The grey wave

The number of people over the age of 65 is growing fast, and what this group values, how it thinks and where it shops will affect Canadian brands profoundly.
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The number of people over the age of 65 is growing faster than the rest of the populace. What this group values, how it thinks and where it shops will affect Canadian brands profoundly.

Numbers released in late May by Statistics Canada highlight a clear trend: the country is getting older. In 20 years, almost a quarter of Canadians will be over the age of 65, compared with about 15% now. What some news outlets called a demographic “timebomb” will have profound effects across Canadian society, and the advertising and media world is no exception.

Adjusting the marketing mix for a senior boom entails media brand tweaks, as the behaviours of this demo are also changing. While seniors remain familiar with so-called legacy media companies – the newspapers and television stations they grew up with – they are simultaneously becoming digital savvy. In a report released in 2009, Statistics Canada said senior citizens were the fastest growing group of internet users.

“They may not be on Foursquare but they are certainly Googling for information,” says Sunni Boot, CEO, ZenithOptimedia.

New research shows that when it comes to the in-store shopping experience, mature shoppers are more likely to value shorter checkout lines, convenient locations, less crowded stores, friendlier staff and ample parking, as you might expect. But contrary to the image of senior citizens as conservative coupon-clippers, they also tend to be more impulsive, less likely to compare prices or do any kind of homework before leaving the house.

“[Mature shoppers] are sort of flying in the face of the general Canadian shopper, who is a planner,” says Marcus Evans, managing director, Integer Canada.

An aging population presents both challenges and opportunities for retailers. For example, knowing that seniors are prone to impulse purchases and that they prefer to hunt for offers on the shelf means they are more susceptible to point-of-sale promotions, said Evans.
But according to a recent report by the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, “the aging phenomenon will require a far-reaching rethink of product and packaging design.” Mature consumers will need large-print labels, directions and prices, especially for products in the nutrition and health supplement categories.

While those crafting strategy at Canadian agencies have long been aware that the country’s population is aging, and companies have been targeting the boomer generation for decades, the key now will be sussing out their thinking and values as they enter the years beyond 65.

“We used to look at life as an orderly procession from one predictable step to the next,” says Maxine Thomas, VP executive strategic director at Taxi. “That has so changed.”

Strategists say that the boomer generation is absolutely unwilling to fade into retirement. In fact, as far as boomers are concerned, there is no retirement.

People now entering their early 60s are constantly evolving, says Andrew Bergstrom, director of strategy at Cossette. “You wouldn’t call a boomer a senior citizen because they would basically crucify you,”  he says, noting that over-65s are focused on new experiences – i.e. grandchildren, travel and even second careers.

And as the population ages, a relatively new niche market is forming: the number of Canadian centenarians reached close to 6,000 last year. By 2031 that number will be somewhere around 17,000.

However, the 100-something demo remains too small to be considered a target audience for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a 100-plus segment that we’ve gone after,” says Sasha Grujicic, EVP of strategy, digital and insight, Aegis Media.