The media habits of older and elderly audiences
by Graeme McKenzie, Founder, Let's Talk Ageing. Simon Frazier, Head of Marketing & Data Innovation, IPA.

Graeme and Simon reveal the media habits and preferences of older and elderly audiences.

3rd April 2022 Read time: 5 minutes Watch time: 57 minutes

There are over 20 million people aged over 50 and 12 million people aged over 65 in the United Kingdom. All these older and elderly audiences have different media habits and preferences.

Graeme McKenzie is the Founder of Let’s Talk Ageing, an organisation committed to helping the marketing and advertising industry learn more about this highly complex audience.

He joined the What’s Possible Community to highlight for marketers and businesses the benefit of seeing audiences over the age of 55 not as one homogenous group but rather as a varied and complex audience with differing media habits and preferences. Graeme has forty years of both client and agency-side marketing experience. In his mid-fifties (a seasoned marketer by that time), he had a revelation.

Many of the clients I was working on were companies promoting products and services to the older and elderly but weren’t doing it particularly well,” Graeme said. 

Partially because many people, creatives, copywriters, and others, were of an age that didn’t understand what the older and elderly consumer was after,” he continued.

Therefore, Graeme launched Let’s Talk Ageing to generate further data on the actual preferences of the older and the elderly. He says being in his 60s himself helps him live and breathe the 55+ audience and understand what makes them tick. He also has a panel of older and elderly consumers who he bounces ideas off when interrogating specific media channels and how successful they are on the older consumer.

Choosing the right channels

Graeme says targeting the millions of older and elderly customers with one common approach, whether channel mix or creative style and messaging, is ineffective.

You’ve got someone whose fifty and someone a hundred who might well receive the same communication across the same channels,” Graeme laments.

Graeme divides older and elderly audiences up into three groups:

  • Empty Nesters: 50 to 64-year-olds
  • Advancing years: 65- to 74-year-olds
  • Vintage years: 75 years and older.

According to Graeme’s research, Empty nesters are the most tech-savvy among the group; 78% of this age group have at least one social media account. He says targeting them on digital channels, email, social media, and mobile technology may produce the best results. The second-best set of channels to try and target them on are direct mail, press ads, media inserts & door drops and radio.

The over 65s cohort has seemingly begun to mirror the Empty Nesters and has positive digital confidence. However, they still report lower numbers on many digital and social channels. Graeme says 67% of this group use the internet daily.

Graeme became curious about how sizeable digital media consumption patterns across the 55s and over were during the pandemic. His research pointed to a clear move toward traditional media and less reliance on digital channels. Nonetheless, much has been written in the press about the over 55s suddenly becoming digital superusers. But what does the data say?

Did the pandemic give over 55s digital confidence?

Simon Frazier is the Head of Marketing & Data Innovation at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). He recently released a report named ‘Making Sense: The commercial media landscape’. The report looks at the media behaviours, attitudes, and demographic changes within 6,000 adults surveyed in the United Kingdom.

The report revealed that the pandemic drove those aged 55 and over to spend more time with digital channels than ever before. However, Simon caveats that these digital adopters are only specific subgroups within the age bracket.

For example, those who have started video calling have started to trickle other digital behaviours into their media usage, but it’s certainly not been the case that suddenly the lockdown hit and then 85+s were all using smartphones adeptly without any kind of real experience before,” Simon explained.

According to the previous iterations of the Making Sense report, Simon says that TV historically enjoyed a 50% share of consumption of media content in the over 55s age group. The report revealed that television as a media preference has dipped slightly below 50% for the first time. Moreover, there has been growth in smartphone and tablet usage. That usage still represents only a quarter of the total media consumption of over 55s.

The report does show nuanced digital uptake because of the pandemic. But it further reveals that older age groups gravitated to channels they have historically identified with during the subsequent lockdowns.

Therefore, marketers who target over 55s through digital channels alone may be alienating some of their customer bases. 

Graeme’s advice for companies is to perform a segmentation of their older and elderly customers. He encourages a multichannel approach with a mix of online and offline strategies. The data from the Making Sense report seems to corroborate that as the correct approach.