July 11, 2013

Top 10 Mistakes When Advertising To Grown-Ups

Yesterday I posted this on the Type A Group website and it got a great response. In case you missed it, I thought I'd publish it here today.

One of these days your phone is going to ring. Your boss is going to want to see you in his office.  He will say, "What is the biggest opportunity for growth we are currently missing?"

You are going to mumble and fumble. He'll say, "It's people over 50 you f***ing dimwit. They account for almost 50% of all consumer spending. They control 75% of the financial assets of the country. They account for 55% of all CPG purchases. They buy over 60% of all new cars. And we are not spending a f***ing dime to talk to them."

Then you will give him all the pathetic excuses for being a calcified bozo that marketing people always come up with and he will fire your ass and have you escorted out of the building with all your crap in a cardboard box, and you will never work again.

Don't let this happen to you!

Marketers who are awake and responsive are starting to understand that there is enormous upside in talking to people over 50. But there are also pitfalls.

The best thing you can do is hire Type A to help you develop a sensible 50+ initiative for your brand. The next best thing you can do is avoid these 10 mistakes:
1. Do not hold up a mirror. Don't try to show them who they are or tell them what they believe. They don't appreciate being treated like advertising clichés.

2. They are not grandma and grandpa.  They are Barack Obama and Jerry Seinfeld and Meryl Streep and Condoleezza Rice and Bruce Springsteen. Your idiot copywriters have no clue how to talk to them.

3. Don't be afraid to be naughty. These people grew up smoking weed and listening to the Rolling Stones. Don't be so serious. Make fun of young people. Make them feel hipper than young people. And speaking of young people...

4. They do not want to be like young people. Don't listen to the morons who tell you "old people aspire to be like young people." This nonsense is 20 years out of date. Do you really think Michelle Obama wants to be like Miley Cyrus? Do you really think Steven Spielberg wants to be like Justin Bieber? These people want to be youthful, but they do not want to be like young people. This is a distinction that is totally lost on the geniuses in the advertising industry.

5. They are not down-sizing. In 2010 people over 45 outspent people under 45. By one trillion dollars.

6. They are not "stuck in their ways" and unchangeable. They are just as likely to change brands as people under 50.

7. They are not just the spill from your 18-49 media plan. You need to speak to them directly and differently. This is not simply about media choices. It's also about message.

8. They are not a collection of maladies. Don't talk to them like they're a bundle of afflictions needing remediation. They are not. They are mostly healthy, wealthy and wise. They want to have fun, not medicine.

9. Avoid casting clichés. Please -- no more grandpa and Timmy going fishing. No more silver foxes making out in the elevator. No more goofy grandmas.

10. "They don't matter in my category." Bullshit. They matter in every category. Whether you're selling dog food or donuts, they matter. They spend half the money in this country. Hello?
Now get your 50+ strategy going before that phone call comes. 


TCWriter said...

>>Your idiot copywriters have no clue how to talk to them.

If agencies hadn't run off their more experienced writers in favor of cheaper social-media wielding twenty somethings (who are now making the same mistakes that experienced writer did a decade ago), you'd be wrong.

But I think you're right.

It seems only fair; twice I've been told that anyone over 40 can't possibly talk to 25 year-olds. How could someone who lives on Twitter possibly speak to a 50 something who doesn't use words like 'kewl' and 'whatevs'?

Paul Suggett said...

Spot on. It's amazing how cliché the briefs are (when we get briefs) when talking to the over 50's crowd. Suddenly you hit 55 and all you car about is reclining arm chairs, soft foods and movies on Lifetime. George Carlin was over 70 when he died. He was sharper than most of us will ever be. Most 55 year olds don't even seem that old any more. The ones at my gym could kick my ass.

Jeffrey Summers said...

Who wants to talk to a 25 yr old?

TCWriter said...

Hell, I don't necessarily want to talk to the target audience of any of my clients. But there's that little matter of making a living.

Carol L. Weinfeld said...

Good points, especially #6 re: the whimsical nature of all consumers and their lack of brand loyalty.

Shanghai61 said...

I may have said this here before (my memory isn't what it was) but there's a fundamental problem with people. The effects are worse the younger you are, but it applies to everyone - even old farts like me.

We simply cannot imagine what it is like to be older than we are. Sure, everyone can remember what it was like to be younger, but nobody can get their heads around being older. We have a blindspot the size of Mars.

So, if you're a 28 year-old brand manager, or account person, or copywriter for that matter, you have real trouble empathising with a target that's older than you are. Hence, the lapse into stereotypes.

I tell 'em to go talk to their mothers or fathers about how they really feel about stuff. (God forbid they should ever talk to anyone older that they aren't actually related to). They give me that sympathetic smile, the one that says, 'let's pacify the grumpy old dude', and carry on turning out the same shit.

When the industry's fixation with 'youth' started back in the 50s and 60s there was a reason. A baby boom. Young people with money and a willingness to spend that their more cautious depression / ww2 era parents didn't have. So the numbers made sense. These days, it's sheer insanity.

Except, I might add, in China, where the post-80s generation is living out the 'swinging 60s' as we speak. They won't have this problem for another 20 years ...

Cecil B DeMille said...

I don't think I've ever been able to write an ad for a 20-something. It wasn't terribly memorable if I did. I've always thought the benefit of the product was what sold it, not the age of the audience. If you're advertising an adult diaper, you hardly need to establish the context. Most products are like that, when you boil it down. Advertising has a nasty habit of missing forests for trees.

Tim Orr said...

Recently, I saw a trailer for a "coming-of-age" film. The trailer had someone singing, "I know what it is to be young but you, you don't know what it is to be old." Interestingly, there's an Orson Welles recording of a song based on this premise. [See #3]

LisaB said...

I'm still waiting for someone to notice Gen X. We're in our '40's now, managers and business owners. Still the red headed stepchild of the media world even though from the music I've heard on many commercials I think there are a few Gen X Brits bouncing around there.

Alain Bransford said...

Another great piece, Bob! Many twentysomethings at ad agencies do seem to think that anyone over 50 is a grandpa or grandma. Perhaps they need to make a few friends out of their age group to get some perspective!

Sean Peake said...


Neuromarketing, the new phrenology for advertisers, has determined that Boomers' brains are different that younger folks, some of it caused by disease and/or degeneration, and marketers need to use a different approach. http://www.marketingmag.ca/news/marketer-news/inside-the-boomer-brain-83715#comment-193129