The 50-plus consumer is driven by curiosity and wonder, finds Ketchum study

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73% of adults over 50 yearn for enriching experiences; 60% travel to learn about new cultures

In the United States, people over 50 are often stereotyped as complacent, set in their ways and extremely loyal to their preferred brands, but a new study released Tuesday by Omnicom communications firm Ketchum found that the opposite is true.

Ketchum conducted an online survey of 1,000 Americans over the age of 50 for "WonderLust," a study that discovered those over 50 seek enriching experiences and feel an awakened sense of curiosity.       

In fact, the study revealed that after turning 50, 73% of people learn new things because they are personally interested, rather than feeling obliged to do so. More than half of those surveyed said achieving goals energizes them.

"As we grow older, our sense of wonder is reborn," said Karen Strauss, partner, chief strategy and creativity officer at Ketchum. "We seek self-improvement, spiritual connections, service to community and new experiences, all with an energized sense of purpose."

Travel is a large motivator to get out and explore, with 60% of participants saying they want to journey to places they’ve never visited. While 61% said their travel is motivated by an urge to learn about new cultures, 59% said it’s because they want to try things they have never done before.

But men and women over 50 differed in their descriptions of how they want to travel. Fifty-seven percent of men said they would choose to travel with their spouses, whereas the majority of women, 57%, said they would prefer to travel with other women. 

Strauss said that the 50-plus consumer is rarely understood. "We are often stereotyped as complacent, gray elders on park benches or decrepit Luddities struggling with technology," said Strauss. "There is scant marketing or media that doesn’t make people 50-plus feel old or bad."

Lately, advertisers have been mostly concerned about reaching millennials, leaving behind a significant percentage of the population, Americans over 50, said Strauss, who is co-lead of the agency’s Ketchum 50+ unit, which specializes in marketing to that consumer segment.

"The marketing folly of neglecting us is clear; with mortgages behind us, we are buying five times more new cars than customers 18-34, accounting for 80% of luxury travel spending, and buying more than 40% of all Apple computers," she said. "We are valuable to any company’s bottom line—and yet we are marginalized, misrepresented, or ignored. It makes no sense."

Today there are an estimated 108.7 million people aged 50 and over in the U.S., according to AARP. By 2017, Nielsen predicts this age group will make up half of the U.S. population and control 70% of disposable income.

Through the research, Ketchum identified 10 ways brands can inspire this large demographic. This includes, "feeding the hunger to learn," bringing women together to connect, offering novel travel experiences and giving more opportunities to do public service. Participants said community events, podcasts, concerts and humorous movies are activities that engross them. 

"Older adults do not accept being miscast or taken for granted," said Strauss. "And they are comfortable discarding brands that fail to speak to them."


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