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Marketing to Seniors

November 4th, 2005 by Bob Bly

Having just been given an assignment to write a letter aimed at seniors, and rapidly approaching that status myself, I paused to think about what seniors (and near-seniors, like me) think, feel, and believe.

Here?s what I think senior believe:

1. Idiosyncratic, gruff, even crabby behavior is more accepted in the old than the young.
2. The old days were better than today.
3. The moral decay of society is accelerating at an almost exponential rate.
4. Young people think they know everything, but in fact know almost nothing.
5. Society has become coarse and crude.
6. Technology scares them. They don?t understand it. But they wish they did.
7. Their number one fear: outliving their retirement savings and being financially dependent on others.
8. Their number two fear: old age, illness, and death.

Are these on the money? Or are my assumptions off base?

What other beliefs, feelings, desires, and attitudes do seniors hold that you might play upon when selling or marketing to them?


This entry was posted on Friday, November 4th, 2005 at 7:43 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

79 responses about “Marketing to Seniors”

  1. Eric said:

    Bob, I think most of them are spot on. I would add one though. It’s the double edged-sword of #4. while young people think they know everything while knowing nothing, older people seem to take a single comfort in their age; That their years of experience makes them somehow better than a younger person, or even more intelligent. I’ve seen ignorance in young and old alike. I don’t think ignorance knows age discrimination. 😉

    So if I were to try sell something to seniors I might play up their one comfort of old age: Experience. Having been places and seen the world. Wisdom. Play to the notion that elders are always the wisest, most experienced, most hardened members of our society. It’s the one pride that everyone believes–even sometimes young whippersnappers like me. 😉

  2. Susanna K. Hutcheson said:

    Bob, I have to disagree with you in some areas. To begin with, many seniors have more technical knowledge than young people and are extremely comfortable with it. Additionally, today is far better than yesterday. There are far more opportunities today. Had I had the Internet in my twenties I’d be flying a 767 instead of the Google boys. They were just lucky enough to have been born in the right time to take advantage of this great wonderful place. Had they been born in your era or mine they probably would not be where they are or who they are.

    I think the number one fear of young and old alike is being totally alone when you’re in need. When you’re sick or old or hurt or need someone to talk to or cry with or care for. And yes, being alone at the end of this great adventure called life.

    But older people today are not growing old gracefully. They’re doing all they can to be healthy and happy. They’re continuing to learn and grow and to be vital. And yes, as we age we have the wonderful freedom to say what we please in any mannyer we choose. After all, we don’t have to answer to anyone as we did when we were young. And, quite frankly, as we age we simply don’t give a damn what people think of us. And, as the sixty something Martha would say, “That a Good Thing.”

  3. Ronni Bennett said:

    Bob, you assumptions are so off-base I haven’t a clue where to begin. They are filled with the false stereotypes that contribute to ageism and age discrimination in the workplace and you really ought to educate yourself before you go writing a letter to seniors. With your attitude, the letter will fail big-time.

    You might want to check out

    We’re really no different from you or any younger people. We’re aren’t drooling in the soup yet; we as smart and smarter than we ever were. We’re out there holding down jobs (when the age discrimination of younger people doesn’t get in the way), we read books, go to movies, travel, shop, play sports, we even have sex. We do all the things you do. Some of us even build our own websites and blogs.

    You really do need to get over your age bias.

  4. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Personally, I think 50 is the new 30. (Hey, I’m entitled to dream aren’t I?)

  5. Susanna K. Hutcheson said:

    Fifty is indeed the new thirty. And I totally agree with Ronni and Steve. With age comes so very much good. My associate is near ninety and he can outwork me any day. I do so admire his gumption. Bill Steinhardt started out in the agencies of New York and studied under the names we so admire today. He’s still working every day. He lands new clients. He plans new campaigns. He works into the wee hours.

    Age is of little significiance today. Of course we have aches and pains we didn’t have at twenty. But we also have more smarts and courage.

  6. Tamar said:

    Bob, your list is so off-base that I am hoping you did it just to be provocative. If not – wow! you have a lot of re-learning to do. Perhaps it would be a good idea to interview or observe people before you make these assumptions? Ah, but I think you must have done it to get a rise out of us – no? Am I right?

  7. Bob Bly said:


    Thanks for your blog post, but please don’t tell me “here’s what we really think.”

    I AM one of “we,” and so are the dozens of seniors I have interviewed over the years for writing projects, and my list, though not mutually exclusive with other views, is accurate.

    Your blogs may also be accurate as far as your view or your readers, but if you think it is the sole accurate barometer of the BDF (beliefs, feelings, desires) of mature people, you are mistaken.

