What the older generation really wants from marketers

SunLife: The ad, created by Mother, attempts to move away from stereotypical views of older people
SunLife: The ad, created by Mother, attempts to move away from stereotypical views of older people

Stereotypical views of older people are preventing marketers from communicating effectively with them. Jenny Hearne, head of thinkers' thoughts at behavioural research agency Watch Me Think, uncovers their views and aspirations through an in-depth qualitative study.

Slow. Inactive. Riddled with health issues. Set in their ways. Closed to change. No longer capable of learning new things. The type of people that hold up the queue at the supermarket checkout?

Is this just a stereotypical view of the "older" generation, or is this the reality?

Watch Me Think’s latest research sets out to challenge the stereotypical view of the over 55’s. To uncover the realities of a life stage that isn’t quite OAP, yet neither is it OTT.

The observations made bring proof that that when you reach this stage of life you don’t consider yourself to be old... but those aching body parts certainly remind you of the reality.

Key discoveries

Age is a matter of mind (and body)

There is an acceptance that ageing is inevitable. You just have to deal with it. Especially given that it just creeps up on you, and there is no set expectation as to how getting older should feel.

Despite the occasional "senior moment" - that can also be seen in teenagers - your mind doesn’t age and you never consider yourself to be "old". However, you are fully aware that your body is no longer capable of doing the things it once so easily achieved.

This is even more prevalent in those over 70, who are acutely aware of their own personal physical limitations and the impact that their failing body has on their independence.

There is a huge desire by all to embrace life and recognise that your age doesn’t have to limit you. This age group definitely don’t want to be treated like "old" people or considered as worthless.

The most admired stars are closest to you

Celebrities like Judy Dench and Helen Mirren are admired by women for their positive attitude towards their age and their ability to grow old gracefully and graciously.

Men tend to admire others like Paul McCartney and Richard Branson for their success and longevity in scaling the heights of their profession.

But we save our real admiration for friends of a similar age, who possess the resilience, courage, and determination to still live a life to its fullest permissible extent (and heavily reinforced by successful family relationships).

Changing priorities – a time to embrace life and enjoy

This life stage is a time of empowerment. One that is embraced and the opportunity is there to do all the things that you really enjoy doing. All those neglected activities, parked or passed as you powered through career progression and raise a family now rise to the top of the priority list.

Family however remains the most important priority, but its focus shifts as children are now independent and grandchildren can be handed back at the end of the day. The focus is now about spending quality time with your family and playing a key role in the life of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Long-term financial security is key to all. Those on the verge of retiring are mindful of having the pension funds to live comfortably, while those already retired spend wisely as they are unsure of how many years they have left to pay for.

For those that are retired, continuing to contribute to society and helping others is an important consideration. For some this could be a voluntary job, while for others it is about supporting less able relatives.

A healthy approach – this group knows the balance

It usually takes a similar aged acquaintance or loved one to come close to or quit this mortal coil to trigger a realisation that their health really is important to a future life lived well and enjoyed.

Good health is also critical to those over 70 as it allows them to retain their independence and dignity, preventing them from becoming a burden to their families and a drain on society.

So it seems that the over-55s are one of the biggest uptakers of a blend consisting of fresh, high quality food, physical activity, active minds, emotional connections and quality sleep.

For this generation, feeling young is just as important as looking younger than you actually are - and usually they have the purchasing power to do something about both of these.

Technological advancement – embraced but not fully utilised

Irrespective of age, there is an underlying desire to keep up with the modern world - but it is a challenge and those over 70 view it as a real ‘learning’ process.

For the over-55s support comes primarily from the family - especially those tech savvy son-in-laws.

Devices are not used to their full capacity with research and connection with family and friends the main application.

There are clear disadvantages with technology, primarily a lack of balance with real life and human contact and those "creepy" pop ups that appear related to what you just searched on Google.

Shopping priorities – value, value, value

Purchasing occurs on a need basis, as wastage is scorned and value for money and quality are key priorities for groceries.

Forget bombarding with emails to "buy more" because with ageing comes the desire to reduce "stuff".

The butcher and local stores are loyally supported, as they offer freshness, quality, value, local produce and great customer service – all highly valued and prioritised.

Shopping Online – it’s not an age thing

Online grocery shopping is not just for the young - even those in their 80’s had tried shopping online and used it occasionally.

The benefits are widely known and appeal to those with a busy lifestyle or those that struggle to get to a store or get around a supermarket. But for some, irrespective of age, the frustrations far outweigh the benefits and any opportunity for adopting online grocery shopping on a regular basis.

Besides shopping for groceries isn’t necessarily a chore for everyone, many consider it to be an enjoyable experience and a social activity. It’s a reason to get out of the house, have a coffee and a chat.

However, while ease of shopping and product choice are praised, opportunities exist for improving online shopping for this generation

What does this all mean in terms of targeting this demographic?


    • Be crystal clear on your products virtues and communicate with single minded simplicity, honesty and authenticity
    • Humanisation and personal relationships are key – consider all brand interactions and the balance between digital and non-digital
    • Personalised communication is preferred but not to a level that feels intrusive


    • Opportunity for brands and supermarkets to encapsulate holistic health with this age group
    • Health is a key theme to unlock – balance of functional short term benefits and longer term emotional benefits
    • Key areas of focus are energy levels, joints, cholesterol, skin dryness sensitivity and elasticity and hair colour, volume and shine


    • Recognition that technology is embraced but confidence needs to be built – provide support
    • Instill confidence in the online shopping process and consider key times and occasions to encourage shopping online
    • Be extra mindful of simplicity and clarity online – revisit through the eyes of the older consumer

Older people reveal how they use tech

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