When you think of social media, you probably visualise millennials frantically tapping into their smartphones, but it’s time to look a lot deeper. The truth is that the over 65+ consumer is now using social media more than ever before. This presents vast opportunities for marketers, as this older group is still largely neglected by mainstream brands.

An incredible 78% of internet users over 65 now shop online, according to Colliers International, while Ofcom claims four in 10 internet users over 75 now have a social media profile or account. And the more social media platforms fine-tune their e-commerce offerings (think Facebook and its recent eBay-like Marketplace feature), the bigger the opportunity to target the so-called ‘grey pound’.

So how can you effectively target this neglected older audience with digital ads? Well, applying the same techniques as usual simply won’t cut it. While there are more over 65s on the internet these days, a fifth of this audience is “not confident” online, according to a survey from Ofcom.

There is also a lack of awareness around mainstream digital advertising. Older consumers, for example, have trouble recognising the different techniques employed by marketers: only 46% of over 65s are able to identify sponsored links in search engines, while only three in ten of over 75s are aware of personalised advertising, according to the Ofcom survey.

Given this lack of confidence and awareness, simpler advertising techniques are the best way forward. Essentially, implementing a ‘learn more’ button under an article will probably be a wiser decision than launching a VR app aimed at grandparents. One of the primary reasons older shoppers go online is to check their emails, so aligning email marketing with social media could also be a wise step.

The reality is that a significant number of older users will use a family member to help facilitate online purchases. In essence, they tend to use the internet at a research stage in the shopping journey and end up completing a purchase via a proxy. Therefore, judging success based on metrics that relate to engagement could be more revealing than focussing on purchase conversion rates alone.

Your landing page must also bear in mind users of all ages. If an older user clicks on a brilliant ad only to be faced with a complex landing page, then you’re going to lose both the user and your ad spend forever. As such, it’s important to ensure the browsing experience is as simple as possible, with large fonts, clear buttons and features that minimise the number of clicks it takes to make a purchase.

Don’t spam over 65s with tweets either. This audience is much less likely to respond to direct asks on social media, so campaigns should instead link to content that answers a consumer’s question in a more digestible way.

All of the above will count for nothing, however, if your tone isn’t right. Nine out of 10 Britons feel there is too much age and generational stereotyping in the media, according to a 2016 study from The Age of No Retirement and Flamingo.

Having gathered 2,000 respondents aged 18 to 70-plus, the research revealed 86% of people across all ages believe inter-generational design principles are important, yet only 16% believe brands are currently applying them well. The study claims brands such as Barclays, which aims to appeal to five generations of customers with every campaign, are now a “rarity”.

In particular, the study narrows down on the similarities between older and younger consumers and shows 89% of young people and 84% of their older equivalents share the feeling that the internet is currently a huge part of their lives. So, don’t talk down to older customers; the reality is they have more in common with the generations glued to their smartphones than you’d expect.


By Phil Aiston, client strategist at Manifesto

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