6 Things You Need to Know about Advertising to Seniors

January 4, 2021


A lot has been said about the uniqueness and pitfalls of advertising to seniors. The truth is, the way you reach and communicate to the older market is not that difficult – or particularly different – from the way you advertise to adults in general. However, there are a few things you need to take into consideration.

1. Though they may process information more slowly, seniors are not slow.

Erase any preconceived notion that you must make advertising simpler for the senior cohort. Nothing can be farther from the truth! While it is true that as we age, we tend to process information a little more slowly than when we were younger, the decline is not dramatic. In fact, it is not until the age of eighty or above that the average older adult falls below the middle range of mental performance of younger adults.

The idea of seniors cannot grasp ideas and concepts is simply wrong. 54 U.S. Senators and 154 U.S. Representatives are 65 or older; twelve are over 80. Fourteen U.S. Presidents served beyond their 65th birthday, including Ronald Reagan who served almost up to his 78th birthday. Joe Biden is 78, and he’s just getting started! And these are the men and women who are setting the direction for our country. Whatever they may have lost in cognitive ability, they have made up in wisdom – wisdom that comes only through age and experience.

2. Lead with the right; follow with the left.

Though older adults may process information more slowly than their younger counterparts, they benefit from an extensive base of knowledge and life experience. They reference this life experience rather than using and analyzing objective data. As a result, they tend to review much less information and eliminate choices and possibilities more quickly before making decisions. While these processes may differ from those of younger adults, they are not necessarily inferior.

Because there is less reliance on reason and analysis to determine what is of interest – and more reliance on intuition, which is cued by emotional stimuli – marketers communicating to seniors should “lead with the right and then follow with the left.” That is, advertising will be more effective if it begins by marketing with right-brain messaging that evokes emotion, and then follows up with left-brain messages that focus on details and logic.

3. Don’t hard-sell them. Just give them the facts.

Once a senior determines he or she wants to invest further attention in a particular advertising message, the next response often is to want more information than younger consumers. He is not interested in hyperbole; he wants objective information. As Jack Webb would say on the classic TV show, Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Years of buying experience has equipped older consumers with a knowledge of what to look for and what information they need to make an intelligent purchase decision. Advertising copy needs to be direct, explicit and complete.

It also should be noted that as people age, they are likely to spend more time to make a purchase. Because their perceptions of time change, the meaning and role of time in their lives changes, too. Generally, concern about timeliness is not a prevailing attitude among senior customers – especially those who have retired and have plenty of time on their hands. As a result, they will often ignore time-urgency strategies in marketing, such as: “Only three left in stock!” or “Two days only!”

4. Make it clean. Make it simple.

Because seniors process information more slowly, they may have difficulty reading and understanding written material that is dense with long, complex sentences and multiple clauses. This problem is further complicated as seniors also find it harder to focus their attention and deal with distractions. Hence, ad copy should be simple and easy to read.

It is also a hard fact that the average senior’s vision is not as good as it once was. This affects such things as the perception of contrast, color and sharpness of detail, and must be taken into consideration when advertising to the senior market. Written communication – whether it be newspaper ads, direct mail or websites – should avoid small print while striving for as much contrast between the words and the background as possible.

5. Seniors are not especially sensitive to peer pressure.

Seniors are less subject to peer pressure influence than younger consumers. Keeping-up-with-the-Jones is not as important as it once was. Thus, advertising that invokes social status benefits generally falls flat with the senior market. Because they generally do not worry about the reactions of others, senior customers will gravitate toward greater practicality in their buying decisions. They are also less likely to be moved by advertising messages that stress luxury or self-indulgent services versus younger generations.

By the time people reach that senior status, they are generally comfortable with themselves and their position in society. Thus, there is not as much posturing vis-à-vis others in their social circles. Purchase decisions are made more on a basis of affordability and the relative value a product or service can deliver.

6. Seniors are thinking young.

According to pollster, Frank Luntz, people over seventy feel thirteen years younger than their chronological age – and they think they look it, too. They not only think they are young, they are acting young.

Advertisers need to think of this group as young, too – especially with regard to the messaging they communicate to seniors. It is an easy mistake to demean older adults in advertising by communicating preconceived stereotypes of what a senior is or how a senior lives, especially for a younger marketer who does not know or understand the senior cohort. Address and represent seniors as they see themselves – and that’s a decade or so younger than they really are.

You know, seventy is the new fifty.