industry knows who buys prescription drugs: The 50-plus group buys 77% of all prescription drugs and 61% of over-the-counter medication.

For the fashion industry, women over 55 account for $21 billion in apparel each year, but it is rare to see an older woman in a fashion ad.

What designer or marketer has the mature woman in mind when creating new looks? What chain store thinks the 50-plus consumer is the one to target?

SPORTS CARS MISS MARK

Regarding the cosmetics industry, people older than 50 account for 40% of purchases of cosmetics, perfume and bath products.

While some luxury automakers may target the mature market (after all, they make 48% of all luxury car purchases), sports-car marketers seem oblivious to the fact that more than half of all sports cars are sold to 50-plus drivers.

Technology is not the bastion of the young only. Half of those 50-plus have PCs at home and 70% of those have Internet access. Our research shows that people 50 and older are comfortable with technology (57%) and 60% say, "technology makes my life easier," compared with 60% of those younger than 50. The mature market is one of the fastest-growing segments on the Internet, and the biggest spending demographic. In 1998, they spent three times the average.

Does the fitness industry realize that 22% of those over 50 exercise three times a week? That's an increase of 75% in a decade. They are concerned about their health and well-being, and they do know they're not immortal, so they're a perfect market for fitness equipment and healthy foods.

Some marketers whose products could appeal to varied age groups fear association with the older crowd. More than one executive has said, "We'd rather not be associated with the older market. It could hurt our sales with younger consumers."

MAKING PROGRESS

Stereotypes make for easy -- although not very good -- advertising. But we're making progress. There are millions of people in the middle, and that's what advertisers should show -- real people doing real things that over 50 people do, such as family gatherings, dinner parties with friends, working out, traveling, enjoying the outdoors.

The mature market is powerful. Its numbers are strong and getting stronger, considering someone turns 50 in the U.S. every 7.5 seconds.

Importantly, that someone is a baby boomer. They want to look good, live well, spend money, have fun and be comfortable. Marketers that can give them the products that do that will thrive.

Chris Kelly is co-publisher-editor of ActiveTimes, a newspaper supplement that targets the mature market. Her research is based on a study conducted for ActiveTimes by Roper Starch Worldwide.

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