I am asked from time-to-time about what I mean by “ageless marketing” and how is ageless marketing different from boomer marketing, senior marketing, or as the Japanese often refer to marketing to older people, “Silver marketing.”
In the early years of television, Nielson just provided household ratings without reference to age. Then, encouraged by ABC, a struggling young network at that time that had a smaller but younger audience than its two established competitors, Nielson added the Adult 18-49 demographic to its regular reports. So, there we have it. Age-based advertising, which is often counterproductive in today’s marketplace, was created to give an also ran network in the early 1960s that had the youngest audience a perceived advantage over its competitors. ABC’s main pitch was “Get them young and before some other brand gets them.”
The only problem with that pitch is that age correlates poorly with customer loyalty. In fact, the young are notorious for their fickleness. Nevertheless, ABC’s pitch worked and Madison Avenue invented age-based marketing.
The emergence of what I call the New Customer Majority has left Madison Avenue up marketing’s creek without a paddle to steer back into today’s mainstream consumer population. That presented marketers a big challenge. Everything they had learned about consumer behavior was learned when the young ruled the marketplace. Their behavior is much different from that of older consumers who now are the adult majority.
The problem with age-based marketing is its exclusivity. Older people don’t want a brand that reflects immaturity (Pepsi) and young people don’t want a brand that reflects maturity (Buick – although Buick has made some gains recently in bringing down the average age of its customer base).
The alternative to age-based is ageless marketing – marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.
To avoid any misunderstanding, I need to say that targeting specific age groups remains a valid marketing gambit. One of the nation’s most successful ageless marketers, New Balance, does not ignore age. While the core values it reflects in its general marketing are ageless, it targets specific age groups through media selection, content in selected messaging, and in how it manages its channel relationships.
Companies with a portfolio of products that are suitable across a wide age spectrum and that are stuck in the age-based marketing mindset of the 1960s need to broaden their reach by transitioning to ageless marketing. Why? Because the country will continue getting older for the next 15 years or so. The New Customer Majority is where both the demographics and the affluence is.
Many companies should evaluate a compromise between age-based marketing and ageless marketing: life stage marketing. Life stage marketing