  8. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Ronni, nothing you have said contradicts Bob’s list. With the exception that seniors are, “…really no different from you or any younger people.” Of course they’re different! They have 50+ years of life experience. Why negate that?

  9. Ronni Bennett said:

    I didn’t suggest that my view is more accurate. Some old people hold some of those beliefs you list. My problem with your post is the total negativity of it which perpetuates stereotypes of old people and the cultural belief that old is bad and youth is the gold standard of life – which simply is not true.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Ronni, how can you now say “I didn’t suggest that my view is more accurate”? Here’s what you said in your first post: “Bob, you assumptions are so off-base I haven’t a clue where to begin.” If that’s not calling my view inaccurate, what is? This is the problem with blogging: people are so eager and quick to fire off a combative argument, they don’t stop to vet their own copy.

  11. Mike Stelzner said:

    Bob – I am working on a white paper related to seniors. It turns out one of their biggest fears is losing their independence. This has to do more with physical independence than financial. They do not want to have to go to a nursing home. Here is the text of an interesting speech by the President of AARP:

    Hope this helps!


  12. Ronni Bennett said:

    Please, Bob, the semantics here are not what is important. If you can’t parse the difference between “your assumptions are offbase” and “my view is more accurate” (which are not the same thing), there can can no meeting of minds on that topic. But as I said, semantic interpretation is not what is at issue here.

    What is really important are unwarranted assumptions about old people. Some older people hold some of the attitudes you list some of the time. The problem with your list is that it refers to all old people and is exclusively negative, leaving the impression that there is nothing good about old people. I have no doubt that if the topic under discussion were African-Americans, you would never publish such negative generalizations. But old people are fair game for stereotyping? No, they are not, and that’s what I object to in your list.

    It is an ageist list and ageism is as mean-spirited and unacceptable as racism, sexism or any other ism.

    Steve: I agree, older people have a lot of experience, but we must always be careful not to pull age rank on younger people. For the past ten years, I’ve worked pretty much exclusively with people 20, 30 and 40 years younger than I am. They are more experienced at some things, I’m more experiences at others and we learn from each other. It’s not an us versus them situation.

    I’d be a technology idiot if it weren’t for those kids who are born these days with a mouse in their hand.

  13. Winston said:

    I am a senior. I am a senior deep in the technology business. Your point No. 5 “Society has become course and crude” is correct, whether from the viewpoint of seniors or non-seniors. As an example of that, I offer this: the rest of your list is total unadulterated bullshit stereotyping. Start over and rebuild your list with some of the suggestions offered in the comments. And don’t make the mistake of trying to put me in a box. I live and work and think outside the box, as do many of my fellow seniors who you insult with your simplistic list.

  14. Bob Bly said:

    Winston: of course not EVERY member of a target market will fit all or most of the criteria on such a list. But to write effective copy, you have to analyze the core emotional complex of your target market. And I know from writing many fairly successful promotions to this market, that they respond to the hot buttons on my list. So not only are my assumptions not BS, they have actually been proven through testing.

  15. Susanna K. Hutcheson said:

    Bob, if your list has been proven through testing, it seems to be this discussion is academic.


  16. Tamar Jacobson said:

    This proven through testing doesn’t mean much to me. Of course you can sell silly, smiling animal pictures to young children and think that’s all “they” like, but the truth is children love and adore all kinds of art – true representational kinds you find in wonderful art galleries. In fact their brains are built to expand to 85% of their final size, versatility etc y age four or five. So you could “prove” that “kids” only love junk if you want to sell it and you would still be demeaning and stereotyping and talking rubbish! Prove, schmoove!

    Why haven’t you put that we “elderbloggers” love to dance, on your list? Adore to travel? Garden? Read? Teach? Love? Write? Act? Drive? … blog?

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Testing is proof. If I create a promotion based on an assumption of a core emotion, desire, or belief, and that promotion is a winner, then I know that emotion or desire is shared by a representative sampling of my target market to a strong enough degree that they will respond to it with their checkbooks.

  18. Ronni Bennett said:

    A “winner promotion” compared to what other promotion? What is the compariso-test promotion? What are the metrics? You keep repeating yourself about proof. Got a spreadsheet for us?

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Ronni: The metrics are orders for the product. The promotions either did 150% or more above break-even, or beat the control by 25% to 50% or more. Does that answer your question?

