Genuine question: when did you last see anyone over 65 in an advert you liked? And when did you last see a product that you thought was cool but, after more digging, turned out to be aimed at older consumers? Well, that’s all changing. The most important consumer group isn’t millennials or Gen Z, as so much conventional business wisdom might have you think. Thanks to a huge demographic shift, it’s older adults – and it’s time to start paying them attention.

Most of the time, online marketing and new brands are geared towards younger audiences, and media companies run endless stories of crazy-successful 22-year-old founders. Yet recent studies show this paints only half the picture. 

Older founders are much more likely to start companies – and succeed. According to the Founder Institute, age is one of the best predictors of entrepreneurial success. And as more advertising dollars are spent on online and social media ads, business owners risk alienating their older consumers – and their bottom lines. The number of people over the age of 65 – also the retirement age in a number of major economies – is projected to double by 2050. They are set to control around 70% of disposable income worldwide, with spending set to hit $15trn this year.  

Modelled during a time when life expectancy was somewhere in the 70s, our collective assumption is that retirement is equal to slowing down. But today’s over-65s are radically redefining what it means to grow older. Longer life expectancy, better health and improved connectivity mean that older adults are retiring as financially, socially, culturally and physically active people. Only recently are we starting to see the beginnings of a newer, cooler economy for older consumers starting to emerge. 

‘The number of people over the age of 65 is projected to double by 2050. They are set to control around 70% of disposable income worldwide.’

While so many products and services can fulfil a vital need, they can also alienate the majority of older consumers whose health is still intact. In fact, while calling for these outdated narratives to be scrapped, older consumers also want to move away from brands that tout anti-aging products and services. They want to be celebrated as they are. 

Abi Buller, a researcher at The Future Laboratory, a strategic foresight consultancy, points out that spending on fashion by older people will increase by $14bn in the next 20 years. ‘This group has more time and more money than their younger counterparts,’ she says, also noting the over-reliance on youthful imagery in fashion. For businesses and brands looking to cater to this target market, listening to their needs is key, rather than making assumptions. Fashion and beauty are two growth areas, with brands expected to cater to mature bodies and skin types without compromising on taste.  

With online self-presentation of this age group growing exponentially, digital brand communities and shareable content that allows them to connect with others are also a big win. Many older people are finding that retirement is not so much an opportunity to slow down as it is to restart completely. In the US, those over 65 are most likely to be self-employed. Good health combined with no dependents, no nine-to-five and perhaps even no mortgage payments go towards good conditions for innovative thinking and entrepreneurship.  

Little has been done to address the ageism that older entrepreneurs face in the venture capital world, but green shoots are starting to emerge. Lived business experience and professional networks that older founders can draw upon can make them less risky investments, which raises questions about who is best placed to disrupt markets in the first place. Younger founders might spot an opportunity from afar, but older founders are likely to spot an in-depth gap after years of experience and built expertise in a particular sector. 

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This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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