When it comes to advertising, it's all about the 'demo.'
Demo is the nickname for the coveted 18-34 year-old demographic that has long been the Holy Grail for entertainment TV programs. (TV news has a slightly older target demo of 25-54 year-old viewers). The reason for this is retailers have always believed younger Americans more than make up for their relative lack of wealth with a stronger need and desire to spend money. It's those younger adults who were more likely to be shopping for new cars, homes, and household products. And even better, more of those younger folks hadn't yet developed unshakable brand loyalty.
I put all of the above descriptions of the younger demo in past tense because I'm seeing a big change in American spending habits and consumer traditions. And I'm not the only one. Because AARP just made news by announcing it's setting up a marketing agency to, in its own words "help," corporations sell their products to the over-55 crowd.
But don't let the typical AARP pseudo non-profit lingo fool you. AARP's "help" isn't coming for free. This is a decidedly for-profit effort by an organization that has a history of recognizing and acting on the money making opportunities connected to older Americans. And, here are the three big reasons why I think AARP is making a profitable choice:
1) Pharma and Tech are extending our active consumer lives
Big pharma has been developing more products for the numerous and aging Baby Boomer generation for years. When the ban on prescription drug advertising on TV was lifted in 1997, it opened the door for a flood of new ads for pharma products like Viagra and Zocor. It also probably saved national network news programs, who skew towards a much older audience and may have perished long ago if it weren't for the steady stream of pharma commercials that pay their bills to this day.
But it isn't just pharma. Older Americans may never be the target market for drones and Teslas, but many other new tech products like smartphones and laptops are becoming a necessity for millions of Americans well into their 80's. Almost everyone still working full or part time needs a smartphone, and even retired Baby Boomers have already shown a great desire to stay plugged in to the web and social media. Maybe the generations that came before the Boomers weren't such great consumers in their later years because the market wasn't making the same kind of new must-have products that it does now.
2) 60 is the new 30
Life expectancy in the U.S. keeps creeping higher. It now stands at 79 years and that's almost 10 years longer than it was in 1970. And it's even longer for those Baby Boomers who have more money and access to better health care. That means more of the kind of active living that leads to more consumer activity like buying new cars and going on more vacations. Have they opened a Club Med or a Sandals specifically for older Americans yet? If not, they should.
3) Boomers getting boomeranged
A big reason advertisers abandon Americans over age 55 is because that's an age when you typically start seeing your children move out of the house. When that happens, parents go from spending money on four or more people to just two. That's a big difference that makes a downsizing impact on almost every consumer choice. But with couples getting married and having children later, more and more Americans are now in their 60's before the kids move on to college. And then there are all those kids moving back in with mom and dad after college. Both of those trends are statistically on the rise in recent years and that means lots of Americans are getting close to their 70's before they really cut back on family-size spending. This affects everything from buying detergent to real estate. Meanwhile, other studies show the younger generations in America have even less relative wealth than the past. They might be willing to try new products, but they simply don't have the buying power that previous generations had at their age. That makes the older generation more economically viable than ever.
We can all debate whether all of these new demographic developments are good or bad for our overall economy and our society. But you can bet they're real changes or AARP wouldn't be wasting its time trying to make money on them. You don't have to be a fan of AARP to realize it has a very successful business track record, and I expect it to succeed.
The big question is whether the media companies who create the content advertising pays for will also catch on. Big money will be lost as long as entertainment media, and to some degree the news media, remain fixated on a younger demo that's spending less and making fewer consumer choices. For all the "get off my lawn" jokes about older Americans, the real joke is on those who still think every consumer over 60 is a lost cause.