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In With the Old

A new look at marketing to older men and women of all cultures.

WHAT DO YOU know about the older adult market? What do any of us know about it? We know there are 76 million so-called Baby Boomers, and 36.3 million adults over the age of 65. They're living longer and healthier lives - 80 to 96 percent of them having no functional limitations requiring assistance from another person. They make up 52 percent of total consumer spending - Boomers alone have an estimated spending power of $2.1 trillion. And, they represent a $45 billion opportunity to companies that offer products or services that help slow the aging process.

At the start of the 1900s, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was only 47. Over the last 100 years, we have added 30 years of life; however, it's only been over the last 10 years that the spotlight has panned over to older adults. You remember 1996: the year the Baby Boomers turned 50. The media coverage of this population was, and continues to be, at a frenzied level. (Especially this year, when Boomers turn 60.) It was during this year that the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity came out, stating that, no matter how old you are, you can and should exercise. Tufts University's landmark study on strength training and aging also came out during 1996, forever changing the way we look at exercise and aging.

During the rest of the '90s we saw 77-year-old John Glenn shatter many myths about aging when he traveled back into space. John Rowe and Robert Kahn's book Successful Aging added to the cause, as have many other fine authors. The ACSM Position Statement on Exercise and Aging, along with a mass of additional research and published literature, have parked the spotlight squarely onto the shoulders of an older population.

So, how can your fitness center market your facility and programs to this population? Read on.

Engaging programs

According to Bob Jeffery, CEO of the 140-year-old advertising and marketing firm J. Walter Thompson, New York, N.Y., there has been a "big shift in the media model in the last couple of years. … [We] are coming from the era of imposition, where it was about bombarding consumers with messages, and it's really now about what we call the era of participation."

Dove soap used this concept to launch its "Real Beauty" campaign. Starting in the United Kingdom, this campaign helped Dove's sales increase by 700 percent during the first half of 2004. The campaign used multiple "real women," but started with older women asking the questions: "What do you think? Wrinkled or Wonderful? Gray or Gorgeous? Flawed or Flawless?" This campaign worked on multiple levels, the first being that it engaged the audience, asking them to do something, not just be a bystander. Secondly, it caught their attention - which, according to Jeffrey, is one of the things lacking in modern marketing - by using older women as part of the sales pitch.

In the fitness industry, Bally's recently came out with a marketing program designed to engage Baby Boomers by enabling them to build their own membership. Their challenge now becomes, what happens once they get older people through the front doors of the facility? Will Bally's meet this group's needs? Only time will tell.

Bottom line. When marketing to the 45-plus audience, engage them. In a technology-driven marketplace where the customer is in control, opting in or out at will, it has never been more important to engage prospective buyers.

Keep it real

Why did Dove's marketing strategy work well with the mature adult? The campaign was "real." Marketing to the older adult is like watching a kid trying to sell their parents something. The mature consumer has been there and done that; their life's experiences send their "real-dar" (that's a radar for real things) into overdrive when they know what is being said is hyperbole. Think about all of the so-called "medical breakthroughs" in advertising. One such recent claim was for the world's first anti-aging pill. The new pill's dramatic press release says the "promising discovery has been proven to quickly reverse the aging process by replenishing the body's own production of youth hormone to normal 25-year-old levels." With competition like this, is it any wonder that using real people to communicate a straight-forward, realistic message catches the attention of the most affluent buyer?

One example of this is the advertising campaign created by the Active for Life Program by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). After spending a small fortune creating and testing a variety of campaigns, AARP went with ads that show real older adults. They talked about situations a real person could relate to, i.e., "I stay active because she deserves a dance with grandpa," and, "I stay active because strong arms give better hugs." Each ad told a story about a person (stories are an efficient way of communicating with the mature buyer) and then outlined what the definition of active was: "Get your heart rate up 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week." Lastly, AARP ads engaged their audience by asking them to call for a free handbook on how to be active for life (a benefit to the consumer).

Bottom line. Keep it real. Use real models, and get your message across without all of the marketing hype that makes older adults distrust marketers. Three-quarters of older adults do not believe what is said in advertisements. Remember, you can't buy respect; you have to earn it.

A side note. About 40 percent of Americans ages 50 and older believe anti-aging products are basically "hogwash," while another 36 percent are "curious, but skeptical." Although more than 20 percent of people in this age group say these products can "work sometimes," just 3 percent say they like them a lot.

