That's why during Valentine's Day week, online-dating service Perfectmatch.com will be woven into "Another Chance for Romance," a dating show aimed at boomers on Retirement Living TV, a niche channel that appears on DirecTV and Comcast. Perfectmatch CEO Duane Dahl said the site has seen a 60% spike in the 50-plus audience from 2005 to 2006, and estimated growth of 140% in the 50-plus audience for 2006 to 2007.
That doesn't surprise John Erickson, Retirement Living's founder, who believes older consumers are more dynamic than marketers care to admit. "If you approach these people with 'Murder, She Wrote' reruns and 'Matlock' or 'Little House on the Prairie' and think that's going to satisfy them for the next 25 years, you're missing the biggest opportunity in the market," he said.
Importance of individualization
Consumers over 50 do represent a big opportunity, but more often than not, advertisers treat them all exactly the same. Studies have found that marketers over-generalize, misrepresent and sometimes ignore the generation, lumping them together and, in the process, alienating them. "The longer that marketers keep treating [boomers] as a huge mass as opposed to individuals, the longer it's going to take them to enter the market," said Jody Quinn, exec VP-general manager of the Boomer Insights Generation Group at Edelman, which did the latest study.
Market-research firm Yankelovich has identified at least six different flavors of boomer, ranging from "due diligents," who think ahead and plan for the worst, to "re-activists," who want to support social causes and do all they can to fix them before age makes it difficult. There are other challenges to navigate as well: A "mature" consumer in his or her 70s should not be approached in the same way as a recent retiree. "There are some really big differences," said Gerald Carrafiello, president of Carrafiello Diehl & Associates, an Irvington, N.Y., agency that has studied marketing to older consumers.
Going at older consumers by mining a particular niche interest seems to be a way for some emerging media to lure advertisers. Mr. Erickson, a retirement-community magnate, launched Retirement Living TV in September of 2006. Filled with programs such as "The Prudent Advisor" and "Healthline," the network has attracted the likes of Pfizer and Prudential, who seek consumers 55 years or older that are active in retirement. The channel can appeal to a broader audience, said Gig Barton, VP-advertising sales and sponsorships, but the focus is concentrated on people looking forward to retirement or those who have recently retired and are looking to stay active.
Grandparents.com, a website aimed at baby boomers with grandchildren, has attracted ads from Johnson & Johnson and Hasbro, said Jerry Shereshewsky, CEO, Grandparents.com. The toymaker is not your typical elder marketer, but is based on the principle that grandparents tend to buy lots of toys for the kids. The site has about 35,000 registered users and about 150,000 unique visitors per month, he said.
AARP also targets different segments of its membership with its eponymous magazine. In 2001, the group decided to publish two different magazines, "My Generation" and "MM: Modern Maturity" aimed at the 55 age group and the other for 56-65 and 66 plus, said Hugh Delehanty, editor in chief of AARP Publications. Two years later, the group found that more readers were familiar with the organization's name, AARP, and the magazines was rechristened just that, though different versions are published for different age segments -- 50-59, 60-69, and 70 plus -- with about 25% of each version's content varied according to target.
In years past, older consumers were looked upon as doddering, addled or even useless. Clearly, that view is changing, as seen in recent Ameriprise commercials that feature actor Dennis Hopper casting aside the traditional idea of retirement. But not all retirees or elders are the same, and marketers will have to focus as closely on them in the near future as they do on their younger counterparts. "Young marketers perceive someone to be 'over the hill' at 57; the 50-plus consumer perceives someone to be 'over the hill' at 75. So the people doing the marketing don't truly understand the demographic they're targeting," said Jennifer Kaltia, a marketing consultant who has studied older consumers.