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Silver surfers: Growing old online

And it seems even more of an oversight when we look at population trends. The over-50s will soon be in the majority – there are nearly 20m of them in the UK already – and they will represent the most lucrative retail market in Britain, commanding some 80 percent of the country’s personal wealth.

Culture-change

There are a few problems at work here, but the first is that culture-change is a hard thing to achieve. And we are not talking about culture-change in old folk’s homes here, I am referring to the tired-out conventional-thinking within our industry.

It has long been held that not only are the over-50s scared of technology, but they are set in their purchasing habits. In which case, marketing to older people online is a pointless endeavor. But this belief is rooted not so much in fact as an obsession with youth-targeted projects and, perhaps, the fact that most marketing managers are under-40 and clinging to their youth, rather than anticipating their old age.

Nevertheless, some bright-sparks have begun to take a fresh look at this age old quandary of how to engage with our older generations.

October 1st 2007 was the first ever Older People’s Day. It was launched by a number of government departments to encourage debate and acknowledgement of the contribution older people make to British society. A key channel for promoting the day and engaging the core audience was a blog set up at www.generationxperience.wordpress.com. The performance of the site is being independently evaluated by the Hansard Society, a charity interested in citizenship, and the findings will be released in summer 2008.

At the end of October 2007, Saga announced the roll-out of ‘Saga Zone’ – a social networking site dedicated to the over-50s. The site allows its users to set up blogs, take part in forums and share photos – presumably without having to contend with the street slang and youth values present on other social networks. Of course, Saga is also able to use this site to learn about its core audience and target marketing more precisely.

Casting campaign

A more overt consumer campaign can be found in Dove ‘pro.age’. It has set up a site to integrate with its casting campaign for a set of TV ads where women ‘in their best years’ look to prove that beauty knows no age limit. On the site, there’s discussion taking place, beauty tips being shared and free samples on offer. The site doesn’t shout ‘oldie’ and has had a reputed 50,000 views per day since its launch.

What changes practices in our industry is hard data and in the case of online marketing to over-50s, we just haven’t had it. Look at much of the industry comment to date and you find it heavy on anecdotes about this handler’s gran logging into YouTube or that director’s mum calling them using Skype. The data is beginning to emerge, and it is this qualitative data that we can begin to combine with all the qualitative stuff to be able to run proper campaigns and provide decent services.

Whether or not the case studies I have mentioned have got it exactly right is not the point. The important point is that the examples are the vanguard of a new, serious push to engage older people in ways that don’t patronise or exploit older people. They are designed to build long term relationships online in ways that have previously been seen as only worthwhile where kids are concerned.

My prediction is that this year we will see ever greater numbers of older people online. They will become more literate, more adventurous and more influential. They will significantly populate age-neutral sites as well as those set up to offer a niche space. This will create a rich seam of data that in turn will provide the foundations of some smart, high-quality campaigns. Who knows, maybe 2008 will be the ‘Year of the Silver Surfer’.

Graeme McClurkin is Joint Managing Director at Dog Digital – A digital marketing agency with offices in Glasgow and London. For further information on this research, contact Graeme@dogdigital.co.uk

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