50+ consumers are largely neglected by advertisers, yet this cohort are tech savvy, spending more and living longer. A missed opportunity, argues Betsy Rella, Vice President of Research & Data at New York Interconnect.

If Americans aged 50+ were their own country, they’d be the third-largest economy in the world. According to the AARP ‘Longevity Economy Outlook’ report, consumers aged 50 and up contribute $8.3tn each year in economic activity to the US economy, with a GDP that’s expected to triple by 2050. 

So why is this age group so neglected in media and marketing plans? 

Today’s 50+ consumers are tech savvy, working second careers and leading active lives. They’ve saved their money over the years, and they’re looking to spend it – if brands can market to them properly. 

Consider that 46% of US adult are 50 and up. The birth year boundaries of Gen X are generally considered to be 1965–1980, which means the oldest Gen Xers are now 58 years old. Meaning, within the next eight years, the entirety of Gen X will be 50+.

Yet only 15% of online images containing adults include people in this age group. That’s a serious imbalance, and a missed opportunity for brands and advertisers. 

It’s time for the advertising industry to hit the “reset” button on how they’re thinking about (and investing in) 50+ consumers.

The 50+ consumer is living longer – and better

Life expectancy in the US has increased from 68 in 1950 to 76 in 2021. The 50+ crowd isn’t what it used to be, and hasn’t been what stereotypes portray for quite some time. These days, 50+ looks a lot less like the Golden Girls and a lot more like Brad Pitt, JLo, Angela Bassett and Julia Roberts.

Under this shifting view of age, marketers have an opportunity to lead with inspired innovation and marketing creativity – and many are. For example: 

  • Helen Mirren, 77, has been the brand ambassador for L’Oreal Paris since 2014. With the brand’s latest cosmetics line, Age Perfect, younger women are seeing aging in a positive light. 
  • Auto manufacturers, including BMW, Tesla, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz are appealing to adults with reduced flexibility by incorporating advanced technology such as back-up cameras, parking sensors, gesture recognition controls and automated parking. 
  • An Airbnb commercial crosses over several population segments by featuring an elderly couple having a great time at a villa in Spain as Jay-Z’s and Beyonce’s “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” song plays in the background.

This is just the beginning of what’s possible when it comes to marketing to this diverse and dynamic segment. 

The 50+ consumer’s spending power is disproportionately strong

Between 2018 and 2050, 50+ financial services and insurance spending is expected to grow 190%, healthcare spending is expected to grow by 265%, technology by 345%, and travel and leisure by 235%. 

Older consumers contribute more than half of consumer spending in the US, but only 5–10% of marketing budgets go toward winning them over. The simple fact is that, although younger adults are commonly positioned as influencers, 50+ consumers are the ones who have money to spend. 

Today, Gen Z has 86% less purchasing power than Baby Boomers did in their 20s. Wages have increased 80% since the 1970s, but the Consumer Price Index increased 500% in the same time period. Likewise, Gen Z is paying 100% more for homes, while tuition costs at public colleges increased 310%, and private colleges are up 245% according to a Consumer Affairs study.

The Federal Reserve data showed Baby Boomers had approximately $73tn in wealth at the end of 2022, which was eight times that of Millennials. With an average net worth of $1.7m versus $214,000 for Millennials, these older adults have a level of disposable income that is well outside the reach of Gen Z. Unfortunately, few brands are recognizing these realities in their media investments and creative today. Gen X spent the most money of any US generation, with an average annual expenditure of $83,357 (compared to Boomers at $62,203, Millennials at $69,061 and Gen Z at $41,636). 

It’s also important to note that when we’re talking about 50+ consumers, we’re not just talking about Baby Boomers.

The generational distinction is also important given how different Gen X’s experiences are compared to Baby Boomers’. Gen Xers in their 50s have had access to home computers for the entirety of their adult lives and during their prime working years. Many make their homes’ tech decisions from mobile phone plans to streaming services. Younger people in the household may influence purchases, but the Gen X parents are actually opening their wallets. At the same time, many are also caring for their Boomer parents in their 70s and 80s and running “tech support” within those households. 

The 50+ consumer is tech-savvy and targetable

When marketers think of older adults, they tend to dismiss them as being not tech savvy. But that’s increasingly not the case with the 50+ crowd, especially Gen X. Nielsen’s Scarborough data stated 93% of 50+ consumers were online and 77% were on social media. Seventy-two percent made an online purchase in the past year and 63% owned smart TVs.

We especially see this rising embrace of technology among the 50+ crowd when it comes to TV viewing habits. For example, according to March data from the MRI Cord Evolution Study, nearly half of 50+ consumers in the NY DMA are “cord stackers” – individuals who have added streaming to their viewing behaviors while also keeping traditional TV service. Another 29% have moved away from traditional TV service and are streaming only. Meanwhile, about 70% used an ad-supported streaming service in the past 12 months to watch TV or video content.

In other words, not only are 50+ consumers living longer and spending more, but they’re also increasingly reachable via the full spectrum of marketing channels where today’s brands are already focusing their efforts. It’s time for advertisers to recalibrate their efforts accordingly. To fail to tailor the messaging to this powerful and unique consumer group is to miss out on a massive opportunity today, and an even bigger one tomorrow.