US advertisers are missing out on a market worth over $400 billion (€313bn; £217bn) by ignoring older people, according to a new campaign.

Over-50s lobby group American Association of Retired Persons claims marketers are writing off older consumers in the rush to win the youth market -- thereby neglecting an increasingly numerous, active and wealthy demographic.

Now the body has decided to tackle the problem head-on with a campaign in marketing trade publications and websites. The ads feature images of older consumers trying to shop while body-bagged or toe-tagged, with a caption reading: "These days, doctors don't pronounce you dead. Marketers do."

AARP argues that it has never been more important to produce marketing targeted at older Americans. According to Jim Fishman, the group's publisher, four million consumers turn 50 in the US every year.

The campaign includes a mailshot to media buyers in the form of a sympathy card containing the message: "Deepest sympathies on your loss … and for missing out on over $400 billion of disposable income."

Aside from changing advertisers' perceptions, the specific purpose of the initiative is to get marketers to buy space in AARP Magazine -- which is mailed to the organisation's 22m members -- and the lobby group's other publications.

However, some advertising executives claim they have more pressing worries than the grey market. "The big concern hasn't been reaching the older audience," declared Andrew Donchin, Carat USA's director for national broadcast, "it's been reaching the younger audience, because they're not just sitting there in front of their televisions."

Donchin believes advertisers are reaching the over-50s "de facto", since they watch more television than their younger counterparts.

Some marketers, Fishman admits, are afraid that specifically targeting the over-50s in the mass media will attach negative associations to their brand. However, he argues that this should benefit AARP Magazine, which is sent exclusively to older consumers and therefore is unlikely to be seen by image-conscious youngsters.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff