Is Your Message Being Heard? – Part Three: Getting Heard

Written by Colin Milner, Chief Executive Officer of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA)

Advertisers in America spent $171 billion in 2013 to market their products and services. Of this amount, 95% was dedicated to building their brand and gaining the business of adults ages 35 years and younger, a number that remains unchanged since 2002. Only 5% of all marketing dollars are spent on older consumers, irrespective of their interest levels, willingness to try new things, and higher incomes. In fact, consumers ages 65 and over possess 47 times more net wealth than their younger counterparts.

Think of it this way: The vast majority of companies have left this space wide open; all you have to do to benefit is be effective in getting your message heard. Your challenge is the existing dissatisfaction among older adults about how they are represented in the media. The points below will answer questions about how these consumers want to be represented. Along with the key elements in your framework, these tips will help you create a message that you can use as a platform to be heard.

Craft a story. Arouse your consumers’ emotions with a compelling personal story. In creating that story, consider their comprehension and reading levels, as well as their ability to track long copy versus short. Use more succinct paragraphs. Most importantly, be clear. Have a focused message that speaks to this group’s diversity in such areas as life experiences, cultures and values, to name just a few.

Understand that life is many shades of gray. In your ad copy, stay away from black-and-white one-size-fits-all solutions or from concluding there is only one way to do things. Life’s journey has shown your consumers otherwise. Keep the message upbeat and positive. Let your consumers see themselves in your message and photography, but don’t draw conclusions for them. Older consumers tend to use their life experience and intuition to filter or screen hyperbole and baseless information. They will form their own conclusions.

Speak my language. The key to penetrating older consumers’ hearts and minds is to speak their language. Use terms that resonate with them to get their attention right away, and address what concerns them in a positive, upbeat manner. Examples include autonomy, relationships, lifestyle, health, wellness, quality of life, financial health, productivity and more. Everyone has aspirations, dreams, desires, wants and needs. Consumers’ will perceive your ability to support these things based on how well you speak their language.

The Visual Element

Advertising that resonates with older consumers portrays people and life as they know it. Because images make such an impression, they will have a powerful impact on how individuals respond to your efforts. Likewise, your choice of design elements can result in an ad that reaches out to potential consumers or precludes their notice. The following guidelines will help you successfully navigate the visual element.

Feature models that people can relate to and recognize. Images speak directly to consumers.

When selecting models for your advertising, here are some important things to remember:

• Keep in mind that, as people age, they tend to see themselves as 10–15 years younger than they are. Consider this phenomenon when choosing your models.
• Focus on people who look real, normal and authentic. Avoid super fit or athletic models—even if they are members of this age group. This would not apply, however, if you were promoting an event for elite older athletes.
• Avoid showing models in velour sweat suits, matching clothing, spandex, and leg warmers. Dress your models in the same way as your consumers dress.
• Ensure you have a good mix of cultures and generations. Think community.
• Hire models that reflect the story you want to tell, and the message you want to convey.

Use design elements that work. Changes in visual acuity are common as people grow older. Designing effective ads for your consumer requires care in your choice of font type and size, as well as color of paper and inks. If you are designing ads for websites, use care with screened backgrounds and background colors as well. Lack of attention in these areas may discourage consumers’ attention.

Add Contrasts: Make your ad easy to read by distinguishing the copy from the background. Black text on a white background is clean and easy to read; graduated blue text on a black background is not. Go for colors that are high contrast. If you are not sure your ad is easy to read, ask a group of older adults to look at it and give you feedback.

Improve Legibility: Popular text treatments today can be hard for older consumers to read. One example? Text that is too small. Choose 12–14 point size for your body copy and 18–20 for headlines. Be sure to surround text with lots of white space, as narrow margins and condensed leading can create difficulty for the reader. Sans serif typefaces may pepper contemporary design, but they do not work well for the older consumer. Use a serif typeface for body copy and headlines (e.g., Times New Roman or Garamond), staying away from fancy or ornate typefaces, which are harder to read. Other treatments to avoid include text that is all uppercase and copy set against screens or background copy.

Because so many ad materials are created for younger audiences, your creative team may push ways of presenting text that are not friendly for older consumers. Just keep reminding them who your market is.

Advertising that speaks to and with the market
For organizations that cater to age 50-plus adults, the ability to create and deliver the right advertising can mean the difference between success and failure. Build a framework for your creativity with the key elements of effective advertising, expanded and informed by your understanding of the market.

This framework is akin to pencil marks on your canvas. Utilizing your knowledge of your products, you can fill in your canvas and paint a picture that will not only catch the attention of consumers, but actually get your message heard.