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This Works Better Than “Marketing” in the Longevity Economy
Try to make prospects feel bad with inadequacy tactics, and they’ll click away. And yet, that’s what marketing and advertising to older consumers currently looks like.
Welcome to this week’s Longevity Gains newsletter!
Let’s dive right into this week’s episode of the podcast. We’re talking about a unique aspect of the longevity economy that specifically ties in with the way I’ve started a series of successful businesses over the last 20 years.
Modern marketing is all about empowering consumers to solve their problems and satisfy their desires. Try to make them feel bad about themselves with old-school inadequacy tactics, and they’ll click away.
And yet, that’s exactly what marketing and advertising to older consumers looks like (when it’s present at all). More than just stereotypes and misconceptions, this is due to ageism.
That means that in addition to the general anti-ageism movement that is gaining more momentum daily, marketers and entrepreneurs who serve older people can find themselves in the role of advocates as well.
Do it well, and you’re part of the movement. Do it poorly, and you’ll get the backfire effect.
Tune in to find out more:
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Recent Premium Lessons:
The Empathy Advantage for Connecting With Older Consumers
The Wall Street Connection
Why has consumer spending proven so resilient as the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates? An important and little-appreciated reason: Consumers are getting older.
The Wall Street Journal is getting in on the longevity economy with a pair of illuminating articles in the last few days. The first elaborates on something we explored back in June, which is that older consumers are propping up the economy in a way that is unprecedented and a saving grace.
In August, 17.7% of the population was 65 or older, according to the Census Bureau, the highest on record going back to 1920 and up sharply from 13% in 2010. The elderly aren’t just more numerous: Their finances are relatively healthy and they have less need to borrow, such as to buy a house, and are less at risk of layoffs than other consumers.
This has made the elderly a spending force to be reckoned with. Americans age 65 and up accounted for 22% of spending last year, the highest share since records began in 1972 and up from 15% in 2010, according to the Labor Department’s survey of consumer expenditures released in September.
Sidenote: The use of “elderly” for people over the age of only 65 just hits wrong, doesn’t it? I saw the same thing recently where a 20-something fashion reporter referred to Jerry Seinfeld as elderly. Really?
The article goes on to say that Boomers may well save the U.S. from a recession:
While economists still see a relatively high probability of recession in the coming year, Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist of Yardeni Research, isn’t one of them. An important reason: By the Fed’s reckoning, baby boomers alone have now amassed $77.1 trillion in wealth. “There’s a $77 trillion-wide hole in the theory that consumers’ running out of pandemic savings will sink the economy,” he said.
The article does touch on the fact that older consumers are living longer and healthier lives, and therefore spending more. But it completely ignores the demographic shift that is making older people perpetually more important to the economy, and assumes everyone over 65 is retired. The WSJ needs to connect a few more dots in its reporting, but at least they’re trying.
The U.S. Economy’s Secret Weapon: Seniors With Money to Spend (Wall Street Journal)
Next up from the WSJ is a piece that wades into the age debate about next year’s U.S. presidential election. If the choice is between Joe Biden or Donald Trump, that means the country will have the oldest person ever to win the presidency at either 80 or 77.
Does it really matter, though?
Yet the concern that their age somehow disqualifies them from public office doesn’t really align with the state of aging in the year 2023. There’s biological truth to the adage that age is just a number. Americans on average are healthier in old age than before. Many of the factors that predict longer life favor Biden and Trump, based on publicly released information about their health.
Although both men are past average life expectancy in the U.S., that refers to life expectancy from birth. Since both men have reached an older age, actuarial tables say they both should live long enough to complete their term as President.
“There’s a lot of armchair gerontologists who are wearing glasses through which they see what they want to see,” said Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “The suggestion that everyone who is old is feeble, experiencing loss, decline and decay—this completely ignores the radical transformation in the last 20-30 years of the population that’s survived to older ages.”
Neither Biden nor Trump smokes or drinks alcohol, which are the two primary ways to significantly reduce your lifespan. Of the two, though, Biden takes much better care of himself.
Putting together all the known data, Olshansky said that Trump’s extra weight probably cancels out the benefit of his slightly younger age. But he estimates that Trump and Biden would likely have at least an 80% chance of completing their terms in good health, far better than voters think. He suggests voters worry less about the candidates’ ages and more about their values and policies.
Values and policies when choosing a leader? What a concept.