  20. Winston said:

    Aha! Now we discover the truth. You are not really interested in “what seniors (and near-seniors, like me) think, feel, and believe”. You are looking for ways to rip a few dollars out of the fixed income of the unsuspecting few. You know you can do it because you have “proof” that you’ve done it before. Enough! I’m outta here because you have no idea what you’re talking about, and do not want to hear the truth.

  21. Pamela Kock said:

    “Course and Crude” – the word is “coarse.” Just wanted to point that out. 🙂

  22. Bob Bly said:

    Winston: I hate to be rude but “duh.” Read the title of my post. It doesn’t say “the life of seniors.” It says “Marketing to Seniors.” This blog and the post are about MARKETING, and nothing else. And the only meaningful measure of marketing is sales.

  23. Lauren Hidden said:

    Bob, a couple comments from a former county aging care manager (caseworker)…one of my supervisors told me that crabby old people were probably crabby young people and I found that to be true. Barring something like dementia, if you had a nasty, stubborn client, 9 out of 10 times, the client’s child would tell you he or she has always been that way.

    Also, at least in the U.S., a lot of my clients were concerned about paying for their medication, food, and utilities, but perhaps that was just the low-income ones I saw. They also don’t want to “lose” any hard-earned money to a nursing home–they’d rather pass it on to their kids. If they were self-supporting during their working years, they don’t want to depend on anyone–a neighbor, their kids, “the system,” doctors, charity, etc. Hope that helps.

  24. Joe Mudd said:

    You might add another item to the list – some senoirs are really touchy and seem to have a chip on their weary old shoulders.

  25. earth girl said:

    Bob, you should not be surprised by the response to your list because of the medium you used – the blog. We seniors that blog may not be representative of the seniors receiving your letter. Personally I believe “seniors” is much too broad to be an effective definition of a target audience. When a cohort reaches a certain age, the differences in purchasing behavior is not eliminated. It probably is exacerbated. Just take the definition of a senior “family” in their late 50s – some will have children yet in high school, some are still paying college tuition for their children, some are empty-nesters still working, some are active retired empty-nesters, some are ill, some are vibrantly healthy, some are getting advanced degrees, some are reading romance novels, some have grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, some work part-time, some are wealthy, some are poor, and I could go on and on.

  26. Bob Bly said:

    Earth Girl: by extension, your comment can be taken to mean that bloggers are not typical or representative of the population at large, and I agree with that opinion.

  27. TonyD said:

    I don’t know if your on target or not, but you sure just described me… and I’m closer to 30 than to 50.

  28. joann said:

    I’m 51 and most of my friends are my age or older. I agree with Bob plus the additional “fear of losing independence” as key concerns. The one area I do not see so much in my own circle is the sense that we oldsters are not technically as savvy as younger kids; I have been involved with computers for the past 20 years and frequently find myself instructing younger folks. This may not be typical, but the “technophobe” senior isn’t universal.

  29. serriere said:

    We need to seperate Seniors and Baby boomers who have very much different values and behavors. Baby boomers are very heterogeneous. But they are looking like younger people. The studies on the cognitive age show that a 60 year old person think be have betwen 45 and 50.
    Frederic Serriere

  30. Rob Swanson said:

    I would agree with most of the list (the technology point is changing) but I’d add that as “Core beliefs” we often mask them from ourselves. I’m only 42, yet much on the list is accurate for me (although some, like the world is coarser and cruder now than my youth isn’t accurate… it IS more accepted today, though). Few of the elderly I know are rude. I do think people’s true self comes out as they age and I’m fortunately enough to hang with older folks who have spent years honing their character. Gives me hope, because the people I grew up with WERE rude.

    Winston’s stereotype that marketers are opportunists and hucksters is sad. Trying to get people to buy products that will help them isn’t evil. Ethically we should only work on projects that we believe are worth their exchange in dollars.

  31. joared said:

    After reading this post and comments, I wondered if you have ever come up with a revised list?

    Any marketing devised based on this post’s list would not be effective with ANY older people I know, including myself. If most marketing is based on so many false assumptions, I can understand why I am unresponsive to the messages.

    Apparently, there must be a market niche which does respond to your approach, but wonder if you aren’t limiting yourself to a much smaller segment of people.

    As for Michael’s account, his driving license description is certainly not the norm for those who relinquish their driving priviledge in my experience.

    I think for many there is a tendency to over-generalize with any group that has had a “label” affixed to them including people who are getting older. The descriptions in one of the comments about the age group who preceeded the so-called Boomer generation just don’t match with any of that group’s folks I’ve encountered. Just as I’ve encountered many individuals, unfortunately called Boomers, who don’t meet the descriptive lists others have given them.

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