A recent study reported in the Journal of Advertising Research suggests that marketers are sending the wrong messages to older adults. The study contradicts accepted beliefs about the influence socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) has in advertising.
According to SST, as we age our personal goals tend to shift. Once we conceive our remaining years on earth as limited, we begin focusing more on emotional satisfaction and purpose, and less on gaining knowledge or long-term rewards. With SST in mind, many marketers rely on emotional appeals when targeting consumers over fifty.
But the new study, involving 2,550 adults between the ages of nineteen and 90, reveals that older adults actually prefer rational advertising. In fact, 63 percent of seniors prefer rational appeals, compared to half of consumers under fifty years old.
The report’s authors say their findings have implications for advertisers:
An understanding of the advertising context is crucial: if the objective is to communicate emotional brand values, advertisers perhaps should use an emotional appeal when targeting older adults. If, however, the overall campaign objective is to drive home a specific and practical product-related message and encourage specific consumer action—such as to visit a store—or even publicize a well-known brand, then perhaps a rational appeal should be used.
If you’re marketing to consumers Baby Boomer-age and older, you’ll want to heed this advice.