Tapping the gray market

MUCH OF THE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES including marketing and advertising campaigns in the recent decades have been aimed at young households and consumers. Understandably, the elderly in the previous generation were stereotyped as low net-worth individuals dependent on their children’s income.

Today, this has become misguided belief. There is a huge segment of the senior market that has the financial means to remain independent in their later years. Often, these seniors include those with higher education, with independent sources of income, have access to the internet and read print media.

The silver citizens represent a huge untapped but financially secure market segment. In fact, the pocket influence of the elderly market has become prevalently recognized in many country markets thus, giving rise to the senior welfare industry.

This elderly segment have been referred in various terms and publications as the mature, gray and silver citizen market.

Big Change

A lot of the changes about the elderly market have to do with their lifestyle. With medical advancement, availability of health supplements, a new attitude towards a healthy lifestyle and wise use of their time; many seniors are able to keep a productive work and family life even after 60 years old. Others in fact engage in second careers or active learning either pursuing a second or third degree or enroll in enrichment courses. Some prefer to travel the world to satisfy their intellectual pursuit.

Since the mid-1980s when this segment was first recognized, age cut-offs for the seniors have varied among publications. Most readings acknowledge though, that the youngest silver is aged 55 years old. Based on a study of the senior citizens lifestyle published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing in 2003, researchers Sung-Hyuh, Hong- Bumm and Woo Goon Kim define the elderly market “as people of fifty five years of age and older who are consumers of products and services for seniors”. True, this market’s disposable income and higher discretionary spending are whetting the appetites of marketers but the increasing demographic numbers behind this segment are becoming an even more appealing reason to target them. The population growth rates of senior citizens are evident in many regions in the U.S. and Asia. In 2000, it was estimated that there were 35 million Americans age 65 or above, estimated at 13% of the population. This is projected to rise to 50 million in 2010 and 70 million in 2030 based on a report made by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging related statistics held in 2000. In a separate data gathered by the Asian Demographics and published in Mastercard’s Holding up half of the sky, a book authored Dr. Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, the gray market is said to spread to Asia. Based on Dr. Wong’s assessment, the elderly will be the fastest growing household segment across Asia, with an average growth rate of 5.5% across twelve countries including Australia, China, Hongkong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

With more discretionary income than at any other life-stage; the elderly market remains virtually untapped with under valued consumption.

In the U.S., seniors control 70% of the net-worth of U.S. households at over $7 trillion. The median net-worth of households headed by the 55-64 years olds peaked at $110,800, those headed by 75 and over at $95,000 while households headed by those below 55 is a low $56,400. Further, most research on the senior market reveal that the 55- 65+ market save twice as much as the 25-44, have double the discretionary spending of the younger market and if motivated to buy, purchase more investment properties, white goods (appliances and furnitures) that come with new real estate investments; new cars; travel more often and literally buy more of the staples that come with and signal a better quality of life for them.

In Asia, Wong reveals that the elderly women, who outnumber and outlive men in Asia, have substantial discretionary spending on food and beverage including dining; personal care including cosmetics, beauty salon and related treatments; recreation and entertainment including travel, playing golf and going to concerts; household purchases including home decors and white lines; healthcare and transport and communications. In most markets that include Taiwan, Japan, Hongkong, Singapore, Australia, China, Thailand and the Philippines, the elderly women have more discretionary spending power than younger women.

Talking to seniors: A big marketing challenge

Most marketers have yet to learn to talk to the seniors, today recognized as a viable but untapped economic segment. However, a number of elderly research reveal some vital insights that can be used in communicating to the senior citizen market:

  1. Seniors do not think about their age in general. Unless extremely tired or depressed, older people do not think of themselves as old. Advertising that talks to the silver citizen’s active lifestyle rather than to or about his age are preferred.Sony has poured more than $25million in advertising that attempts to make Sony’s camcorders, digital cameras and other high-end gadgets appealing to the seniors. One ad showed a grandmother in an underwater cage happily taking moving images of sharks in her camcorder. So far, camcorder sales have been on a high digit double growth.In contrast, Heinz introduced pureed senior food borne out of observing silvers with chewing problems buy Gerber baby food. The product failed miserably as the elderly shied away from the product perceived to symbolize old age weakness and helplessness.
  2. Capitalizing on the elderly social connectedness is often more appealing. This includes relationships between peers and among grandchildren. A grandparent role-play must show the elderly as a companion and not a dependent.One of the more successful advertising than has won Clio advertising recognition is Australia’s red meat advocacy campaign that showed a group of dynamic rockers on stage who interestingly happen to be the same group of elderly backstage.
  3. A 1994 Moschino report reveals that the senior market take offense on advertisements that improperly stereotype older people. The same study reveals that about 30% of all people over age 55 say that “they avoid buying products that negatively stereotype older people”.
  4. It is not always true that older people are set in their ways. This segment can be motivated to buy new products, services and even technologies. Older people will embrace something new if they perceive a distinct value or benefit behind the offer e.g. internet usage shall continue to rise as the elderly recognize the value of social connectedness specially with their grandchildren at all times.
  5. A study by Bradley and Longino Jr. on “How older people think about images of aging in advertising and the media” reveals that consistent with the learning that older people think of themselves to be younger than they are, marketers should relatively use younger models, like ten years younger than the elderly target market for use in commercials.

Truly, the elderly market can be an economic haven if properly tapped. The key is to talk to them in the right way and manner and understand their lifestyle.