Ian Burrell: Why marketers must learn to ride new waves with silver surfers

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The Independent Online

Just look at him in his aviators and tux, a girl hanging off each shoulder, and spraying around the fizz like Lewis Hamilton on the podium at Silverstone. Except, of course, if you're a media planner, a brand manager or a marketing director you probably won't see this fellow at all because he's just too damn old.

Despite greys being better disposed than the rest of the population to help Alastair Darling by spending our way out of recession, they are habitually ignored by advertisers. Many media companies still group the "over Fifties" in a single category, grouping those who grew up listening to Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin with those born just after the Great War.

In contrast, as Kevin Lavery points out, marketers can "slice or dice in a dozen different ways" the kids, teenagers and twenty-somethings in the company's audience or customer base. Lavery, as president of the International Mature Marketing Network (IMMN), is dismayed at the mindset.

The IMMN points to new research showing that over Fifties believe the products most prominently advertised to them are life assurance, care homes, incontinence treatments and dentures. In fact, the advertising they actually most want to engage with is travel (62 per cent), clothing (48 per cent), performance cars (11 per cent), and dating (8 per cent).

Lavery says the ad for Australian broadcaster Talk Radio Network "sums up" his argument. A hit down under, it demanded a re-evaluation of the ears and eyes of the baby-boomers. "He's made it. They're just on the make," runs the line on this print campaign. "He's part of the big-spending, highly lucrative Baby-Boomer market. They're part of the cash-poor, asset-limited youth market. So who's your media strategy aimed at?"

The IMMN is joining up specialist thinking in Britain, America and Australasia on how to market to the over Fifties. Lavery, who is also director of Yorkshire-based marketing group Millennium, praises the US company Immersion Active – a self-styled "Digital Boomer Agency" – which offers insights into producing the best online communications for silver surfers. The site includes the Carol's Web, showing how websites can be configured to change colour or refocus for users with different sight dispositions.

Despite events such as Marketing Week's Older, Wiser, Richer conference highlighting the importance of the older audience, Lavery says that marketers are still not getting the message, remaining convinced that they need to reduce the rising median age of their client bases by chasing youth. It's their loss, he says. "I'm 56. My formative years were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones," he says.