TV Ads Turn Them off, Seniors Say, So They Tune Them Out

By Kline, Alan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

TV Ads Turn Them off, Seniors Say, So They Tune Them Out


Kline, Alan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Advertisers looking to tap into the lucrative seniors market may want to get ahold of a study released last week by the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.

The study, which examined the buying habits of 500 Americans over the age of 50, found that nearly half of all seniors are generally skeptical of advertising, and about one-third are downright insulted by the ads they see on television.

Of those surveyed, 46 percent agreed with the statement "I don't believe most of the things I see in ads and commercials," and 32 percent agreed with the statement "I find ads directed at seniors to be silly or offensive."

"With regard to advertising, we found a high degree of cynicism tempered by a tepid appreciation of advertisers' attempts to reach the senior consumer," CEMA President Gary Shapiro said.

Does this mean advertisers should rethink the way they market to seniors? David Swanston, public relations president with Stackig Advertising and Public Relations in McLean, says no, mainly because respondents to such surveys often "diminish" advertising's effect on them.

"You have to take this data with a certain grain of salt," Mr. Swanston said. Besides, he added, even an irritating ad can be effective if people remember it.

Seniors are an important demographic to advertisers because they have more money to spend. According to Conference Board statistics, the average American over 50 has disposable income of $8,400 per year, compared with an average of $6,505 for all American adults.

But it appears that seniors are less likely to part with their money to get products they see advertised. The survey found that 55 percent of the seniors could never imagine themselves purchasing a product advertised on television.

One reason seniors may feel disconnected from today's advertisements - especially those related to technology and electronics - is that the messages are often imagination-based, and seniors, generally, are less imaginative than younger people, according to psychologists. Therefore, the real challenge for advertisers, Mr. Swanston said, is to craft messages that show how products such as cellular telephones, pagers and personal computers can be relevant to their lives.

Still, we don't want to give the impression that seniors are Luddites. While it's true that the majority of those surveyed would never buy a home theater system or order a pay-per-view movie, the survey found that 47 percent have compact disc players and 82 percent own videocassette recorders, and seniors are far more likely to rent movies from the "new releases" aisle than from the "classics" section of the neighborhood video store. …

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