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Marketing to over 50s: Ditch the stereotypes for more gain and less pain

By Rosemary Bointon

Recently, Saga, the UK based pioneer of companies aimed purely at over 50s, announced dire results for the year ending January 2019, despite having built up a huge business over its 60+ years of existence.  Saga should know its audience. It has more than 2 million over 50s customers.  It’s true it’s been wrestling with its image of the fuddy-duddy, indecisive, incapable older person for years. Saga was caught out. So, what went wrong and what can we learn from Saga’s sorry tale about marketing to the over 50s?  Was it all to do with the assumptions and stereotypes which drive the way marketing is delivered to over 50s?

Why is it so secret that the over 50s buy electronic devices?

The perceived wisdom is that the older generation doesn’t know how to use computers.  They’re not ‘digital natives’ nor are they tech-savvy. Except that’s wrong.  Over 50s may not be digital natives, but just take a look at this Pew Research. 

Their figures show that 67% of boomers own a smartphone, 52% own a tablet and 57% are active on social media.  The numbers are higher if you add in the over 50s numbers from Generation X with its higher levels of device ownership. The older generations haven’t adopted technology as quickly as younger generations but the Boomers and Generation X are not far behind in buying smartphones, tablets, and computers.  Do they buy all those devices and then fail to use them?

How the over 50s use the internet just like other generations

The stereotype is that over 50s use the internet for email at work, but they don’t use it for much else and especially not social media. Wrong again. It was this generation who invented the internet, so not surprisingly quite a lot of them know how to use it quite well.

The Euromonitor statistics of 2017 state that just over 60% of boomers use social media. A Pew Research survey from 2018 shows that social media usage among those aged 50-64 has grown enormously over the last few years to 64%.  Facebook is by far the most popular platform, used by 65% of U.S. adults 50-64 and 41% of those over 65. 

In addition, we spend more time online than millennials: 51 percent of baby boomers spend 15 hours per week online, while only 41 percent of millennials spend the same amount of time online. All these statistics point to the over 50s as a great market to aim for.  But the over 50s feel ignored by brands (with a few honorable exceptions).

 Is this because, even if we own computers, are on-line and use social media, maybe we don’t spend any money?


Who spends the most money?

The over 50s have $2.4 trillion in annual income in the U.S., which makes up 42 percent of all after-tax income.  Plus they hold 80% of US personal wealth.  In both the US and in the UK, over 50’s account for nearly 50% of consumer spending. 66 percent of people over 50 in the U.S. routinely make purchases from online retailers amounting to more than $7 billion per year online.

Boomers spend more time online, more time on Facebook and spend more online per transaction than millennials! There are all sorts of data snippets you can find which show what a great market the over 50s are, such as women between 45 and 60 spend the most on face creams and 58% of travel spend is by over 50s, with over 80% when it comes to luxury travel! So why isn’t marketing aimed at them? 

The big surprise of marketing to over 50s

 Let’s go back to look at Saga. Saga offered their loyal clients 3-year car insurance deals which looked good because they had low starting costs.  But, the costs in the second and third years were much higher. It seemed to come as a surprise, but those previously loyal Saga customers did what comes naturally to the over 50s – they did their homework. They went to the price comparison sites, talked to their friends on social media, saw that they were getting a raw deal and took their business elsewhere.

Avoiding the pain of believing in stereotypes and reap the gains

It’s time to revise the stereotypes of the over 50s markets.  We do go out and buy all the gear. Whilst we may not be as digitally active as millennials, we do use digital technology.  We engage with social media. We spend money online.

We are a loyal bunch to brands that we trust but not slavishly so. We use our heads when it comes to selecting their goods and services.  We check out deals on social media and do our research online. We don’t hesitate to switch brands on the basis of a rational, informed decision.

The over 50s are a big market, with spare cash and a willingness to spend it. So, don’t take us for granted.  Check out whether you and your team need to revise your thinking about the stereotypes you use in your marketing.  Ditch the stereotypes for more gain and less pain.

Rosemary Bointon helps her fellow over 50s to take action NOW to improve their chances of an adventurous, active and fun time as they age.  She would love marketeers to help the over 50s just a little bit more too. You can find her at https://www.longlifefunlife.com on Twitter, @Agingchallenges, on FB, Long Life Fun Life and on Instagram @Longlifefunlife

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


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