What are best practices in advertising to seniors ?
Best practices in advertising to seniors includes general features like using large fonts and trusted representatives, as well as recommendations on content marketing to older groups, and digital design basics. There is a wealth of information on the topic, however many of the more recent research papers and highly-reputable reports are behind paywalls. Still, I was able to locate a number of respectable references that hold large varieties of information on advertising and marketing to seniors. Below is a representation of the information you will find in the linked reports and sources.
Much of the advertising research on seniors segment them based on age; the “silent generation” is aged 71-91 and born between 1925 and 1945, older baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1954 (aged 62-71), and the younger boomers were born between 1955 and 1964 (aged 55-62). These stratifications within the group represent distinct characterizations that should be considered in advertising. For instance, the silent generation wants to feel needed and they are brand loyal. Older boomers are a bit more free-spirited and believe in social causes while younger boomers are noted to be self-absorbed and experimental. Making up 35% of the U.S. population and 60% of its retail sales, best practices in sales to seniors include building trust, simplifying messaging, adding value with superior customer service, respecting their independence, and ensuring their security.
Many seniors 65 years-old and older still get their news primarily from TV (70%) and print (38%); 25% get it from search engine news sites and 18% from family and friends. However, the elderly population is rising fast on social media sites like Facebook. In fact, 35% of adults aged 65 and older participate in social media; 14.8 million are Facebook users. Given these results, best practice recommendations for media practices include advertising using television and print media, being sure not to patronize or stereotype, using social media, and encouraging they use “word of mouth.” A bit counterintuitive to the recommendation of avoiding stereotypes is a psychologically constructed paradigm where seniors prefer to be marketed to as their “feel age” rather than their “real age.” There are a few additional suggestions that include an instruction to recognize that they are “actual customers,” work past 65, and live in the suburbs.
Seniors aged 65+ continue to use the internet at ever-increasing rates. In 2014, 58.9% of people aged 65 and older used the internet, by 2020 that generation is expected to be at 70.8%. A few additional best practices identified by Internet Marketing Inc. in their feature on the digital landscape for seniors and baby boomers noted that seniors who are 65+ desire large fonts, do not like to be called “old,” and distrusts "marketers using their personal information." They also prefer television (whereas baby boomers enjoy the internet and email in addition to TV).
Similar to previous suggestions, Entrepreneur reports that best practices for marketing to seniors include social media marketing, awareness that seniors live active lives, sub-group marketing, straightforward marketing, and outstanding customer service.
Content marketing is also a space for crafting advertising messages to seniors. This article from Caring.com reports that some important best practices to consider include using SEO to better tailor messages and reach the desired group. They also mentioned that collaborating with “other authoritative experts” was a great way to get a leg up on a strategic partner's already well-developed SEO. WeBITMD has additional ideas on SEO and the 65+ consumer that includes having “easy-to-read navigational cues such as buttons or easy-to-see anchor text that take users directly to the product or service they are looking for.”
According to recent research, baby boomers spend the most time “consuming digital content per week” than any other generation. Additional best practices around digital design and seniors includes the repeated suggestions of large fonts, simple navigation, and easy-to-follow instructions, but there are also notes to use very large call-to-action buttons and keep the design elements simple. Additional ideas about seniors and digital marketing include where advertising may be best placed. For instance, 78% of the silent generation, and 84% of baby boomers engage in “digital activities” (e.g., mobile phone or internet use) when they want to find out about medical conditions or drugs.
The oldest senior populations, however, are not as tech savvy as their younger counterparts. Only 29% of seniors who are over the age of 70 own smartphones and approximately 55% of those 75 and older do not use the internet at all (although that number is steadily declining since 2002).
There are a couple of cases studies that I’d like to mention as additional resources that may be useful. Please note that these case studies come from the WARC which places its information behind a paywall, making the details inaccessible. However, there were some examples of the work they mentioned that I was able to find online and it may still have value.
1) Humana — Start with Healthy
Humana partnered with Match.com to develop a better understanding of their older insurance audience. From those analytics, Humana developed the #StartWithHealthy campaign. Along with the website and TV commercials, the campaign was represented on Twitter and YouTube. A snippet of one of the commercials can be viewed here.
2) SunLife — Welcome to Life After 50
SunLife is a financial insurer in the UK. Their approach used humor to “tackle the issue of ageism in advertising.” One of their YouTube videos received 462,269 views in 10 months. Another example of their commercials is here.
Baby Boomers: Targeted Market with an Expiration Date — A 2016 article that featured statements and opinions from marketing leaders about the trends in baby boomer marketing.
What We’ve Learned About Marketing to Baby Boomers — A four-part series of brief articles written from the perspective of the Coming of Age company. They tag themselves as “The 50+ Marketing Agency.” Each part of the series focuses on a different set of best practices and examples.
Best practices in advertising to seniors dictate that marketers remain aware of the subgroups within the senior market since each sub-group has certain distinct characterizations that can affect advertising. Also, advertisers should note that while many seniors are using the internet more and are growing in their tech-savviness, the older generations of seniors are also trending upward in terms of usage but at a slower rate.