What Do Seniors Want?

Seniors born in the 1950s and 1960s, known as “Baby Boomers,” created a tsunami of change in the world of marketing and communications. Now, the generation that coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is turning 70.

50th High School Reunion Re-imagined

In fact, my 50th high school reunion was to have been held in 2020, but due to COVID19 this was rescheduled to October 2022. The committee organizing this event decided to re-imagine our Golden Reunion Celebration and are now calling it “The Class of 1970 Turns 70.”

Boomers actually began crossing the 70 year old threshold in 2016 and will be growing the 70+ demographic population until the year 2034. Over the next ten years, our numbers will eclipse 55 million with a growth rate twice that of people aged 18-49.

Boomers Are Spenders

Currently the 70+ Boomers contribute $1.1 trillion in annual spending on consumer goods and services. According to AARP, we spend on pharmaceuticals, health insurance, medical supplies, AV equipment, food at home, personal care products, apparel, entertainment, household furnishings, and travel.

Since I retired in 2017, my wife Sue and I immediately set out to see more of this world. We took a Caribbean Cruise, three cross-county road trips driving over 25,000 miles and were planning to travel abroad until the advent of COVID19 brought things to a screeching halt.

Boomers grew up in the postwar era with a sense of promise and possibility. We believed if we could dream it, we could do it.

The Senior Mindset

When I was in my early years of radio sales, I sold advertising to a contemporary of mine that was working in his family’s pharmacy. His primary focus was on developing new revenue streams for growing the business.

He was the first person I ever knew that went to Las Vegas every January to the Consumer Electronics Show; now known simply as CES. Each year he would bring new and innovative electronic products into the store.

But that’s not the point of the story.

In my 20s, when I saw these new devices – often with some pretty hefty price tags attached to them – I would say, that’s pretty amazing, but I’ve read that next year the new model will be even better.

My friend would reply, “That’s the way we think, but people who are much older than us don’t see things that way.” He explained that their view of life was, if they wanted it, they bought it now. And if something better came along, they would make another purchase. They didn’t have time to wait around for the next big thing to come along.

Retirement is a Transition from Saver to Spender

Now that I’ve become one of those people who are “much older,” I understand that perspective. Baby Boomers are now at that point in their lives where they see more of their lives in the rearview mirror than out the front windshield.

People who are 70+ are free to pursue their passions and set new life goals for this next chapter of their lives. Products and services that compliment these things will be the ones who benefit from our spending.

I’m no longer thinking of how much I need to save in my IRA or contribute to my annuities, I’m now at that point in life where it’s time to begin withdrawing from the retirement assets I’ve accrued over my working life.

Are your products or services seeing me, hearing me, understanding my wants/needs/desires?

Time Spent With Ad-Supported Media Falls

The FCC reported at the start of this new year, the number of commercial FMs, AMs, and even LPFMs all decreased in 2021. While it came as no surprise to see the number of AM radio stations sign-off, the decrease in the number of commercial FMs should have been a real wake-up call for the radio industry.

Interestingly, non-commercial FM radio stations increased in number in 2021. Could it be they are serving up content that people want to hear?

53.4% of people’s time spent with media in the United States is with consumer-funded media, according PQ Media.

I started off this year of blogging with “Why I Stream ALL of My Radio Listening,” and in reviewing the latest data I find that our household is riding the wave of consumer-funded media for both television viewing and radio listening.

Media Post says

“While total consumer time spent with media is projected to continue to expand in both the United States and worldwide through 2025, ad-supported media’s share will continue to erode due to secular, not cyclical shifts in consumer usage of media – something other analysts and economists have been pointing out.”

You Can Save Time or You Can Save Money, BUT You Can’t Save Both Simultaneously

There’s an inverse relationship between time and money; you can spend one to save the other. In our youth, we feel like we have all the time in the world and so we focus on ways to save money. Later in life, we see how precious our time has become and so we will spend money to save time.

Long commercial breaks about things of little interest to us waste our time, so it should come as no surprise that seniors are willing to pay money to eliminate them.

People will give you their time when you offer them entertainment. People will give you their money when you offer them hope.

– Roy HWilliams

Consumer-funded media does just that. It gives us the wheat and eliminates the chaff.

