Pensioner. Picture: ISTOCK
Pensioner. Picture: ISTOCK

It’s no secret that we live in a youth-obsessed society. This is perhaps no more evident than in the contemporary branding, media, marketing and entertainment industries. Page through any mainstream publication, peruse the advertising screened on prime-time television or consider the media personalities that are held in the highest regard to see just how much youthfulness is lauded. Even from a strategic perspective, there is hardly a brand in existence today that is not affording consideration to attracting and engaging the “youth market”.

Amid this frenzy, there is another segment that continues to grow in both numbers and value while remaining largely untapped in terms of its consumer potential: the seniors. Though there is no agreed-upon international numerical criterion for senior citizenship, if we make use of the UN’s definition of 60+ years, it is worth noting that for the first time in history, seniors now make up roughly 13% of the world’s total population. The proportion in 1950 was about 8%. This number is expected to rise to 21.5% by 2050.

While brands are beginning to recognise the need to target this growing segment more overtly, global studies consistently indicate that seniors continue to feel stereotyped, marginalised and overlooked at the expense of younger consumers.

Exactly 20 years since the UN-declared International Year of Older Persons, what are some of the key trends we are seeing and the insights (or “golden truths”) for brands to consider when seeking to engage this valuable demographic in 2019 and beyond?

Golden Truth #1: Ageing but not disengaging

Despite the relative youthfulness of SA’s population (as with most developing economies), a steady rise in the number of seniors is important for local brands to keep in mind. Recent estimates by Statistics SA indicate there are around 4.9-million South Africans aged 60 years and older – a number roughly equivalent to the total population of New Zealand. Over-60s also make up the country’s fastest-growing age demographic.

In this light, the WHO indicates that the proportion of SA’s population in this age bracket is set to increase from 8.5% in 2018 to around 15.4% in 2050 – making the country the first in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 10% of the population will be aged 60 and over. A key implication of this is that all facets of society (including workplaces as well as the retail, entertainment and health-care sectors) are set to change significantly over the next few decades to accommodate an ageing population base. This presents huge opportunities for brands to engage these consumers relevantly and impactfully, bearing in mind the segment’s high receptivity towards targeted brand and communication appeals.

A local brand that has been successful in this regard is Torga Optical. Recognising that age brings with it an increased need for quality, affordable eye care, Torga’s offering includes free eye testing as well as exclusive offers on frames and lenses for seniors. Similarly, local cinema companies Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro both offer up to 50% off on movies to customers over 60. We can expect to see more and more brands directly appealing to the needs and desires of seniors in a world where continued engagement into the golden years is now expected.

Golden Truth #2: Active and interactive

In contrast with stereotypes, today’s seniors are increasingly active and tech savvy. Seeking to live life without limitations and being less accepting of barriers to activity, these individuals don’t see themselves as “aged” in the traditional sense of the word. For example, seniors are estimated to comprise close to a quarter of all health and sports club memberships worldwide. In addition, as this audience becomes more empowered in the digital realm (for instance, people over 65 are the fastest-growing global segment on social media), they are also becoming more discerning and demanding consumers.

Because of this, when creating products and services for seniors it’s important to keep in mind that the old rules of engagement are rapidly becoming outdated. This maxim applies to brand engagement and interpersonal engagement alike. For instance, a lesser-known fact is that people over the age of 55 also make up the world’s fastest-growing market for online dating services. At a local level, several sites offering such services directly targeted at seniors (including Singles Over 60 and have leveraged this trend, becoming some of the country’s most popular dating sites with this market. In the future, gaining the attention and loyalty of seniors will require brands to reject widely held assumptions in a world of heightened physical and digital activity – a world in which the 60s will become the “new” 50s.

Golden Truth #3: Neither tired nor retired

As people proceed to live longer lives than ever before, we are also seeing some fundamental shifts in working habits. In this regard, the trend of heightened audience activity goes beyond just being physically and digitally active, as seniors continue to be economically active well past the traditionally defined retirement age. Thus, with many seniors retiring much later in life or needing to supplement their pension even after retirement, today’s brands should never assume that the individuals who comprise this market are slowing down with age.

The big take-out

Brands need to stay cognisant of the value represented by the senior consumer market.

Recent research by global peer-to-peer accommodation giant Airbnb, for instance, highlights close to 40% year-on-year growth (between September 2017 and September 2018) in the number of South Africans over the age of 60 registered as hosts, making this the fastest-growing host age group in the country. At the same time, other brands are tapping into a broader mega-trend of senior entrepreneurship. For example, in recognising that a growing number of small, medium and micro-sized enterprises in the country are headed by over-60s, local web hosting firm continues to make it easy and convenient for these senior business owners to build and maintain an online presence through its offering.

Amid the various psychographic shifts we are seeing, the onus is on today’s brands to stay cognisant of the new truths and realities of the seniors’ market. Failure to do so will result in missed opportunities to connect with an active and engaged audience that is proving to be worth its metaphorical weight in gold – an audience that is truly redefining the meaning and essence of life in the golden years.

Mike dos Santos is strategic director at Joe Public Shift.