How Do We Best Understand an Audience of Older People?
Does age really tell us anything meaningful about people? In some cases, yes. But not to the extent that marketers have traditionally relied on it.
“Is Joe Biden too old to be President?”
It’s a question repeatedly asked by headlines in major publications and across social media. And the amazing thing is no one bats an eye at it.
But what if the question were this?
“Was Barack Obama too Black to be President?”
Or how about:
“Is a woman qualified to be President?”
Those last two questions definitely got you to bat an eye because they’re completely inappropriate. But so is the first question, even if it doesn’t feel the same.
All three use a single demographic factor as the basis for questioning someone’s qualifications to lead a nation. And all three are absolutely useless in answering the question without resorting to prejudice and stereotypes.
In the first case, what people are really asking is if Joe Biden is cognitively competent to lead the United States for a second term. And that’s a perfectly legitimate question, but it has nothing to do with his chronological age.
The same is true for those who call for term limits for politicians based on chronological age. Term limits may be a good idea for a whole host of reasons, but basing them on how old someone is doesn’t make sense outside of ageist stereotypes.
Yes, some people suffer from significant cognitive decline as they get older, but in much fewer numbers than is popularly believed. And even then, the key word is some, not all.
In fact, many people in their 80s are doing quite well in leadership positions. And, believe it or not, the same is true for some people in their 90s.
As an example, shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway are perfectly fine with Warren Buffet (92) and Charlie Munger (99) leading the company as CEO and vice chairman, respectively. In fact, it’s fair to say that shareholders will be concerned when they no longer do.
So does age really tell us anything meaningful about people? In some cases, yes. But not to the extent that marketers have traditionally relied on it.
Welcome to the field of demographic targeting. While not completely useless, demographics have much less power than you would think, given their prevalence in marketing circles.
Worse, demographics are at the root of the ageism we’re fighting against. This is also true of racism, sexism, and all sorts of other discriminatory behavior.
It’s time to move beyond demographics, ironically right as we’re experiencing one of history's largest age-based demographic shifts. Let’s explore why, along with some alternative approaches that provide a better starting point.
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