Brands love to piggyback on days. On Doctors Day, a plethora of brands — not just pharma but all sectors — saluted our medical practitioners. On Friendship Day, brands were outdoing each other celebrating the bonds of buddies. This Rakshabandhan, everyone from Amazon to Spicejet, have been pumping in marketing rupees promoting sibling love. But on World Senior Citizen Day, on August 21, there were only a few odd campaigns celebrating the over 60.
It’s an age-old lament. Why do brands ignore our elderly? Or even if they weave them into advertising narratives, why is the projection mostly of dependent, lonely, ailing folks?
“It is true that elders continue to be looked at from a lens of declinism,” says Saumyajit Roy, CEO and co-founder of Emoha Elder Care. “However, the new elder has arrived and arrived in style. Our new elder is consuming more e-commerce than ever before, spending more time online than ever before and has more disposable income than ever before. These mega trends are not being missed by brand managers across segments from pharma to banking,” he asserts.
Sanjay Sarma, founder SSarma Consults, and Member Advisory Council, Samarth Eldercare, agrees that there has been a rather cliched projection of the elderly in pop culture. “Seniors are often relegated to a passive presence where they are merely a prop or depicted as the quintessential sacrificing and suffering individuals who always need to be taken care of.”
But as he points out, today’s senior citizen is no longer the predictably boring and incapable old person who needs assisted living and nothing more. “The current silver generation is charming and discerning with specific choices and demands. A large section is financially independent with substantial purchasing power, taking their own life decisions,” he says.
However, Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Bang in the Middle is brutally honest when he says, “Senior citizenry is usually not a traditional catchment area for brands, unless you have specific products or solutions for them.”
He dives into reasons why brands don’t consider them their TG (target group). “One — Senior citizens are very prudent. They aren’t gullible. Especially those who are retired and living off their savings and pensions. They are very careful about spending their money. And they will only spend on products and services that they actually need. “
Also, he says, they will flog their broken products and durables till the time the products give up working. “By default, the needs and desires of people come down with age. They no longer are conspicuous buyers and customers. They have lost their urge to brag or flash.”
Changing the narrative
On the image part, Suthan points to two campaigns that show the elderly in a playful, romantic light — the first a Malayalam campaign by Payyannur Eye Foundation that shows a dalliance among seniors in an adult learning classroom, and another an SBI Life campaign that shows an elderly couple billing and cooing.
But it’s only when a consumer durable brand or a food service brand incorporates the elderly in its narrative in a fun way will the narrative change. Sarma says that is beginning to happen. “For instance, an elderly person ordering gulab jamun on Swiggy and relishing it in one of their ads is a positive enforcement of this consumer group’s needs and desires in our minds,” he says.
But more can be done certainly. As Roy of Emoha says, “An elder today lives anywhere between 15-30 years post 60 and it is but natural to re-attire rather than retire. It is high time we as sons and daughters reimagine our parents and bring a fresh alternate perspective for them to have a life full of engagement and support.” One way to do it, suggests Sanjay Sarma, is by designing traditional senior products in a modern and contemporary way. “Audientes is one example — they make DIY hearing aids that are extremely fashionable. The other is to be inclusive in communication — like M&S uses elderly models in their lingerie ads. Which is very cool. The third is to use the collective wisdom and experience of seniors, and build more mainstream conversations with the younger generation, be it through ads, movies or shows.”
Coming of age
Some of the narrative change is actually coming from the senior care segment, which is seeing great activity. Outfits like Emoha, Evergreen Club, Columbia Pacific Communities, are projecting seniors as active, independent, fun people — though they do talk about their loneliness too. But more general segments need to be inclusive in their approach to the elderly. Especially, as projections are that there will be over 319 million elderly in India by 2050 according to the Longitudinal Ageing Study of India, compared to 120 million now. But Roy is hopeful. “I have been fortunate to be part of an expert committee with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, responsible for setting up of a ₹100 crore fund for elderly care startups.” The fact that there were over 500 plus submissions is encouraging.