Don’t continue to misunderstand this misunderstood group. Yes, they typically limit their sugar intake due to health concerns, but they just love buying sweets for their grandchildren.
What do Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Walter Mondale, Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Aretha Franklin and Sandra Day O’Connor have in common? They are all “silent” types, or rather, members of the Silent Generation—those born between 1925 and 1942—who now make up a good chunk of the consumer group we refer to as seniors (with, of course, the oldest baby boomers right on their tail).
The Silent Generation includes nearly 50 million Americans; about 95 percent of them are retired at this point. They are a much quieter group than the generations that surround them. And as a result, it has been written that no generation since the time of the American Civil War has been so misunderstood and underestimated—and perhaps so neglected by marketers.
Members of the Silent Generation seem to pale in comparison to the boomers who immediately followed them. This older group of seniors is considered cautious, unadventurous, unimaginative, withdrawn, and well, silent. They were often seen as a generation without a cause. According to generation authors and experts, Neil Howe and William Strauss, this quiet generation “came of age just too late to be war heroes and just too early to be youthful free spirits.”
Instead, the vast majority of this generation wanted job security offered by big corporations. Only 2 percent risked self-employment. Born mostly during an era of depression and war, they know hardship and how to struggle through tough times.
“This crowd became the risk-averse technicians and professionals—as well as the sensitive rock ‘n rollers and civil-rights advocates—of a post-crisis era in which conformity seemed to be a sure ticket to success,” report Howe and Strauss, now running LifeCourse Associates, a publishing, speaking and consulting company based in Great Falls, Va. “Midlife was an anxious passage for a generation torn between stolid elders and passionate juniors.”
This generation now known as seniors was the earliest-marrying group in American history. Men married at an average age of 23 and women at 20. Ninety-four percent of women became mothers and stayed at home raising an average of 3.3 children. Today, they are all too eager to devote that same attention to grandchildren and in some cases, great-grandchildren.
It’s also important to note that the start of the “divorce epidemic” occurred with this group. Men and women born between the 1930s and 1940s showed the biggest age-bracket jump in divorce rate.
So where does that leave this group today?  Howe and Strauss say the Silents have entered their senior years “with unprecedented affluence, a hip style, and a reputation for indecision.”
Frank Kaiser, himself a member of the silent generation, and president of Kaiser Communications, Inc., Clearwater, Fla., a marketing firm that specializes in marketing to seniors, has a more expanded view of where his generation’s head is at now.
“Now, as we hit our 60s and 70s, many of us Silents are panicking,” he begins. “We wonder, ‘Have we really lived?’ We didn’t save the world like the previous generation. Our war was Korea. Who’s heard of that? And we didn’t squeeze life for all its satisfactions the way boomers have. We’ve been waiting. Deferring what we really want to do, postponing the person we really want to be.”
Today, many Silents retire early, according to Kaiser, choosing to “divorce their former selves, finally following their bliss.
“It’s as if we were working along, getting along, conforming and doing that which was expected, and BAM! like lightning, the realization hit us that we only go around once and it’s time to start living life on our own terms,” Kaiser continues. “Now in our 60s and 70s, we’ve finally reached teenage rebellion!”
So obviously the biggest mistake marketers can make with this group is to keep forsaking it and treat it as if it were a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. “The major marketing failure is not recognizing the purchasing power of seniors,” says Rodger Roeser, vice president of public relations for Justice & Young, a marketing firm based in Cincinnati. “They still have a lot of control and influence with their families and now more than ever, they’re spending money to make their lives and those around them, better.”
According to Roeser, the average marketer continues to underestimate the intelligence of seniors, as well as their propensity for purchasing new products. “They’ve gotten somewhat dismissed as frail and under-empowered,” he says. “But they’re not a bunch of blue-haired people sitting in a rest home watching  ‘Matlock.’ Most are very vibrant and continue to have strong purchasing power. When marketers empower them, it can make all the difference.”
As for target media, analysts say that seniors tend to read newspapers, listen to radio, and watch a lot of television. They’re used to seeing ads targeted to them for drugs and healthcare through this media, but what is lacking are ads geared towards them leaving behind a legacy via their continued role with younger family members. Despite the fact that some seniors are now “finding” themselves, “they’re still a very selfless generation,” says Roeser. “They love making their loved-ones happy, even when it’s as simple as taking their grandkids out for a treat or buying them candy.”
Measuring the Market (60 years and over)
Population Size: 46 million
Percent of the Population: 16.2%
Percent Growth Forecast by 2010 (ages 65 plus): 47.3%
Merchandising Mandates
• Remember that they have a lot of time on their hands; marketing messages can be longer, and perhaps, subtler. They will take the time to read and listen, especially if marketers make it obvious the message is specifically for them.
• When marketing special candy for them, such as low-sugar, make sure they know it. Print should be larger, lighting should be bright, and placement should be in an area where they can stop and linger for a while.
• Nostalgic candy will work with this crowd, just like with boomers. Penny candies and other candy-shop items from their day will bring back good memories to seniors, and they’ll want to pass that "legacy" on to their grandkids.
1. Don’t underestimate their buying power. Many seniors are willing to spend more now than they ever were—especially on their younger family members.
2. Don’t bombard them only with health issues. Yes, they are good candidates for low-sugar candies, but they are equally interested in many other types of candy, too, especially for their grandkids.
3. Don’t dismiss them. They are used to being dismissed, so marketers that recognize them will be easily remembered and rewarded.
Ages Now: 59 plus
Outlook: Practical
Work Ethic: Dedicated
View of Authority: Respectful
Relationships: Personal Sacrifice
Life Perspective: Civic
Compelling Messages of Their Formative Era:
"Make do or do without."
"Stay in line."
"Be heroic."
"Consider the common good."
Source: Claire Raines Associates (Claire Raines is the author of "Connecting Generations.")