When I took on a marketing internship with the Hamilton Council on Aging two years ago, “age-friendly” was the buzz phrase du jour. I’d just completed Sheridan College’s Corporate Communications program, and understood very well that as our population aged, our strategies and tactics around communicating with older audiences needed to be altered appropriately, too. Businesses of all kinds, from travel agencies to yogurt, were attempting to make aging an attractive, healthy, fun experience, and hoping no doubt to monetize it as well. While the marketing world often follows the money, these businesses were catching on to the fact that if their services didn’t at least appear to be age-friendly, they weren’t going to profit from this significant demographic shift.
Many industries that had ignored seniors for so long were suddenly trying to appeal to older age groups, and a sort of “age-washing” of ad campaigns followed, as business owners signed on in droves for seminars meant to help make their products and services age-friendly.
The most effective marketing, of course, is that which works in good faith to build respectful relationships with two-way communication at the core. In other words, it’s about more than just adding a widget to a website that bumps up the text size, or featuring a good looking grey-haired woman on a granola bar box. Great marketing and communications needed to be about valuing and respecting experiences of aging. And, as I learned, valuing and respecting experiences of aging is of benefit to all of us. And that just makes good business sense.
As organizations such as the Hamilton Council on Aging work to educate, advocate, and improve experiences of aging, often part of that work includes envisioning and working toward more age-friendly services, including businesses that understand how to relate to the changing needs of their markets. Many resources on HCoA’s website point to strategies for serving seniors better – things like allocating adequate staff time and care with senior clients, and ensuring that the physical layout of a store allows for shoppers with reduced mobility to access it with ease. Also of importance is training the marketing world to not revert to stereotypes by reinforcing incorrect perceptions of aging in communications efforts. It makes good business sense because it’s based simply on respect. And businesses that take care to improve services for an aging population also help improve experiences for pregnant women and those with young children, people with limited hearing or sight, or those experiencing reduced mobility due to injury. In other words, all of us.
People in Canada are living longer, enjoying better health later in life, and thanks in part to organizations such as Hamilton Council on Aging, they are able to participate more fully and meaningfully in society. That means they’re savvier and smarter, too, when it comes to using the Internet, viewing advertisements, and making decisions about how they spend money. If marketing sticks to the model of engaging with its audience and listening carefully, it’s just a matter of time before it catches up.
Jenny Gladish works in communications for CoBALT Connects, a non-profit arts organization. She got her start in communications through an internship with the Hamilton Council on Aging, and is now a member of its communications subcommittee.