Surprise! Adults 50-plus are booming on the Net

They might be a tad slower to adopt new technology than the PlayStation 2 crowd, but studies show that adults over the age of 50 spend more time on the Web than any other age group. What's more, seniors are among...

They might be a tad slower to adopt new technology than the PlayStation 2 crowd, but studies show that adults over the age of 50 spend more time on the Web than any other age group. What’s more, seniors are among the fastest-growing Internet user groups and – unlike a lot of teens – they’ve got credit.

As such, say experts, they’re poised to become the next big target for those keen to connect with consumers on the Web.

According to a recent report by Internet media measurement firm Media Metrix Canada (based on September 2000 Canada at Home data), the number of baby boomers and seniors on the Internet (aged 55-plus) has increased 41.6% since January. And while such surfers represent just 7% of all visitors to the Web, they’re also the most enthusiastic, according to Sherry Barmania, director of communications for Media Metrix Canada.

She says senior surfers used the Web or digital media applications an average of 16 days in a month – more than the Total Canada at Home average, and much more than any other age group. They also spent an average of 748 minutes online per month – 80 minutes more than the average surfer.

Most of their time is spent communicating (often via e-mail), and visiting sites in categories such as finance, travel and health.

And while there’s little indication that this group is spending money online, Barmania says that’s in large part because few marketers have made the effort to connect online with seniors.

‘The more this group grows and spends more time online, the more sites that will pop up – and then it will be a vehicle for marketing and advertising,’ she says.

‘It’s a lucrative market that no one is tapping,’ contends Sophia Antoniadis, executive Web producer for Toronto-based Fifty-Plus.Net, one of very few online entities aimed exclusively at Canada’s aging population.

While there are numerous sites that, by dint of their subject matter – travel, finance, leisure – do appeal to consumers over the age of 50, Antoniadis says she knows of no other portal that packages these subjects specifically for the 50-plus market.

‘We have no competitors in Canada,’ she says. ‘We’re it.’

The Web site (www.50Plus.com) which is owned by Fifty-Plus.Net International, is also the online home of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), a 50-plus advocacy group with more than 400,000 members. Over the last three years, the site has evolved to include contests and an e-commerce component. Its community channel boasts over 21,000 members and the site averages over one million page views a month. FiftyPlus.Net also distributes several popular newsletters to more than 55,000 subscribers via its affiliate partnership with AOL Canada and MSN.ca.

This fall, the Web portal began making a lot of noise in an effort to increase awareness and drive traffic. A national print advertising campaign, by Toronto ad agency Sharpe Blackmore Saffer, broke this fall in CARP’s FiftyPlus magazine, as well as a number of dailies catering to smaller communities where older people are likely to settle.

It consisted of seven ‘provocative’ executions – the headline on one reads: ‘At most adult Web sites, you have to be 18 to log on. Ours is so hot, you have to be 50′ – meant to appeal to older adults without making them feel old, says Tom Blackmore, president of Sharpe Blackmore Saffer.

Eric Miller, president of The September Project, a Toronto consultancy that has specialized in the older adult market since 1994, agrees age shouldn’t be an obvious differentiator when trying to target the 50-plus market. Rather, he says, advertisers should try to get a handle on what seniors are interested in, and appeal to them on that basis. A similar approach should be applied to the creation of Web sites, he adds.

‘Many people today hope the Internet is a good way to sell product, and that may be, but they’re going to have to go about it differently than 99.9% of the Web sites I’ve seen,’ says Miller. ‘Someone once described the look of most Web sites as similar to the cockpit of a 747. If there’s no appeal to the senses, then it’s not going to work – it will repel older people.’