Is Your Message Being Heard? – Part Two: The Ground Rules

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

(Didn’t catch part one? Read it here.)

How do you develop advertising messages that effectively penetrate the minds of 50-plus consumers? The answer is simple, start with a blank canvas and add one element at a time. Your framework will include appropriately ad composition, choosing suitable models and photography, using appropriate terminology, finding the right message, and delivering the message in an authentic, compelling manner.

Before you begin, here are a few ground rules for targeting this market:

Focus on me. Get the words spillover marketing out of your mind. As the research shows, older adults want to be visible; they don’t want to be an afterthought. Ensure you target this market with advertising that features design, information and images specifically geared to these consumers.

It’s only funny if I laugh. An example: A campaign for Circle K convenience stores in Atlantic Canada used drawings of a person in three stages of aging to illustrate the sizes of “Geezerade” slushy drinks and their cost. The eldest stage, which corresponded to the largest and most expensive drink, was an aging caricature: a bald, toothless, wizened old man. Aimed at engaging “youngsters,” this campaign blatantly disrespected old age, dismissing it as a time of diminished value. Nobody was laughing. The campaign received major backlash and was pulled.

Avoid stereotypes. In GlynnDevins survey, fully 60% of the individuals surveyed thought advertisers portrayed older adults as aging stereotypes, both positive and negative (generally, “too good to be true” or “too bad to be true”). Unfortunately, using stereotypes in ads can come back to haunt you.

Be a storyteller. You may like to market the sizzle, but it’s not about you. Effective advertising keeps your consumers’ preferences in mind—and they prefer the steak. Substance is not boring! You have the opportunity to tell compelling stories in your ads, rather than sharing bullet points. Always remember to include what’s in it for your consumers, or the reason to buy, the reason to visit and the reason to call.

Make my day. You may have seen the Toyota advertisement that shows Boomer parents out riding their mountain bikes while their kids are at home using the Internet. The message behind this ad is that these older consumers are dispelling myths and living life while the world Tweets by. This advertisement brings a smile to my face each time I see it. Why? It directly reflects my life and those of the people I know. And it builds me up, instead of trying to break me down.

Include me. Just as effective images reflect your consumers, language should include, not exclude, them. Speak to your consumers’ values. An example of the power of language is the hotly debated use of the term senior. When 85% of people between 40 and 90 years of age do not see themselves as old, marketing this point may hinder your success.

Ask me. To create the most effective advertising, ask your consumers for advice. Do they like your ad and what it stands for? The message, the models, the story? How easy was it to read or watch? And to understand—could they follow it okay? If you ask such questions, your consumer will tell you if you are on the right path, or if you need to start another blank canvas.

Keep it real and credible. Hyperbole is the antithesis of authenticity. You need look no further than television to find endless examples of overstatement, as every show seems to be touted as “number one,” “must-watch TV” or “the season’s hottest new show.” After a lifetime of hyperbole, older consumers have learned to discount these messages as nothing more than meaningless words and empty promises. That is why your consumers need you to be direct and factual with them.

Realism and authenticity are key elements for communicating your message to an older consumer. An example: As much as the “super senior” may inspire you, it is an unattainable ideal for many older adults rather than an authentic image of aging, and thus is not real. It reflects good intentions gone awry.

Now that we have got the ground rule out of the way, Part 3 in this series will focus on the main task at hand, getting your message heard.