Advertising for the older generation

July 2013

A sprightly older gentleman goes to see his newborn grandchild. At first his strides are shaky, but he begins to speed up and becomes younger with every step: VISA has used this motif, backed up by a quick tempo and the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now” in the latest advertisement for its new payment system (which can be viewed here). The message this elderly gentleman conveys to viewers is that high-speed technology isn’t just a toy for the younger generation. We can all use and benefit from it, even the older among us. VISA is not the only company to recognize the economic importance of age and its effectiveness in advertising.

Whether it’s intuitive technical products, travel offers geared especially towards the needs of seniors, brain-training computer games or devices that make gardening easier on the back, an increasing number of suppliers are tailoring their product ranges more specifically to the requirements of those in the second half of life. Germans tend to think this is the case too: 61% are now of the opinion that goods and services on offer for the over 50s have noticeably increased over the past few years. This figure has therefore risen by four percentage points since 2008. However, the majority of German consumers think that there has been a substantial increase not just in what’s on offer, but also in targeted communication for winning over mature customers. Of the respondents, 51% are of the opinion that a growing amount of advertising is now deliberately aimed at those over 50. This represents a slight increase compared with 2008, when 44% of respondents espoused this view. These are the latest findings of a study entitled “50 plus” conducted by the GfK Verein, surveying approximately 2,000 respondents in Germany on this topic for the second time in May 2013, following on from the first survey in 2008.

The 50+ generation: good advertising is effective

Germans tend to think companies are accounting for the fact that the population is generally getting older. The age pyramid for the country has ended up being far removed from how it used to look. Youngsters no longer make up the broadest stratum of the population. This section is now populated by the older generation, who are casting off the outdated image of getting older and turning into enthusiastic consumers. The majority even quite clearly have a relaxed attitude to the messages conveyed in advertising – as long as they’re incorporated properly and transmitted well. More than half (54%) of over 50s in Germany say that good advertising motivates them to buy. This openness has been steadily increasing over the past 11 years. In 2002, just 43% of respondents agreed with this statement, while by 2008 this figure had risen to 47%. The over 70s showed the highest growth in affirmative responses. With a rise of 12 percentage points over the last five years, they have caught up immensely and are edging ever closer to matching the general trend.

More over 50s in ads, please!

So what is the key to good advertising? Smooth faces promoting the latest anti-ageing cream? Youthful seniors thinking aloud about denture care? In fact, older potential buyers would prefer not to see actors or models in advertisements whose main aim is to appear young. Ultimately, the demographic change has long since become a reality, and people want to see this reality reflected in advertising. Almost all respondents over 50 (90%) agree with the phrase, “I think it’s good that an increasing number of older people are also appearing in in advertising.” This proportion of agreement was 20 percentage points lower 11 years ago. And it’s not just the silver generation who are happy to see people their age starring in advertisements; most youngsters are also manifestly glad to see those with life experience on screens, on billboards and in print. Of the under 50s, 84% enjoy the fact that older people are also increasingly being used in advertising.

Likeable advertising: positive association with age

To find what makes older people like an advertisement, it’s best to ask which commercials they specifically remember. The following appealed to them: seeing active seniors with total joie de vivre, seeing older people being needed, or advertising that openly addresses the challenges of advancing age. The fact that the faces featured on these ads have a wrinkle or two doesn’t bother the audience – quite the opposite. For them, in addition to emotionally appealing protagonists, entirely practical product information and handy tips are what contribute to a positive advertising image. The most important thing is that characters and messages appear believable. By contrast, brash and loud marketing hype is considered taboo.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view.” Henry Ford once uttered this statement, which applies not only to new products being geared towards older consumers, but also to how they are advertised. Whoever advertises must be able to get inside the head of their opposite number – irrespective of whether or not this entails lifting up a few gray hairs.

Data source: GfK Verein

If you have any queries concerning this article or Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar,  e-mail: