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Reaching the Mature Audience

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I have always loved the concept of AARP’s “Movies for Grown-ups.” Mature adults are different. Developmentally, as we age, we connect more with great stories and complex, layered characters; in many ways we process our own lives through the stories of others. Praise for the movie, The Intern, with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway resonates with older adults navigating the intergenerational workplace.

In research for The Grandparent Economy, grandparents said repeatedly that they don’t see themselves or their lifestyles in advertising, on television or in movies. The older adults or grandparents they do see are elderly stereotypes, and often the butt of jokes. The study shows that more than 80% of grandparents have abandoned television networks, magazines and retailers who appear to have abandoned them.

There have been exceptions. Parenthood and Blue Bloods – both dramas – were given high marks by grandparents as “worth watching.” New programming like the quirky Grace & Frankie, Life in Pieces and Grandfathered, offer new hope for “grown-ups” looking to see themselves on the small screen.

In the same study grandparents praised As Good As It Gets and Black and White for depicting dating and finding love later in life, losing a spouse, relationships with adult children, raising a grandchild, the plight of grandparents whose children don’t marry, and sex.

There are more than 100 million older adults in our economy. In the next five years more than 80 million will be grandparents. They spend over $400 billion on goods and services, outspending younger consumers two to one online. And they account for more than 25% of mobile transactions. Yet, less than 20% of grandparents can recall seeing people like themselves in marketing messages.

Fifty-two percent of older adults have helped their adult children financially since the recession. This spending is on daily expenses of life, not “extras” as one might expect. Spending on grandchildren far exceeds that. Grandparents are not just spending on infants as first time grandparents, or expensive extras for teens. They are purchasing clothing, technology, paying tuition, funding extracurricular activities, and paying for cars and insurance. In many instances a grandchild may want and be the end user of a product; the parent is an influencer; but the grandparent is the purchaser.

Choosing to focus marketing dollars on a particular demographic misses the subtlety of what is really happening in the lives of American families. Popular culture, in terms of television and the movies, is beginning to catch up with these themes and depict older adults and their relationships more accurately. Baby Boomers and their Millennial offspring are showing that it takes a village to raise – and pay for – a child.