Marketing for older people

August 2013

Mr Reidl, your agency employs around 1,300 senior scouts®, as you call them, who, according to your website, research day-to-day trends and barriers and whose task is to identify generation-specific peculiarities. What insights into fashion have the senior scouts already delivered?

We have already obtained a series of insights on the subject of fashion. Two studies were of particular interest. One was a fashion lifestyle study, which led us into the wardrobes of our senior scouts, and one a mystery shopper survey on fashion purchasing behavior carried out for a retail chain store. The brand universe is important to our senior scouts: the type and method of presentation influences purchasing, and comfortable changing cubicles are evidently becoming increasingly important in the battle for market shares in the face of competition from online and mail order businesses. Enjoyment and safety are also important factors. Our senior scouts were happy to spend longer in a store with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or bubbly, but a cashier processing an EC card under the counter (i.e. not visibly) was a definite no-go.

On the one hand, we are in the process of demographic change, with an increasingly geriatric society and on the other, the need to be “young and beautiful” is dominating (not just) the women’s fashion world. How can you reconcile the two?

Youthfulness is not a question of age. For me, “young and beautiful” is no longer really relevant: I think it is more a question of authenticity. And of course, it depends on how we feel, and here, the German language is not much help. Nobody ever describes themselves as “old”. Modern, relaxed, sporty – this is how our senior scouts describe themselves. The age that you feel is the key factor today when it comes to wearing fashion. The way I feel at the moment dictates what I wear. The real question is how does that fashion make me feel? How do the clothes I liked wearing in my youth influence me?
What significance should we attach to “defining memories” – memories of a product which had cult status in our youth? In fact, is there even such a thing as young fashion, now that the baby boomers of the sixties are approaching pensionable age? Or have young and old fashion become completely indistinguishable some time ago? Jeans are no longer the symbol of youth: they are simply ageless. Isn’t it more about the shape, the quality of the fabric and the brand?

So many questions – so few answers. Lifestyle and cohort market research could deliver many insights for the fashion industry.

In your experience, what is the greatest possible advertising blunder people make when it comes to addressing older people?

Fortunately, the situation has improved considerably. However, the greatest blunder is to label a group “50 plus”. Nobody wants to buy “50 plus” goods or services. Being labeled as such does not make a product range attractive. Advertising is all about seduction, and the 50 plus group also wants to be seduced. I recall a successful American TV ad for Chevrolet. An older man is seen driving a red sports car to collect his girlfriend: the son of the object of his desire opens the front door and says: “nice wheels”, to which the older man responds “keeps me young”. I say, quite right – well done!

So you discovered that the branded goods industry has struggled with the generation 50 plus. Does that still apply today? What changes should be made?

A great deal has happened. The demographic change is a hot topic everywhere. The German government has adopted a demographic policy with an “Economic factor: age” initiative. Fine, that may not say much, but the clever companies have understood that the 50+ generation currently accounts for more than 50% of total consumer expenditure. Irrespective of sector, nothing succeeds without the oldies. Let’s stay with cars by way of example. In 2012, the 70 to 79 year old age group put a total of 139,693 new cars on the road, while the 18 to 29 year olds were only responsible for 84,654 new car registrations. The source of these statistics is the German Motor Transport Authority, and GfK panel data delivers similarly striking facts on all the other sectors. Just one change is required: companies must know and accept the facts, and not decide against them.

You are a pioneer when it comes to senior citizen marketing, in which you have acquired decades of experience. Please tell us a little about your impressions of the development of senior marketing?

I am still so enthusiastic and fascinated by my subject, that my personal perspective might be prone to a biased impression. A great deal has happened and there have been many changes which have made marketing more professional. Initially, demand was coming from the welfare organizations and from the stair lift sector. 
Today, demand is coming from such diverse sectors as retail, financial services, the real estate industry, tourism and publishing. The approaches are far more sophisticated and creative. In terms of the marketing effort, we are increasingly looking into issues relating to age and cohort groups. For me personally, competence research presents the greatest challenge and to me, the issue at stake here is the feeling of competence, so that statements such as “I’m too old for it” will disappear to be replaced by “WOW! I can do it!”.

Can you tell us how you happened to choose this career path? What was it that fascinated you? And has that changed?

A Swiss is to blame. I attended a conference in Lindau in 1990 on the subject of company succession. I met lots of charming older gentlemen who wanted to sell or hand on their companies. During the course of the evening, I started chatting to one man, as you do over a glass or two of red wine. He told me of his ideas for the third stage of life. He had many questions but few answers. And he had one wish: to buy a farm in Switzerland, move in with friends, buy a convertible and a van for joint outings, travel, and so on. That’s when the marketing light went off in my head, or to put it another way, I realized that: “Age is opportunity no less: it’s simply in another dress!”

We are living in an age of exciting changes. 2015 is the year of “senior citizen marketing”. By 2015, the 50 plus consumer group will be far more numerous than the 14 to 49 year old advertising target group. I am prepared for this and indeed, this target group is so fascinating to me that I’ve started a company with the same name as the target group: Grosseltern AG. It means “grandparents” and the company operates the online portal. And I have two good reasons for this. First, it clearly addresses grandparents. In surveys soliciting a yes/no response, 21 million people in Germany responded that they had at least one grandchild, and second, they said that they only wanted the best for their grandchildren….and as a rule, that isn’t the cheapest.

Thank you for your time!