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How to Develop an Ageless Marketing Practice:

Eight insights for creating product messages for 40+ markets

Though we don't notice it happening -- any more than a

child notices that she has grown an inch taller during the summer
– changes take place across our full life span in how we process
information. A 25-year-old will process the contents of an
advertisement markedly different from the way a 50-year-old
processes the same ad.

With the majority of adults now in their mid-40s and older,

marketers are being driven to learn more about how the minds of
an age group that was largely ignored in the past work. It is not
enough to change the ages of models in ads to effectively arouse
the attention of middle age and older consumers. Language style,
layout, word pictures and imagery often must be different than
what is effective among younger consumers.

Compare the behaviors and reactions between these two

market segments:
 Younger mind tends to be more responsive to emotionally
neutral, objectively framed propositions.
 As midlife approaches the mind becomes increasingly
responsive to emotional cues. It becomes less responsive to
information that is emotionally neutral, at least in the early
stages of reacting to an information-set.
 The midlife and older mind is more adept at ferreting out
deeper metaphorical and psychological meanings. In other
words, the older mind gets more with less information than
younger minds do.
 Younger minds are more literal, and generally respond better to
a language style that is direct and detailed. Younger minds have
less tolerance for ambiguity and subtlety, and thus prefer crisp
black-and-white renderings of the world.
 The older people are, the more likely they will be repelled by the
absolutism that marks thinking processes of younger minds.
Absolutism is an affect of less mature and less autonomous
 The young often appear to project autonomy in their strident
expressions, but in reality they demonstrate considerable
dependence by constantly scanning the social and cultural
landscape for guidance.
 In contrast, older people generally depend less on others for
guidance. In fact, they tend to resist efforts of others to press
unbidden advice on them. And that is what much advertising is:
unbidden advice.
 Older minds are generally more responsive to indirect
approaches until such time that trust has been fully gained, at
which time, they may actually welcome directness even more
than a younger person might. However, until that trust is
present, "hard sell" language styles offend their sense of
autonomy. They don't want unbidden guidance.
 This paper identifies eight progressive changes in how middle-
aged and older minds process information together with tips for
taking these changes into account in marketing communications.
These eight insights are indeed the foundation for a company’s
Ageless Marketing practice that pursues all audiences across
generational divides.
Eight insights to understanding how the over 40+ market
responds to advertising

1. Less reliance on reason to determine what is of

interest, with more reliance on intuition (which is cued
by emotional responses).
Implications: identify and employ images that promote
strong positive emotional responses; relationship building should
precede presentation of company and product; relationship
potentialities are primarily emotionally inferred ("gut feelings")
rather than rationally deduced.

2. First impressions (which are always emotionally

based) are more durable and more difficult to reverse
than for younger adults.
Implications: carefully evaluate message contents for any
potential to stimulate negative first impressions. Research
indicates that it is more difficult to change the first impressions of
older consumers. A good in-house exercise is to set up two teams.
The first team is charged with identifying positive images the
message might generate, while the second team identifies
negative images the message might create. Then, collectively, the
two teams decide what should be kept and what should be
changed. Keep in mind that the strongest source of negative
impressions will most likely be images that conflict with a
person's idealized image of self, especially with respect to
autonomy and sense of personal validity.
3. After a matter qualifies for interest and further
attention, older consumers often want more information
than do younger consumers.
Implications: create opportunities in product messages to get
further information. Once an active selling process has begun,
manage the information flow so that emotional cues are present
when most advantageous (early in the process), then shift to
"hard" or objective information when most advantageous.

4. Decreasing speed in rational processing of objective

Implications: Deliver objective information (e.g., product
benefits and features, technical information, etc.) at a slow to
moderate pace. Avoid "jump cuts" and incomplete sentences.
Keep in mind that older minds may be quicker in emotionally
processing information into conclusive perceptions than younger
minds, but they are slower in generating rationally derived

5. More resistant to absolute propositions.

Implications: present information on company and products
in a qualified, even deferential manner. The more mature a
person is the more they want to pull information toward them as
opposed to having it pushed unbidden at them. A good example
of this approach is seen in New Balance shoe ads, which have
generally been designed for consumers in their mid-30s and
older. The ads play off the brand name, New Balance, with
images of consumers striving to put balance in their lives, an
experiential aspiration that tends to be stronger in midlife and
later than in earlier adulthood.
6. More sensitive to metaphorical meanings, nuances
and subtleties.
Implications: take advantage of the older mind's increased
sensitivity to subtlety to expand the content of the message,
especially in terms of core values. Core Values are values that
transcend the generic (functional) value of the product. Core
Values, which can include everything from company culture to
the values of its workers, can expand a product's perceived
attractiveness. Word pictures and nonverbal symbols are effective
in accomplishing this. An excellent example of this approach is
the original series of ads for Saturn created by Hal Riney in which
the values of, first, its employees, then of its customers were used
to project company values.

We have identified 5 Core Values that underlies customer

1. Identity Values – involving self-preservation, self-
awareness and self-image
2. Relationship Values – involving connections to others,
institutions and beliefs
3. Purpose Values – involving meaning and validation of one’s
life and actions
4. Adaptation Values – involving skills and knowledge
necessary to negotiate life
5. Energy Values – involving health and well-being and

7. They are more receptive to narrative-styled

presentations of information, less responsive to
information presented in expository style.
Implications: Make greater use of story-telling techniques to
get information across. Stories generally are quicker to arouse
emotions than straightforward propositions about a product's
features and benefits. Think Hallmark. Hardly anyone surpasses
Hallmark Cards in using storytelling to present its products.

8. Perceptions are more holistic.

Implications: Project an interest in the "whole" person, not
just the facet of a person's life that might reflect need for a
particular product. Also, avoid depicting consumers using a
product in flat, single dimension contexts (e.g., simply showing
consumers using or talking about the product without reference
to the larger context of their total life).

Sales Overlays, Inc. is an innovative marketing firm with its

roots in direct response. We have served Fortune 500 companies
for over 27 years. Our goal is to enable clients to develop an
Ageless Marketing practice that reaches consumers across all
generational boundaries.
Our partner David B. Wolfe is a leading researcher and
consultant in the over-40 market. His new book, “Ageless
Marketing – Strategies for Reaching the Hearts and Minds of The
New Customer Majority,” will be published this fall by Dearborn