The average person in America today is expected to live to almost 79 years old, that’s 28,835 days. When you turn 70, that means you see the future as 3,285 days left.

What do you think means more to a senior, another dollar in the bank or more efficient use of their time?

When people are asked on their deathbed what they wished they had more of, no one says “more money.”

Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was. Today, media money is in the hands of the Baby Boomers, aka seniors.

How are you serving them with your media property?

Updated 1/23/2022: An earlier version incorrectly said “Willie Horton,” not “Willie Sutton.”


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

20 responses to “What Do Seniors Want?

  1. Todd Hallidy

    Another great blog, Dick.
    As I get closer to retirement, I am focusing more on getting wants, rather than needs. I’m spending g on travel, leisure and gadgets. So why is the advertising that targets my age all about my perceived ailments; I’m living, not dying!
    P.S. Willie Sutton, not Willie Horton.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re on the same page as me Todd. We truly are transitioning from spend on needs to spending on wants.

      Ooops, I will correct that error.


      • I watch a good bit of TV Land, I’m an old soul and love Andy Griffith and Gunsmoke, but in general, it’s clear their target demographic skews much older.

        One thing I notice about TV Land is almost all of their commercials, probably 90% or more, are about Medicaid, or chairlifts, or medication. When I was in the hospital recently and didn’t have any of the channel numbers memorized, I could find TV Land just by flipping through the channels and keeping an eye peeled for the bright blue and red Medicaid advertisement.

        I feel like they’re taking it a little far. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I’d wager, in 2022, seniors have more money to spend than most other age brackets combined, and I know their interests on how to spend that money must span beyond insurance.

        It just seems like they’ve been a little too aggressive in identifying their target demographic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, according to Brookings, Seniors are the wealthiest age cohort in the world, together with older professionals (45-64 years). … However, seniors will remain the wealthiest age group, together with “older professionals,” as 76 percent of them will be in the consumer class.

        And yes, thinking that seniors are living their best lives, is missing how the world has changed since the age of modern medicine.

        Vaccines alone have made a dramatic difference in life expectancy.

        Thank You for sharing your perspective.


  2. Victor Escalante

    While boomers consume, our purchasing is driven by internet research. I have not purchased any thing I can remember through media advertisement. And, we are the core of radio listeners. Radio as we knew it is dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Victor, like you, I also heavily research anything I plan to buy on the internet, though I might be hard pressed to say that what initially caught my attention in the first could have been an advertisement of that product or service.

      Even word-of-mouth needs to have started from somewhere.

      A lot of advertising in media today is through product placement. We aren’t even aware of how that impacts our decisions.

      I believe that radio has never fully understood its role in the process of moving products and services.

      Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, has long been the best individual for leveraging the power of radio; IMHO.


  3. ds52

    Well said on many points. I haven’t really thought about it much but I too buy what I want (within reason), when I want it … because I can … why wait? The AARP list of how seniors spend their money is really sad: pharmaceuticals, health insurance, medical supplies, AV equipment, food at home, personal care products, apparel, entertainment, household furnishings, and travel. The list SHOULD be reversed and people would not NEED so much ‘care.’ I think changing up your life, lifestyle as you retire has many benefits. You don’t just keep trying to maintain status quo … you two are prime examples of my own philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Both for sharing your perspective.

      Yes, I found the AARP list to somewhat depressing as well. But then, most advertising these days seems to be for drugs.

      If you haven’t seen the limited series “Dopesick,” we highly recommend viewing it. It’s about how Oxycontin hooked America on using opioids via prescription medication.

      Sue & I take no medications — and we do everything we can to keep it that way.

      Thank You for being an inspiration on living our best lives at this point in our journey.


  4. Dick:
    You can’t take it with you. I’m still saving, but I am, somewhat conservatively, spending some money I’ve saved. I’m finding now that I turn 65 next month that a week in a rented Florida condo each year does me good. I have become a fan of sunshine and warmer weather. I don’t see any reason not to do this once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While we enjoy the sunshine and sandy beaches, neither of us would ever want to live in a place that doesn’t experience all four seasons.

      Being happy means enjoying what you have and those things that bring you joy.

      For us, experiences mean more to us than things. Our basic maxim is to never go to the same place twice. Always keep changing things up and create new surprises in your life.

