retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

How older people are portrayed in advertising may be an issue ticking off the AARP (for some good and obvious reasons) but it’s a topic that businesses cannot avoid. If they think they can, they are delusional.

Here’s two simple reasons: First, we’re all getting older and secondly, that means some drastic demographic shifts are coming our way. The US Census bureau says nearly 15 percent of the population was 65 or older as of July 1, 2015. By the year 2060 the percentage rises to one-fourth, meaning nearly in that year nearly 100 million Americans will officially be senior citizens and nearly 20 million will top 85.

Keep in mind that we are now closer to 2060 than we are to 1978, which really doesn’t feel all that long ago (though my hair would disagree). Or to make this more immediate, 10,000 Boomers turn 65 every day!

These massive changes are only going to accelerate. In a world where 25 percent of shoppers are senior citizens or where a massive population cohort reaches age 65 daily, we need think about exactly how accessible our stores and how on target our products are for a massive shopper cohort.

For countless reasons, I’m lucky to still have my parents around and every shopping trip with them brings insights. I see them struggle with the entire experience from the busy parking lot to the self-service checkouts. They find the small font sizes used for prices and ingredients to be an endless frustration, along with the abundance of package sizes that are far too large for their purposes. Or I watch them tire of the endless walks up and down aisles.

It’s not hard to project forward a decade and imagine those hoards of retired boomers turning to delivery services simply so they don’t have to lug half-gallons of milk, laundry soap or heavy pet food home. A decade from now, concierge services that include shopping and then loading my pantry may seem a whole lot more attractive to me.

Which brings me back to the story that launched this conversation - how older people are portrayed in advertising, if at all.

We are a generation that still finds Bruce Springsteen pretty cool even if he may need multiple tries to blow out all 70 candles on his birthday cake. (Actually, Springsteen is so cool that he probably just has to look at the candles to extinguish them.) Painting all older people with a broad brush is as misguided as any other generalization. Keep in mind that Bill Gates is in his mid-60s and Jeff Bezos his mid-50s. I’ve got a feeling at least one of them is really up on new technologies.

There’s a simple way to fight back.

Diversity on our teams is more essential than ever. We need those diverse voices to help us better understand the vastly different needs, wants and backgrounds of our shoppers these days. If our executive teams resemble the cast of "Mad Men," change is way overdue - but not just to bring on young people, as important as that is. Diversity by gender, race, ethnicity and age can help steer us away from endless problems and possibly open our eyes to new opportunities for sales, profits and customer satisfaction.

At a minimum, that internal diversity could help us avoid needless mistakes that bring us ridicule in social media circles by, I don’t know, painting all older people as inept when it comes to technology.

As always there’s a movie to help you understand the power of age diversity. Check out how Dame Judi Dench’s character schools a team of telemarketers in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel … though it is entirely possible that Dame Judi can be as fearsome as The Boss.

Older can be wiser. I know this, because the image in my mirror tells me so daily.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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