Aging Eyes & Declining Dexterity: Obstacles When Marketing to Seniors

March 1, 2021


It should not be a surprise that as we age our vision declines, making it more difficult to read. Yet, time and again, creators of advertising to elderly consumers does not take these vision changes into consideration – often because the ad creator is younger and does not have or recognize those vision barriers. As a result, senior advertising is often hard for that target audience to read and is ultimately ineffective.

Some of the manifestations of vision decline include:

  • Declining sharpness of detail, affecting a senior’s ability to read small or reversed type.
  • Inability to discern contrast, making it harder to read words that are printed over patterns or pictures.
  • Less definition between colors, creating difficulty reading colored type on a colored background.

In short, words and backgrounds tend to blend together visually.

Communicating with Clarity

Guidelines for making it easier for an older audience to read an advertising message include:

  • Use a larger type size. Body copy typeface should be at least 12-14 point size – which is why most word processing programs default to a 12-point type size. Never go smaller when directing a message to seniors!
  • Use common typefaces. The familiarity of common fonts makes reading easier in any circumstance.       Printing these fonts in a heavier or bolder typeface improves message delivery even further.
  • Stay away from reversed type – especially in large copy blocks – and use italics sparingly. (Advertising icon, David Ogilvy, once suggested that if an advertiser was ever required to post a disclaimer in an ad that he did not want to show his customer, he should print the disclaimer in small, italic, reversed type. Ogilvy assured that no customer would ever read that disclaimer!)
  • Keep the area around copy uncluttered, with generous margins.       By doing so, the text will not compete with other elements visually. It also helps readability if copy is justified on the left side.
  • Maximize contrast between the text and the background on which the text appears.

While these rules are suggested for advertising to elderly consumers, they are generally consistent with good advertising technique, whether you are advertising to seniors or their grandchildren.

Advertising Online

These same rules are also applicable for online advertising. Furthermore, it is a good idea to limit the number of points made on a page, when displaying text on a website. Keep the copy in bite-sized chunks, as too much text makes the messaging more difficult to read, whether on a monitor, tablet of smartphone.

Another change that impacts the way we communicate to older adults online is physical. Declining dexterity makes it more difficult for older adults to manipulate a mouse – which consequently impairs their ability to navigate a website. There are a couple of easy fixes to address this barrier:

  • Make buttons on the website larger. This allows the senior to navigate a site without having to be precise in his or her mouse manipulation. The same goes for drop-down menus – make them large so mouse precision is not an issue.
  • Simplify navigation of the website. Actually, this relates to mouse manipulation, too. Simpler navigation requires fewer mouse movements to work through a site.

Touchscreens can also pose a problem for seniors, whose fingers are often too dry to operate the screen properly. When you think about it, there is little downside to making your marketing message easier to access, whether the target is seniors, Millennials, or anyone in between.