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The Changing Nature of Ageing

The most watched Superbowl advert this year was Taco Bell’s ‘Viva Young’ (see the video above) featuring a group of old folks sneaking out of a retirement home for a wild night on the town. Funny – yes; surprising – yes; a sign that times are changing – definitely…

In our earlier post (The Age of the Ageing Consumer) we talked about the demographic shift taking place as the world moves from a history of being driven by youth to an increasingly elderly population. But it is vital to understand that the nature of ‘ageing’ is also changing: whilst most senior consumers may not be living like Mr. Goldblack and his buddies (from the Taco Bell ad), they are far wealthier than previous generations, they are healthier and more active, thanks to the great strides of modern healthcare, and they are changing the way society looks at ‘old age’.

Not least because as the influential Boomer generation are now entering their 50s and 60s they look set to transform the way society looks at senior citizens and – perhaps more importantly – how those citizens look at themselves. This generation has both driven and lived through a period of huge change and has never been scared of challenging the values of their parents generation.  Combined with the sheer force of its size, this demographic bulge has remodeled society as it passed through: they were the first ‘teenagers’, took a lead in the counterculture revolution, campaigned for fairness and equality, whilst at the same time living with a strong expectation that the world would improve with time.

As Dr. Alexandre Kalache, former World Health Organisation’s Director of Ageing, put it “Never before have we seen a cohort hitting the age of 65 who are so well informed, so wealthy and in such good health. We are witnessing the emergence of a ‘gerontolescence’ a new period of transition. We will not allow our rights to be ignored and we will not be fobbed off with the idea that all we are fit for is a spot of light volunteering… more and more of us who are fit and healthy are insisting that we participate actively in the workplace, in society and in politics.”

From our own research we have seen that this senior generation view ‘old’ as something their parents were at the same age, but are quick to differentiate themselves. For them age is simply a number – they don’t want to be sidelined or feel out of date, instead they feel liberated and enjoy the opportunities modern life has given them. They recognise all the qualities of ‘old age’ – it’s just not them!

We can already see the signs that the pensioners of today aren’t going to be the same as yesterday. Here are just a few statistics from the UK that might surprise you:

  • Over-50s buy 80% of all high-end cars and represent about 80% of disposable wealth
  • 1 in 5 over 60s are on a Social Network, 1 in 7 are on Facebook
  • Over 70s generated nearly a fifth of all injury claims resulting from ‘extreme sports’
  • Divorce rates among over 60s are rising, whilst falling for all other age groups
  • Over 50s have the fastest growing rates of sexually transmitted diseases

Equally the cultural landscape is starting to change to reflect their influence. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a movie about a disparate group of English pensioners in India was one of the UK’s highest grossing films in 2012. Whilst publishing has seen success of a books about ‘grandparents’ such as Thursdays in the Park and The 100 year old Man who Climbed out of a Window, have both been driven by significant Baby Boomer e-book purchases. We can expect this shift to continue in the years ahead.

These are exciting times – we all (hopefully) get old – and the Boomers are redefining this as something to look forward to rather than something to fear. Equally, we have a largely untapped reservoir of potential in our senior population with the time and willingness to partake in everything from charities to private sector to government. For companies there is a huge opportunity to target a group keen to explore new ideas, who value quality, want to remain at the centre of modern life and have significant disposable income – surely huge opportunities for marketing and innovation.

But all this rests on ridding ourselves of our preconceptions and understanding what ageing really means and feels like for senior consumers in the 21st century.



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