Different Shades of Grey: The complex marketing dilemma of “Adult 65+”

The key to marketing success is identifying target audiences that will be motivated by tailored messages and calls to action. For this purpose, accurate audience demographic information is crucial. The value in this information, however, lies in detailed segmentation of a specific audience group.

Unfortunately audience demographics are unreliable for the “65+” segment, which represented approximately 40 million adults in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. To bundle everyone over 65-years-old in one “targetable” demographic is practically useless for marketing purposes.

On January 1, 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers turned 65. Every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 more will cross that threshold. By 2030, when all Baby Boomers will have turned 65, fully 18 percent of the nation’s population will be at least that age (according to Pew Research Center population projections).

Think about someone you know today in their sixties. Do they share the same interests, activity level, medical issues or ability to relate to today’s technology as someone in their eighties? An accurate description of such a large population with varied needs and behavior requires more detailed age cell segmentation.

TRANSGENERATIONAL Design, a private educational, research, and advocacy organization, has segmented adults 65+ in to three more logical and manageable clusters. TRANSGENRATIONAL Design calls them the “Young Old,” the “Old,” and the “Oldest-Old.”

The “Young Old” 65-74
The first wave of aging Baby Boomers will reach full retirement age in 2011, retiring 74 million Boomers over the next 20 years. These early Boomers spend more than 30% of those 75+, with a larger portion of their spending used for apparel, services, transportation and entertainment.

The “Old” 74-84
This decade witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII.  Nylon stockings were introduced in the U.S., then rationed during the war. Wage earners in this decade were introduced to income tax withholding.

The “Oldest-Old” 85+
This is the fastest-growing segment of the total population. Their growth rate is twice that of those 65 and over and almost four times that of the total population. In the U.S., this group now represents 10% of the 65+ population and will more than triple from 5.7 million in 2010 to over 19 million by 2050.

A breakdown of this elusive demographic is essential in order to get usable information from market research.  In 1900 the U.S. Census reported that “65+” represented four percent of the population. 71 percent of this demographic was 65-74 years-old, while only four percent were 85 and older. Today, “65+” represents 13 percent of the U.S. population. 53 percent of this demographic are ages 65-74 and 14 percent are 85 and older.

65+ graph

Claudine Unterman, senior account executive from The Neilsen Company, an international media measurement company, recently reported that the 65+ demographic is becoming more ambiguous, but offered no thoughts on when we’d start seeing demographic research segmented beyond 65+ by research companies.

Sophisticated marketers must require detailed audience demographic information from researchers and data collectors for the 65+ demographic to create effective marketing messages to these newly identified audiences.



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