Why marketing to seniors is so terrible

This article appears in Fast Company

Ads geared toward older consumers tend to be condescending at best, offensive at worst. Here’s why marketers get seniors wrong. Plus, a look at the brands that are getting it right, from Mercedes to Covergirl.

Honest question: When was the last time you saw anyone over 55 in a decent ad? The world of advertising is a hellscape full of reverse mortgages, erectile dysfunction pills, and bathtubs that won’t kill you.

If you took your entire view of the human race from primetime advertising alone, you’d see a society without old people. They don’t work, they don’t drink beer, they don’t drive cars. They don’t exist. According to Havas Group, only about 5% of U.S. advertising is even aimed at people over 50.

And yet by 2020, the world will have more 55-year-olds than 5-year-olds, and older people are expected to generate half of all urban consumption growth between 2015 and 2030. The U.S. Census Bureau has pegged 2035 as the year older adults will outnumber chil­dren for the first time in U.S. history. By 2060 in China, one in three people–or 487 million–will be over 60. As far as brands are concerned, that’s a lot of potential sales.

But forget about balancing between Instagram and “I’ve fallen but I can’t get up.” These statistics, along with more recent studies around how consumers want to see different generations depicted and reflected in culture, are starting to shift how some marketers try to lure different age groups.