(FONT) SIZE MATTERS: Marketing for a 55+ Audience
By Aaron Moses, Creative Director
It’s the first thing they tell you as a young designer when your target audience is three times your age: no copy smaller than 14 points. Okay, makes sense. Check. The next thing they tell you: don’t call seniors “old.” Again, elementary stuff. Who wants to be old? Check. I can remember thinking to myself, “That’s it? This is how you sell insurance to my parents?”
Of course, that wasn’t it and I knew it 15 years ago. It was never simply a matter of zooming in on your boilerplate ad and it suddenly becoming senior-friendly, although some marketers are content to leave it at that. The very best marketers know it’s really about making a connection and establishing trust with your audience. It’s about speaking the truth in unexpected ways using a common language. Knowing what to say and how to say it require us to understand a little more deeply who we’re trying to reach.
“Old” is a State of Mind
They feel, think, and act younger than they look. They were shaped by the consequential times in which they came of age, yet they’re unafraid to embrace new ideas and new technologies. The seniors of today aren’t rocking on the front porch, drinking sherry and listening to Glenn Miller… they’re swiping through their playlists; home to Zeppelin and Zedd, Al Green and Ariana Grande, Joe Cocker and Justin Bieber. They’re Dylan’s rolling stones — some enjoying their own unique idea of retirement, many still working, few even thinking about slowing down.
Clearly, we’re looking at a new breed of senior—a more vivacious and spontaneous one that bears faint resemblance to the silver-haired stereotype that springs to mind at the mention of the word. Here’s the exciting thing: mainstream advertising is struggling to move beyond that stale idea of seniorhood, which means forward-thinking brands intuitive enough to buck the trend and bold enough to execute more youthful initiatives stand to gain a foothold in the hearts and minds of this burgeoning new demographic.
All of this makes designing for a more seasoned audience more exciting than it’s ever been. Vibrant color, inventive typography, and bold statements that would’ve been cause for contempt from previous generations are a breath of fresh air for a generation who’ve spent a lifetime bucking the establishment.
Where Are They Now? They’re Online. A Lot.
Perhaps it’s counterintuitive to think of seniors as primary consumers of online content, but the numbers back it up. According to RMI, Boomers spend far more time online than Millennials, with 51% of them spending more than 15 hours a week online compared to only 41% of Millennials. Seniors are also the fastest adopters of smartphones and tablets, according to the Pew Research Center.1 Couple that with the fact that Boomers and older seniors account for approximately 70% of all disposable income2 and it becomes clear that designing for a digital landscape is of primary consideration for tuned-in creatives.
I could get fired for saying this, but in the end, the truth of the matter is that the complete shift Boomers have brought about as they age means designing for seniors is really no different than designing for any other target audience. We’re living in interesting times, where the very concept of generation is being redefined every day. But the essential truths still apply. Millennial, Xennial, Gen X-er, Boomer, and all the rest… we all want to feel important, we all want to be respected, we all want to be understood…
…it’s just that with seniors, it’s easier to be understood in a 14-point font.
 Pew Research Center: “Tech Adoption Climbs among Older Adults”
 Advertising Age: “50 and Over: What’s Next?”