BEIJING: Brand owners looking to make an impact with older shoppers in China may need to update their views about this increasingly important audience.

A survey published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues among consumers who were at least 50 years old in six Chinese cities found there was a pronounced gap between the actual and perceived age of respondents.

"Someone who is 50 doesn't think they are 50. They see themselves as 45 or 40 years old," Rui Yao, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, and author of the report, said.

Almost 50% of contributors to the poll were in the 50–59 year old age range, but only a third of the panel regarded themselves as fitting the profile typically associated with this demographic.

In contrast, 52% of the sample as a whole thought their habits, attitudes and values were more in keeping with younger age groups.

More specifically, 20% argued they had a similar outlook as someone ten years their junior, while 6% suggested this difference stood at 20 years or more.

Women, participants on higher incomes and people who were still employed tended to most strongly hold the opinion that they had more in common with younger generations.

"When marketing products to this demographic, it is wise to avoid saying they are for older people. Having a grey hair image, or using the term 'silver', isn't going to be very well received by these consumers," Yao argued.

One key reason for this trend is that life expectancy has increased in China, so traditional conceptions of what constitutes middle age have moved on from describing individuals in their 30s to those in their 50s, she added.

"Marketers should use more energetic and youthful campaigns. If a product makes them feel younger, they will be more likely to use it," Yao continued.

According to estimates from Euromonitor, China will house 222 million residents over the age of 65 by 2030, with this segment accounting for 15.9% of the domestic population by this date.

"Consumer goods companies can benefit from this demographic change by focusing on products and services for older consumers," the research firm said.

Data sourced from University of Missouri; additional content by Warc staff