FORUM;STEREOTYPES WON'T WORK WITH SENIORS ANYMORE; STRONG, POSITIVE IMAGES ARE BEST BET TO REACH THIS GROWING SEGMENT OF THE POPULACE

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With all the media hype about the aging of the baby boomers, one would presume the marketing community would have realized by now that to create successful advertising for adults over 50 requires a unique approach.

However, there are still far too many advertisers that don't see beyond the basic demographic data to obtain more than a one-dimensional view of seniors as a consumer group. Unfortunately, this is often all too obvious in the advertising and marketing techniques developed for this important, and lucrative, target audience.

Advertising or marketing platforms created for seniors have come a long way in recent years. But watch the 6 o'clock news and you'll see there's still a long way to go. After years of reviewing advertising campaigns from a wide range of marketers, it is clear certain commercials work because they share approaches, techniques and structures that motivate the senior consumer.

Here are a few elementary principles that can assist in the development of a successful senior campaign:

Stereotypes don't work. All too often, marketers take the easy way out and use stereotypes in their advertising. The sweet, softspoken elderly man or woman is present in hundreds of ads today. But savvy marketers go beyond the surface to accurately portray the lives of the 50-plus group.

Although many seniors are pictured as doting grandparents or avid gardeners, they lead more active, multidimensional lives than this representation would imply-nearly 60% volunteer, and most have social lives and may even be actively dating. Retirement is no longer a mandatory sentence imposed at age 65. One in four seniors 65 to 72 still works, and many more have part-time jobs. Over 14 million seniors are involved in the daily care of a grandchild.

To connect with this audience, advertising needs to reflect their multifaceted lives. The milk board's "Got milk?" campaign is a prime example of a stereotypical 50-plus commercial. One ad shows a magician at a retirement home performing in front of a group of seniors in wheelchairs. A funny caricature? Probably not to seniors. Conversely, a Nike commercial features a senior weight lifter who proudly proclaims, "I'm not strong for my age. I'm strong!" This commercial successfully breaks the cliche and projects a positive, aspirational image. Chances are the 50-plus market appreciated this portrayal and might be more likely to remember and talk about the brand that presented it.

Accentuate the positive. Life does not "end" after 50 as many advertisements would lead one to believe. Instead, there are many advantages that come with age, including wisdom, experience, greater disposable income and more time for leisure activities.

Truly successful marketers foster a positive view of aging, highlighting the benefits, not the drawbacks. A GE Capital print ad demonstrates this concept. The ad features a senior who says he's going to pass on his genes, not his debts, because he has been proactive about planning his future. This captures the concerns of the 50-plus audience, yet focuses on success in planning one's financial future. Scare tactics have not been employed to illustrate the point.

The majority of marketers haven't picked up on this simple point. A recent Alliance Capital spot featured a husband telling his wife she can't retire because they haven't saved enough. Although the story is told in a way that's supposed to be humorous, the situation is too tragic to be funny.

Presenting the positive perspective on an issue or situation is almost always more effective than focusing on the negative.

Empower the consumer. In addition to demonstrating the efficacy of the product, advertising to the mature market should empower the consumer. Seniors are most interested in how a product or service will enhance their lives, address a problem or achieve an objective.

Two spots from the Pfizer corporate image campaign succeed in capturing this concept. The commercials feature seniors who have been empowered by Pfizer medications to live their lives to the fullest. In one spot, an older woman is shown traveling the world. In another, a former senior swimming champion tells how he was able to compete again after Pfizer medication helped him gain control of his high blood pressure.

Note: No longer accept the old myth that the senior consumer is recalcitrant and brand loyal. Research has shown the senior audience is as likely-if not more likely-to try or switch to a competitive product or service if given proper incentive or motivation.

Divide and conquer. The senior market is not homogeneous, and therefore it is important to segment the mature market into appropriate groups. For example, people in their 50s may just be approaching the peak of their careers, they're probably supporting kids in school and may have begun to notice they don't recover as well from a kayaking trip.

But people in their 70s may have been enjoying retirement for a while, spending most days doing volunteer work, working part-time, taking care of the grandchildren or pursuing a hobby. These differences need to be addressed in advertising.

Rather than trying to appeal to all seniors universally, a commercial for Green Giant Create-a-Meal frozen vegetables positions the product directly to "new empty-nesters"-seniors whose children have recently left home. The commercial suggests using the product to help create an intimate meal for two.

Draw on lifestage events and issues. There are a number of significant lifestage events that advertisers can address in senior advertising. Children leaving home, retirement and becoming a grandparent are all examples of changes that can be drawn upon to make advertising more relevant to a particular segment.

A recent commercial for Aetna demonstrates this concept by tying into consumers' desires to create an ideal retirement. The ad features a senior who, after retiring from his career as a lawyer, fulfills a lifelong dream to become an archeologist. Be creative and sensitive, and it will pay off.

Knowing how to segment and approach your target audience is imperative to the success of any advertising campaign. This is even more important to the 50-plus market.

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