Not over the hill just yet

madonnaAs Madonna will attest, being over 50 does not mean automatic entry to the world of OAPs. But marketers still treat maturer consumers as a homogeneous group, without need for segmentation.

Unless you’ve been living in a box recently you will know that Madonna has joined the largest club in the UK – the over-50s. A club of over 20 million people and growing. The media has devoted scores of column inches and airtime assessing whether the wheels will fall off the Queen of Pop as a result of reaching her half-century. The consensus is a resounding no. And why should she? She is savvy, fit, young at heart and determined to continue working.

And she’s not alone. Madonna encapsulates the modern over-50s woman. If you believe once you hit 50 it’s a life of support tights, blue rinses and knitting you are very much mistaken. In fact, it’s more extreme sports, sex and shopping.

Yet, from recent research surveying the over-50s, it seems the advertising community is stuck in the past, taking an out-of-date stereotype where the mature market is concerned – more Nana in the Royle Family than Sharon Stone, or Percy Sugden than Sean Connery. However, a 55-year-old will have a very different outlook to their 87-year-old parent, moreover they are in a very different stage of their life. Marketers wouldn’t dream of targeting an 18-year-old with the same ad as a 49-year-old. So why is the mature market lumped together? As the research shows, it’s time this changed.

The research, which concerns the attitudes towards advertising of the over-50s, revealed that less than a fifth of mature individuals believe that marketers treat them as intelligent and discerning customers. The majority (55%) feel that advertising targeting mature individuals is patronising, while a third think advertisers treat them as being old fashioned and adverse to technology.

Interestingly, the mature market is traditionally considered to be very brand loyal and marketers therefore tend to focus their mature marketing on retention as opposed to acquisition. However, the research actually shows that the over-50s are in fact more shrewd with only 39% sticking to the brands they know. Over 60% said most of the time they make their purchasing decisions based on price. This begs the question about the influence of technology on this market. Where 15 years ago it was difficult to compare prices without a sturdy pair of walking shoes, a notebook, pen and spare few hours, the emergence of price comparison sites means consumers can check costs at the click of a button. The over 50s’ online presence is increasing and web access is driving this valuable market further towards brand experimentation and switching.

Online continues to grow in importance to the mature market. Over a quarter of respondents claim that web advertising or e-mails most influence their purchasing decisions – second only to word of mouth and recommendations from friends (43%). Traditional methods are falling behind newer techniques. TV advertising manages to scrape only a sixth of the respondents, while newspapers and magazines are 3% behind with 12%. Direct mail influences 3%, but it is radio at less than 1% (0.4%) which really turns off the mature market.

In terms of credibility with the over-50s, newspapers and magazine advertising is viewed as being the most reliable, however online marketing follows closely behind. Radio is considered more trustworthy than TV and direct mail is deemed the least sincere.

Currently the perception of the over-50s is that the products that are mostly pushed towards their age group are life assurance (75%), care homes (11%), incontinence products (7%) and dentures (7%). Yet, 59% believe that advertising today is simply not relevant to them. They would rather have advertisements for travel (62%), clothing (48%), high performance cars (11%) and dating (8%) targeted more specifically towards them.

The over-65s are the least happy with current targeting. Two-thirds believe that advertising is not relevant to them. However, 55% of this segment pays more attention to communications that are overtly aimed at the mature market. This is not the case for 50- to 54-year-olds, 63% of which particularly dislike advertisements targeted to the over-50s. This presents marketers with somewhat of a conundrum. If they tailor their ads towards the mature market they will engage the over-65s, but alienate the younger segment of the over-50s and vice-versa.

This goes to show just what a minefield marketing to this audience can be. The good news, however, is that 65% of all the respondents believe that advertising is better today than it was 25 years ago, yet clearly there is still work to be done in terms of segmentation if marketers want to engage all of this market. The economic downturn looks set to gather pace over the coming months and as consumers rein in their spend, marketers are changing their approach, which is good news for the mature market. v For those people going away on holiday who want help deciding where to go, where to stay or what to do, TripAdvisor is a good place to visit. It offers reviews by fellow travellers on everything from hotels to holiday packages, giving people the lowdown before they leave the house.

It is important that someone visiting a website for the first time can instantly get an impression of what the site is about, and here TripAdvisor does an excellent job. The “Get the truth. Then go” tagline encapsulates what the site is about and the depth of content is shown by listing the number of reviews available – more than 15 million at present.

A nice use of AJAX programming to dynamically load content on the homepage also means that users can see and access the main site features, such as finding a hotel, without leaving the homepage.

TripAdvisor relies on user generated content, so it is important that would-be reviewers find it quick and easy to submit their comments. Initiatives, such as a free stylebook for including photos in a review, are used to encourage postings, and unlike a lot of sites, writing a review doesn’t require registration.

The information that is requested from reviewers is kept to a minimum, and clear information on what is and isn’t allowed, along with sample reviews, help to keep reviews consistent.

While TripAdvisor generally provides an excellent user experience, there are a few areas that let the site down. Pages feature a lot of advertising, which is not always clearly separated from the site content, and pages can also be long and cluttered, making it difficult for users to quickly make sense of a page.

TripAdvisor is a genuine example of a website that is changing the way people book their holidays and it is clear that a great deal of its success is down to providing a really goods user experience. 

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