For Biden and Trump, Age Really Is Just a Number (Wall Street Journal)
Finally, I thought this bit of news about the WSJ was ironic, given the above. 56-year-old Gen Xer Emma Tucker has become the new editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, and she’s promising to shake things up at the stodgy publication.
And by “shake things up,” she means going younger by shaking off the the paper’s historically “stiff and unappealing” approach to business journalism:
The newsroom, she said, needs to expand its idea of a subscriber. About 75 percent of readers are male, and the publication has struggled in recent years to increase its readership among younger audiences. (The average age of its readers is 59.)
I agree that the Journal’s approach is stodgy – to me, at 56. But the implication is that “stiff and unappealing” is fine for older readers, but not younger ones. Okay.
Apparently Ms. Tucker suffers from the same youth obsession as most corporate executives, despite being over 50 herself and in the face of one of the biggest demographic shifts ever. Let’s hope that as more Gen Xers come to dominate the C Suite, we’ll see a bit more awareness of demographic and economic reality.
The Remaking of The Wall Street Journal (New York Times)
The Education Effect
We’ve talked about how extended healthspans are correlated most strongly with educational attainment rather than income. And we’ve seen that there is no such thing as a “United States” when it comes to life expectancy, as there are radical differences in both health span and life span depending on where you live.
But it looks like those geographical differences also come down to education:
If all Americans had the life expectancy of the college educated, the United States would have been one of the best performers among the rich countries in terms of life expectancy, not the worst. It is the experience of those without college degrees that accounts for America’s failure.
One doesn’t have to go to college to be educated, though, right? With all the podcasts, newsletters, and books dedicated to healthy aging and longevity, people can certainly self-educate. But odds are the people who consume that media are also largely college educated.
It all comes down to taking care of yourself. But doing that is largely a result of socioeconomic status often tied to a college degree:
Unhealthy behaviors are more common among people without college degrees, but those behaviors can often be traced to the environments in which the individuals live, lack of work and community decay. Another factor is those without degrees being targeted by the pharmaceutical industry in the first phase of the opioid epidemic.
You don’t need me to tell you the U.S. is a mess on several fronts. And one of those is now the longevity economy, which is splitting people into different camps just like income, politics, and Taylor Swift.
I happen to already speak to likely college graduates at Further (and here), but that has more to do with the level at which I like to write and the topics we cover. It seems as if other marketers and entrepreneurs will also target healthy, educated older people and leave the others behind as a matter of necessity, which is a shame.
The Retirement Myth Perpetuated
Oh look, good news for Millennials. The generation that has struggled financially pretty much their entire lives (at least compared to their parents) are doing better than the rest of us when it comes to retirement.
Millennials often worry they'll never retire. Turns out, a lot are better situated than baby boomers.
That's according to a Vanguard Retirement Readiness report that found older millennials, across most incomes, are on track to retire with a closer level of income-to-spending needs than both Gen X and late baby boomers.
Let’s take a closer look at this. Because “enough” to retire depends on what you consider a worthy retirement.
For example, in the 70th percentile of wage earners — those making a median income of $61,000 — workers are estimated to need about 68% of their annual salary once they retire. But only millennials in that income bracket were close to meeting the projected level of necessary income. They are on track to have a “sustainable replacement rate,” as Vanguard calls it, of 66%. Meanwhile, late baby boomers — those ages 61 to 65 — had a rate of 51%, and Gen X had a rate of 53%.
First point: “Sustainable replacement rate” is code for sitting around watching TV as a fixed-income citizen.” Contrary to the mythical marketed version of retirement, most retired people spend their lives in a very dull fashion, simply because they can’t afford the travel and adventure they were promised and are afraid of outliving their savings.
Second point: What did Millennials miss compared with Gen X and young Boomers? 9/11. That’s the one extra financial crisis that the elder generations got hit with, while the vast majority of Millennials had not yet entered the workforce or started investing. I’m afraid we’re all going to see at least another crisis (if not several) going forward, which will likely dent that percentage for many Millennials.
Bottom line: The unretirement trend shows us that more and more retirement-age people are opting out of the myth. And while it might sound odd given the way we’ve been socialized, longer work lives may be a blessing in disguise for more than just marketers.
P.S. Speaking of Taylor Swift, here’s an interesting piece that explains her massive appeal and popularity not as musical innovation, but as a movement.