Target your message

Whether the projected 20 million older Americans of color age actively depends on creating access through culturally appropriate physical activity programs. Once these programs are in place, then you need to market them. Consider the facts:

  • 30 percent of African Americans exercise frequently.
  • 29 percent of Hispanics ages 59-plus exercise frequently.
  • 28 percent of Caucasians (non-Hispanic) ages 59-plus exercise frequently.
  • 23 percent of African Americans ages 40 to 58 exercise frequently.
  • 22 percent of Hispanics ages 40 to 58 exercise frequently.
  • 27 percent of Caucasians (non-Hispanic) ages 40 to 58 exercise frequently.
  • Is your message culturally appropriate? And are you targeting these potential older members through publications and organizations that enable you to reach them? The following examples are from an article that appeared in the November/December issue of the Journal on Active Aging entitled "Cultural approaches to promoting physical activity for older adults":

American Indian communities. Plan physical activities related to the community's approach to health through ceremony. For instance, add a group walk following a ceremony. Brainstorm with older adults and others about how to overcome transportation and geographic isolation barriers. One answer, for example, could involve organizing tribal youth to volunteer to provide transportation for older participants.

Latino communities. Tie into Latinos' culture of fiestas by planning activities such as dancing as part of the celebration. Dancing naturally corresponds to the fiesta's musical aspects.

It can take a long time to change group norms, such as perceiving physical activity as a luxury. Connecting with the community's music and celebration is one way to start.

African American communities. Base a physical activity program in a church. Tie the program's educational component into faith-based values, such as being strong in body and spirit to better serve. Enlist several older participants to act as champions and peer educators to promote your program and demonstrate its benefits.

Asian American communities. Plan intergenerational exercise activities that older men and women can share with their families, such as walking. Programs that link physical activity with the family may overcome barriers by allowing family members to participate together while fulfilling social roles and responsibilities.

Bottom line. Different cultures require you to take the time to learn about them, why they do things the way they do, and how you can meet their needs. Brainstorm with the community to come up with other ways to test your materials and programs.

Woman have the power

According to a new study titled "Aging Redefined II: A frank perspective on marketing to women as they age," conducted by Winston-Salem, N.C.,-based Frank About Women, a real disconnect exists between advertisers' perceptions of women's lives after 50 and what their lives actually look like. The study's author states that women over the age of 50 want advertising that appreciates the wisdom that comes with age. Images portrayed in communications should reflect radiant, confident, diverse and active women celebrating life with friends and family.

According to the study, the problem is that "media images clearly represent adolescents and people in their 20s and, unless women in their 40s look incredible, they neglect to get any air time." As a result of these unrealistic images, older women can believe that reaching older ages is unacceptable.

However, Glamour magazine publisher William Wackermann says that he sees a trend in the marketplace of self-acceptance and being comfortable in your own skin. And Linda Wells, editor of Allure, claims women have changed in the way they view themselves. "In a recent study of 1,000 women, the words they used most often to describe their looks were 'natural and real,'" she says. "Those words were used far more than 'beautiful and pretty,' and even higher than 'sexy and glamorous.' That's a shift."

When markets and mindsets shift, so must your marketing - otherwise, the tools you use become ineffective. You must remain focused on who your audience is, and learn everything you can about them to be sure you get an effective return on your investment.

One group in the fitness industry that has been on target with older women is Curves International, Waco, Texas. Real women have curves, don't they? And we all know how successful Curves has been.

What is driving this new surge in real-women marketing? "When you're in your 20s, 30s and even 40s, it's common for women to put their lives under a microscope and feel like they're not living up to their full potential in terms of work, home and family," says Carrie McCament, co-founder of Frank About Women. "By the time she reaches her 50s, she's really hit her stride. She is happy, she is confident, and she is financially astute."

In the Frank About Women study, women stated that, rather than depicting older adults as old and incapacitated, advertisers should show an appreciation for the wisdom of age and realize that older people have money to spend. According to the study, women ages 50 to 59 spent an average of $1,275 more per month on new products than women ages 20 to 49. So how could you adjust your advertising to address this market?

Relating this to fitness

A recent AARP survey showed that 98 percent of 50-plus adults are aware that getting enough exercise is important, and 64 percent stated that physical activity was the "best" thing they can do for their health. This level of awareness means that you do not have to establish need. Instead, show how you are providing a solution that will help older exercisers overcome their barriers. By doing so, you open your business to an opportunity that could offer your organization unprecedented growth. New research from the University of Illinois-Champaign shows that "a projected 78 percent growth in available programs is required to meet the needs of the aging population." Will your fitness center be part of this growth?

Older Women Get Frank

In the Frank About Women study, women weren't shy about what bugs them in current strategies many companies apply to attract older women. Here's what they had to say:

What they see in advertisements today:

  • Older adults are invalids or half-wits.
  • Advertisements forget older adults are young people in old bodies.
  • Advertisements show older adults as sick, half-dead and drooling.
  • Advertisements think older adults are "senility" waiting to happen.

What they want to see:

  • A woman of radiance
  • An appreciation for the wisdom of age
  • Older people with money to spend
  • Adventure and glamour

Why you should care:

The average amount spent in the last 30 days on new products (never tried before)*:

Women ages 20 to 49: $2,730

Women ages 50 to 59: $4,005

Women ages 60 to 69: $3,226

*These purchases could include large items such as furniture, travel, electronics, etc.

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