by Kim Mickelsen

Seniors have spoken, and they're tired of being portrayed as frail and helpless. In a recent study of adults ages 70 and older, only one in five is satisfied with how the age group is depicted in the ads that are supposed to be forging a connection between seniors and the products they purchase. It's no wonder. Most of these ads lack creativity, some are downright patronizing and they're often so formulaic you could easily swap out logos and no one would notice. In the end, there is little connection to the brand, and even less with the audience. As an industry, we must change our entire approach if we want to connect with the millions of baby boomers who are redefining societal views on aging.

Stop Portraying Stereotypes

Home care marketers, while working to connect with seniors, can end up alienating them through the use of patronizing messages and stereotypes. Advertisers need to gain a deeper understanding of seniors in order to develop more pertinent messages that actually resonate. Seek to understand their dreams and desires, and use this insight to create inspiring, creative and memorable advertising.

Focus on Value Proposition

People are more attracted to things they believe will improve their lives, fulfill desires or satisfy needs, and they respond better to products or services that connect on this level. While some people questioned the choice of Dennis Hopper as spokesperson for the Amerprise Financial campaign a few years ago, the strength and tone of that message—dreams don't die just because you retire—resonated with an entire generation.

Use Powerful Imagery

A picture is worth more than a thousand words. Avoid the stereotypical photography of an old person with a caregiver in a branded shirt, and instead look to create visual messaging that is less about what you do and more about what you enable for the customer. Show him next to the boat he always wanted to build, or show her in her beautiful flower garden.

Have Fun

People don't lose their sense of humor at 65. Humor is a powerful advertising tool if used in a way that's relatable to the audience. Taco Bell's "Viva Young" ad a couple years ago—showing a group of seniors sneaking out of their nursing homes to cause late-night mischief—was a Super Bowl favorite among all ages. And the recent Subaru Outback "Memory Lane" spot uses a more subtle humor, with free-spirited Grandma regaling her teenage granddaughter of her own youthful indiscretions.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

While recognizing that adult children play a large role in decision-making for the aging population, don't ignore the ultimate user of your service. One of the biggest complaints among those over 70 is that advertisers are talking around them instead of directly to them. And, understandably, they feel marginalized, misunderstood and disrespected. As boomers become the ones needing care, that kind of approach just won't fly.

Cover All the Bases

While those over 65 may not be as actively engaged in social spaces like the younger generations, many are, and that number will continue to grow because social media gives us an easy way to stay connected. A more traditional media mix is still an effective way to market to seniors, but advertisers need to gain a deeper understanding of the media habits and consumption patterns of this demographic. Audience targeting is critical. The best message in the world won't do you much good if it's not reaching whom it was meant for.