The Rise of the Silver Economy

By Andrei Ghoukassian

Published on: June 03, 2015

“Many businesses have not yet shed the outdated view that the mature market is made up of stingy old-timers set in their ways. Unless you are in the business of prescription drugs or retirement homes, the argument goes, why bother?”

– The Economist


Brands often look to the young markets to target their products. They want to cash in on the cachet of youth and its perceived qualities––beauty, health, vigour, and potential. But where do older people fit in? The answer, sadly, is they are often forgotten or targeted only by brands selling boring necessities like insurance, legal services, and care.

Age-neutral products often favour younger markets, even if their true customers might be older. “I don’t think (advertisers) get it wrong, although they do, but that they don’t bother to consider the older group in their creative or media plans,” says Dick Stroud, founder of a consultancy group that focuses on marketing to older people.

In the last few years, however, we’ve noticed that brands are paying more attention (and respect) to this powerful demographic.


Our population is getting older. The latest intergenerational report, released by the Coalition government in March, revealed that the number of Australians aged over 65 will more than double by 2055. Meanwhile, the number of people aged between 15 and 64 for every person aged over 65 will drop from 4.5 to 2.7. The trend is worldwide, particularly among developed nations, with the United Nations projecting by 2015 those aged older than 65 will outnumber those younger than five for the first time in human history.

This represents a massive demographic shift, but also an opportunity for brands to take advantage of the purchasing power held by older generations. The Financial Times has done a whole series on the rise of the so-called silver economy––and with good reason. Boomers and older people represent a large chunk of consumer spending, are wealthier than their younger counterparts, but are often ignored by brands (and, yes, agencies) that too often focus on younger, hipper consumers.

But this is changing. We’ll take a look at some of the ways brands, technology, and older people are increasingly intersecting.

Leading the way

Apple has used older people prominently in its campaigns for years, making it something of a trailblazer in the technology sector. Smartphones, tablets, and social media are often perceived to be of little interest to older generations and, somewhat insultingly, beyond their technical abilities. The truth is that older people are embracing technology like every other demographic––they increasingly socialise, do their banking, download content, and consume news on the internet. For Apple, the first part is especially significant and this is reflected in their advertising.

When FaceTime was launched in 2010, Apple made sure older people understood its benefits:

This more recent Apple ad from China takes it a step further (perhaps reflecting a different attitude to older people?) by putting a grandmother at the centre of the campaign.

The message is clear: smart-phones and tablets can connect older people to their families so they can share in beautiful moments, stay in touch, and feel less isolated. What’s also clear is that older people love their products––so much so that Samsung felt threatened enough to mock their taste.

Other brands have succeeded in engaging older people in fun, innovative campaigns that have a sharp sense of humour.

ALDI’s tea series proved a hit, while a 2011 Toyota ad mocked millennials for staying indoors while portraying boomers as adventurous and spry.

Smart products for wise people

Doro is a U.K. company that designs and manufactures technology specifically for older people and those with different needs. They make simple, easy-to-use phones and assistive devices developed with a strong focus on inclusive design. While Apple products are intuitive and often simple to use, there is a market for telecommunications products that streamline essential functions. “Whenever we introduce a new generation featuring more functions than before, we always start with ‘how can we make these functions easier to use?’ If it isn’t easy to use, it doesn’t belong in our products,” says the company’s chief of product development, Peter Scullin.

Doro’s campaigns engage directly with their target audience to encourage the use of technology in a way this is respectful of their intelligence and capabilities. They make ‘going mobile’ sound fun, easy, and completely unintimidating.

The company also launched an app for older people that combines elements of social networking with health and emergency monitoring. Connect&Care connects the user with friends, family, relatives and volunteers in the neighbourhood should something go wrong––ensuring peace of mind.

Others are also marrying tech with support for older people. Mindings is a social media network that allows users to share content on internet-enabled devices. “People shouldn’t be lonely, and their family should always know that they’re well,” say its creators. Pillboxie, meanwhile, is a simple app that reminds users when to take their medication.

Helping older people get online

For some brands, helping older people get online has become part of their overall strategies. Australia’s largest telco, Telstra, is paying special attention to so-called silver surfers. As part of the Everyone Connected program, they have dozens of videos on their website devoted to helping older people find the right technology, explaining how it works, and what benefits they can expect. Telstra has also teamed with the NSW government to deliver their Tech Savvy Seniors program, offering face-to-face learning courses in community colleges and local libraries.

It’s also good for business, and we won’t be surprised to see other telco providers make a similar pitch to older generations as more and more embrace new technology.

“Telstra’s view is that access is fundamental and as an organisation we are determined to help people develop the skills and capability to go online and stay safe and protected while they are doing so,”

— CEO David Thodey.

Online opportunities

Saga connects brands directly with over-50s, sharing products, deals and advice from a range of providers. Holidays, healthcare, financial advice and products, as well as lifestyle services, can all be researched and booked through the website. Silversurfers competes in the same space, and was attracting a quarter of a million visitors a month in less than a year. “The over-50s are half the population and 80 per cent of the wealth but there is only one brand––Saga.

This is the beginning of a very large portal for a wealthy population that brands find hard to reach,” says Silversurfers’s CEO, Martin Lock. Boomers and older people spend up big on travel (cruises, trains, and campervans), entertainment (operas, theatre, and musicals), their pets (they have more than average), and of course health and wellbeing. Smart brands will take advantage of their increasing use of digital technologies by reaching them online and providing them with comfortable spaces to call their own.

The future

We think that brands will, and must, get better at talking to older generations. While only a tiny percentage of advertising budgets are aimed at the 50+ demographic, this should increase as their purchasing power becomes more apparent. However, it will also take a significant change in mindset from the marketing and advertising community, which is dominated by younger people.

Brands that talk to older people in fun ways that respect their intelligence will find loyal consumers. It’s also important to remember that older people are not a homogenous group, but a diverse collection of people enjoying various interests, backgrounds, attitudes, and life stages. Product-makers, service providers and marketers seem to be beginning to understand the importance of the older demographic, and hopefully this contributes to a growing feeling of inclusiveness for older generations.

This article was first published on Hello Tomorrow.

Hello Tomorrow is published fortnightly at 9amAEST on Wednesdays and includes regular insights, resources and tools for purpose-driven leaders.