      Enjoy your getaways Kevin. You’ve earned them.


  5. First, I’m a Boomer+ … second, my “travel companion” and I will shortly head south for a multi-week, multi-stop trip (several first-time visits, others place’s worth re-visiting), trusting that it’ll get a little warmer by the time we get to the Carolinas and below. As noted, it’s better to “go and enjoy” than keeping the $$’s losing value in the bank!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Maynard Meyer

    I had to chuckle because I, too, graduated in
    1970 and that’s exactly our plan. In fact I am one
    of the co-chairs of the “Class of 1970 is turning
    70 committee”. That’s the crowd that has a lot of money
    And a lot of radios. Our station delivers what they want on
    a daily basis. That’s our crowd!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Walter Luffman

    Back in the day ‘m 72) local radio’s bread-and-butter was local business. Department stores, specialty shops, clothiers, that sort of thing. They didn’t just advertise to local customers, but also to out-of-town visitors including vacationers and business travelers who needed something while they were in town.

    Today, for out-of-towners (and a lot of local residents) most of those needs are filled by big-box stores; and for the most part, the big-box stores don’t need to spend much on local radio advertising because they can run national TV and radio commercials, then just let people see their huge signs as they drive down the freeways.

    Some of local radio’s ideal, and often under-exploited, customers today are in the tourist and hospitality sectors. Local restaurants that offer more than a chain-restaurant experience. Hotels, motels and lodges. Tourist attractions. Auto services, including towing services and new-car dealerships. Don’t forget museums and big shopping centers with those same big-box stores, plus lots of local stores. Travelers often need to know about these places; locals do too, and need to be reminded of their local resources.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Walter,

      Too often what gets missed in the discussion of local radio is the importance of local merchants as part of the economics of having local radio service. Thank You for bringing that up.

      I watched as the consolidated radio groups did low priced deals with the big box stores, while charging the mom & pop store near top of the rate card, virtually guaranteeing that they would be soon out-of-business.

      Consolidated radio groups also no longer bought insurance, cars, etc from the local merchants, but took the cost efficiencies of buying these things on a nationwide scale. That also contributed to the destruction of the local merchant base.

      And finally, no one considered the financial advertising base of a local market and whether it could support adding so many radio signals to it.

      It wasn’t one thing that has contributed to the state of local radio today, it’s lots of things.

      Many, self-inflicted by radio ownership groups.


  8. As a card carrying Baby Boomer, I have long thought the fact that we are a demographic that nobody cares about is beyond stupid! Madison Avenue still believes that by the time you get to be our age, (I turned 72 earlier this month) our buying patterns are set in stone! To this I say BULL SHIT! That was our parent’s generation, when you Dad was a “Buick Man” and your Mom only bought Tide Detergent. Since I retired 6 years ago we have been on 6 weeks of cruises, traveled probably 50,000 miles in car trips across the country, have owned a first Hyundai and leased our first two cars (Hondas), re-did our kitchen with new counters, backsplash, floor, and appliances, and bought our first Apple computer! We both have money and are willing to spend money, but does anybody really care about what we want to listen to on the radio, or see in the movies? Ask the folks at QVC or HSN how we are as a customer base? I’m sure they’d be out of business without us!

    We are the first generation IMHO that breaks from the past generations. Our parents’ generation was old at 35. We are never getting old! You discount a very valuable, sellable audience when you discount the 65+ demographic!
    At least, that’s the way I see it….



    • Frank,

      I’ve been studying the buying power of seniors since the early 80s. In the late 80s Ken Dychtwald wrote his seminal book “The Age Wave,” that really put into perspective what Madison Avenue — and others — were missing by ignoring the seniors all the way back then.

      By coincidence, Ken is also now 72 years old.

      In his latest work, Life’s Third Age, Dychtwalk writes about the reinvention of oneself. It’s about continuing to grow, learn, meet new people, try new things, and even discover new purpose.

      It sure doesn’t sound like people our age are stagnant by any means.

      What you wrote only confirms what Ken’s research is finding.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Jarmus

      Preach, brother! Been making that point for years.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Mike Jarmus

    And yet consultants and ad buyers continue to insist that there’s little or no money in the older demographic; thus “we” are more and more underserved by terrestrial radio.

    Liked by 1 person

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