The longstanding assumption in putting media plans together has been that you don't need to target people over 65 because you're going to sweep them up no matter what, since they watch lots of TV in their considerable spare time hanging around the house.
But a new study from AARP tells us that old media saw may be soon be headed out the window as a result of changing values of Americans as they age.
Older people are going to become a lot harder to reach through TV in the coming years, and the reason is that so many intend to stay in the workplace.
Since they won't be hanging around the house, they'll probably be harder to reach through TV while retaining their use of other media, consistent with media consumption patterns of the workforce at large.
The AARP study, released yesterday, found that a growing number of people plan to continue working into their 70s and 80s, meaning that older people will have less time to watch TV while having more time to use media types commonly used by commuters and workers, like radio, print media and the internet.
The study found that 70 percent of working people 50 to 70 years old say they plan to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.
Of those people, 45 percent say they will work past 70, with 27 percent saying they will work into their 70s, and 18 percent saying they will work into their 80s.
"We ask this question all the time, and the median is usually in the mid- to late-60s, but the expectations have never been as high as they are now," says Jeffrey Love, research director at AARP.
The primary reason for working into old age is financial need. About 22 percent of those surveyed say they will need the money, and 17 percent say they will continue working for the medical benefits.
"Now people expect to live into their mid-80s or longer, so when you are in your mid-60s you have to ask yourself if you are able to support yourself another 20 years," says Courtney Day, senior vice president and director of marketing at TSN, a Stamford, Conn., marketing company that focuses on mature consumers, formerly known as The Senior Network.
"But it's not totally a forced-labor type of conclusion. Certainly economics are part of it, but another part is that people aren't interested in sitting on their rocking chair."
In fact, AARP also found that 15 percent of respondents say they will continue working because they want to stay mentally active while 14 percent say they want to remain productive.
Exactly how a growing workforce of older people will impact media usage is difficult to say. But it's assumed that the amount of time people over 65 spend watching TV will come down, while usage of some other media types will go up.
As the working population becomes more balanced between younger and older people - and their media habits become more similar - the demographic groups commonly targeted by advertisers, like adults 18-34 or 18-49, may become less important.
"Looking into the future, I see less of an emphasis on demographics and more of an emphasis on propensity to buy a product," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director at Horizon Media.
"You are going to have a pretty good idea if a person is interested in buying a product, and you will have a better idea of that than their age or income. There might be more of a buyer-graphic than a demographic."
If media habits of older people do change, those changes should soon become evident.
For a growing number of people retirement already means having a job, although perhaps one with fewer hours and less stress than the job they had when they were younger.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 12.8 percent of people over 65 are still in the workforce. That is projected to increase to 14.8 percent by the end of this decade.
That larger percentage is based on what will be a significantly larger population.
Adults over 65 accounted for 12.4 percent of the population in the 2000 census, or just under 35 million people. That age group will grow 13.5 percent by 2010, when 13.2 percent of the population will be over 65. The overall population will grow by 6.6 percent in the same time period.
Posted on aef.com: September 29, 2003
Kevin Downey, Media Life Magazine. September 24, 2003
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