Another Grandma On A Bike? Why It's Hard To Market To Seniors

The over-50 age group holds enormous purchasing power, yet advertising aimed at older people often looks like cartoons of semi-active people happily going to the pharmacy. What can be done?

One out of five Germans is over 65 years old
One out of five Germans is over 65 years old
Felicitas Wilke

MUNICH — Advertisers have very clear ideas about the image to use to attract potential new customers in the "senior" demographic: salt-and-pepper hair, wrinkles (but only around the eyes), slender, athletic.

That's what most of the older models who appear in commercials look like. Yet, seeing them happily cruising the countryside on electric bikes or hugging each other, laughing, in commercials for prostate medicine, they look more like cartoon characters than real human beings.

The question is for how long the economy can pull along this old-fashioned train. In Germany there have never before been so many retired citizens — with demographics continuing in that direction. One out of five Germans is over 65 years old, and by 2060 it will be one out of three.

Last year, for the first time in history, we have more potential customers over the age of 50 than those between 14 and 49 years old. These numbers alone make this target group particularly interesting. "Many companies underestimate the potential of this "new generation" as a target group," says Ursula Friedsam who supervises the "66" trade fair for seniors in Munich.

Our youth-focused society tends to associate "old" as "unattractive," which leads to companies shying away from addressing them for fear of somehow offending them. "Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to get the stereotypes out of the marketing departments," says Friedsam.

This hides another issue: Today "Over 50" includes several decades, which makes it hard to identify, define and study "the elderly" as a single demographic block with the same desires or interests.

Gundolf Meyer-Hentschel, a specialist in senior marketing, does not like to think of it as a target group, per se: "For marketing departments it's a hard nut to crack," he says. "Some start counting backwards once they hit 50, others stress how good they're still feeling at 78." Regardless, all acknowledge that more and more seniors are doing their shopping online.

With much invested in market research, today seniors are generally subdivided into four or five groups. There are the actives who are constantly traveling, or the conservative connoisseurs, who like to spend their money on such things as wine tastings. But too many companies associate seniors with cell phones with huge keyboards and spa holidays.

Do the math

In purely economic terms, people over 50 are a rather attractive clientele. One out of four men over 65 has more than 2,000 euros per month in disposable income to spend. Most seniors are not afraid to spend large amounts of money, even when it comes to everyday items. But they spend the money only if they are truly convinced. And the products must have a clear benefit — they usually aren't interested in purchases for the sake of a certain lifestyle.

"Companies need to have water-proof credibility in order to score with this target group," says Meyer-Hentschel. It's all about authenticity and empathy; or in other words: age-appropriate treatment without making too much of a big deal out of it.

Obviously, age does make a difference when it comes to the demand for certain products. At the recent “66” fair, demand was high for health related topics and travel. Technical innovations are increasingly popular: Tablets, computers, houses that are secure and manageable thanks to integrated technology like height-adjustable sinks that allow autonomy in one's home even at a later age.

What is perhaps most surprising is how physically active the age group is. Among the most sought after products is equipment for skiing. Keep an eye out for advertisements of handsome gray-haired people trading in their bicycles for a shiny pair of skis.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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