Mintel’s Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope looks at how to engage with the new generation of seniors.

This piece draws on a presentation created for the Financial Services Forum’s event Marketing to the Elderly: The Approach to Retirement and Beyond in May 2014.

We’re getting older. Not just you and I, but society as a whole. Growing longevity is creating an ageing society and depending upon whether you believe the UK’s Lords Inquiry or the Danish Ageing Research Centre, half of all babies born in Europe after the year 2000 will live to be one hundred years old. The global scale of this shift is no less staggering: according to the UN in 2000, one in every 14 people was aged over 65, but this will reach one in 6 by 2050, rising to one in five in America and one in four in the UK. In the EU, the number of over-60s is growing by 2 million each year, according to Eurostat and the number of over-80s will triple by 2060.

So what does this mean for companies and consumers?

Senior workers of the world unite

Well one crucial development to consider is a decline in retirees and a growth in working seniors, driven by financial expediency or a desire to stay active and engaged. Mintel’s data reveals that just 6% of non-retired over 55s are confident they’re saving enough to change their status, whilst 33% of over 45s have already resolved to continue working beyond 65. These consumers will bolster the proportions of working over 65s, whose numbers have already doubled in the past two decades.

All of this is bad news for an already beleaguered generation of 20-somethings seeking work, with the bad news being that they might find the avuncular, expert form of someone like 92 year old Sydney – B&Q’s ‘poster boy’ for their much-lauded skilled senior recruitment policy – blocking their way.

Where working senior is good news is for purveyors of products that can energise or glamorise them. Sales of cosmetics and fashion can be expected to surge amongst over the 65s – who traditionally shirk then in retirement – as they seek to fend off youthful competition in the workplace.

For marketers the key goal is to eschew grey marketing cliché and recognise that, whilst not everyone is an Iggy Pop or a Tina Turner, they’re talking to a new breed of Seniors reared on a revolutionary and youthful pop culture. In some cases this will demand literally sugaring the pill in new forms – especially when it comes to things like functional foods.

We care a lot

Yet not everybody is going to enjoy extended frenetic working lives, fuelled by fashion and energy drinks and punctuated by revitalising short holidays. Between 2010 and 2035, the Old Age Dependency will grow from 16 seniors for every 100 adults aged 25-64 to 26 and plenty of them are going to require our help, and by “our” I mean on a societal, corporate and individual level. We’re already seeing frugal solutions at a family and government level encompassing everything from multi-generational homes to foster care schemes, but an ageing, vulnerable society is also presenting new commercial opportunities – especially in the area of home technology.

We tend to pin the hopes of things like talking fridges and wearable technology on young and fashionable early adopters, but in fact it’s the needs of a potentially housebound demographic seeking to maintain independence that might make them a commercial necessity. On a recent visit to London’s Wearable Technology show it was moving and fascinating to hear Playtabase’s Muhammad Abdurrahman talk about how his ‘wrist mouse’ device was inspired and impelled by a need to help improve his father’s life following a stroke. We might also take a different perspective on Google Glass ‘Glassholes’ narcissistically filming and ‘life logging’ every minute of their waking lives if they in fact turn about to be senior dementia sufferers seeking to reassert some control and independence in their lives.

Caring for the elderly is an emotive, near universal issue and companies will need to show consumers they care – whether it is through Toyota pioneering new mobility devices, or Barclay’s Bank endeavouring to understand the needs of customers with limited vision or hearing. At present we see a lot of grass roots community initiatives like running clubs that deliver groceries to housebound singles and the challenge is for companies to deliver similar ventures at a corporate level.

Death is not the end

Let’s not flinch from the logical progression to this story – death is going to be a ‘growth industry’, with UN data showing that presently around 57 million people die every year, but by 2040 that figure will be 80 million. Marketers tend to pussyfoot around the subject, but that needs to change. Research from Dying Matters shows that the potential for a new approach is there and 70% of Britons say they are “comfortable talking about death”, presenting opportunities for companies to discuss insurance, legacies or funds for enjoying later life in a fresh, frank manner.

For inspiration they might look to other countries like Japan – where funeral home firms use skeletons made of flower petals in their advertising imagery, or Norway where The Coffin has become a hit reality show centred on celebrities’ funeral plans.

Death is changing with elderly consumers being offered the opportunity to ‘live on’ interred offshore as a building block for a coral reef in Florida, or to communicate from beyond via RosettaStone’s smartphone scannable memorial tablets or Eterni.me’s posthumous Twitter feeds.

The point is that for every consumer wanting to ‘live on’ through family legacies or ceremonial monuments, another wants to enjoy the here and now. All parties need to plan and are seemingly ready to talk.

We live in a connected era where we feel time moving more acutely than ever – perhaps best embodied in product form by ALARMclock – which wakes up consumers with an estimate of how many days they have left before you die.

Hopefully we’re all going to be old one day, but as we watch society age, we’ll all start thinking about – and planning – our futures at work, in retirement, in care in death… whilst we’re still young.

If you would like to know what these trends – and others – mean for your business please contact Richard to discuss our trend presentation, project and facilitation services. E-mail: rcope@mintel.com; Twitter @Richard_Mintel

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