Advertisers shift focus away from 18-34 demographic

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American businesses have seldom created products for or aimed advertising at the 55-plus demographic.

Preferring to concentrate upon the next generation of consumers, the 18-34 age cohort has been the primary target of advertisers for decades, or at least since Pepsi-Cola’s discovery of “The Pepsi Generation.”

The theory was – and is – a simple one: Young consumers have yet to settle upon brands, be they soft drinks, cars, beer or razors, so the job of advertisers is to direct those choices. Once the choices are made, they’re made – so it’s time to concentrate upon the next cohort of younger consumers.

That might have made sense in an era when older consumers had relatively little disposable income, said marketing guru David Wolfe, but times have changed.

“Retailers, manufacturers and service industries will have to depend increasingly on older adults,” he said, “who make their buying decisions very differently than younger people.”

But some marketers continue to regard older consumers as clueless, technology challenged dodderers who can barely turn on a computer, much less use it. This satirical paragraph published in “The Onion” during early January, neatly summarizes this view:

“The popular search engine Google announced plans Friday to launch a new site,, to appeal to older adults not able to navigate the original website’s single text field and two clearly marked buttons.”

But statistics belie such easy stereotypes. According to the Newspaper Audience DataBank, since 2001, Internet usage has increased substantially in every age group – but most markedly in the 55-plus demographic.

25-34 – 79 percent

35-54 – 76 percent

55-plus – 198 percent

Research shows that older consumers are less influenced by peer pressure than younger buyers, and that they are more careful and slower in making choices. That, according to Kathy Mills of Factix Research, means that the Internet will play an increasingly large role in shaping the buying habits of graying boomers.

“There’s no salesperson and no urgency to buy, so you can take your time and make the decision that seems right to you,” she said. “But there’s still a misconception that older adults don’t go online when in fact they’re avid online searchers.”

The online generation gap is narrowing, according to the latest Pew survey of online users and activities.

More older adults are online than three years ago. The biggest gain was in the 70-75 age group, which jumped from 25 percent to 45 percent.

One Response to Advertisers shift focus away from 18-34 demographic

  1. Older adults will also pay real money to read our favorite newspaper journalists on-line.

    May 8, 2009 at 11:01 am