MORRIS: Ignore 55+ demo? Big mistake! Big! Huge!

Greg Morris
August 9, 2014
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MorrisA media-consumption measurement company and a market research firm really made me angry recently. I’m talking more than peeved. They had a list of questions to ask me, but after they figured out I was over 55 years old, they lost interest in a hurry. In an instant, I became irrelevant.

It was Nielsen and Wilkins Research that recently contacted me at home to ask about my television and radio media consumption. Nielsen’s pitch is: “What people watch, listen to and buy.” The company is the big behemoth that measures television viewing and radio listening to calculate those infamous ratings you hear so much about. I wasn’t familiar with Wilkins, but it appears to be a much smaller market research company based out of state. Since Wilkins wanted to ask me about my radio listening habits, I’m betting a media company that owns local radio stations hired the firm to do a survey.

But unlike a lot of other annoying phone calls I get at home (even though I’m on every no-call list possible) I actually wanted to take these. I’ve worked for companies that owned radio stations most of my life and that made me ineligible to participate in these surveys. Now that I don’t, I thought I was finally going to get to tell somebody what radio stations I listen to and what television stations I watch.

But noooooooooo. Now, I guess I’m too old to matter. Nielsen dumped me in a more discreet way than the other company. As Nielsen went through its demo breakdowns trying to guess my age—25-34, 35-44, 45-54—when I hadn’t said yes yet, the company put me in the dreaded 55-to-dead category. I’m 58 years old, and of course that means I’m generally worthless because I’m old and don’t spend much money anymore, or so say many self-proclaimed marketing experts. I’ll come back to this important point shortly.

Anyway, back to the Nielsen smooth-operator call. She tried to let me down easy by saying something like, “Thank you sir, but we’ve had several people in your age group already help us out, and I wonder if there’s someone younger in your household who could answer some questions?” OK, now I’m really ticked off. I’m seeing red at this point.

But I kept my cool, and because I was nice and answered a couple of additional questions, the fine folks at Nielsen sent me a runner-up prize of two crisp brand new George Washington bills. Taking a positive point of view, that’ll buy me a Sausage McMuffin and a small coffee at McDonalds with my 55+ senior discount. Not too shabby! The Wilkins representative dumped me a lot quicker. When she found out I was over 55, she thanked me for my time and hung up.

Now, let’s circle back to the main point. Even though I’m considered old and out of the favored media-buying demos, I’m still spending a lot of money on a lot of products and services. In the last year, my wife and I sold two real estate properties, which resulted in two separate Realtor commissions. We lived in an apartment for seven months and paid rent, built a new house and paid for a couple of extra options for the house outside the building contract, bought an entire houseful of new furniture and accessories, ate out a few hundred times, paid for several entertainment options like concerts and sporting events, and the list goes on and on.

I’m a frequent buyer at Pottery Barn, Bed, Bath and Beyond and dozens of other establishments. Next year, the addition of a third car is on the agenda.

So when these companies rejected me for my age, I felt slighted like Julia Roberts did when she was rejected by the snobby department store clerk in the movie Pretty Woman. You remember that movie. With two armfuls of expensive clothes, purses and shoes in tow, she went back to that store and confronted the clerk who had rejected her and said: “Hi, do you remember me? I was in here yesterday. You wouldn’t wait on me. You work on commission—right? Big mistake! Big! Huge!”

The moral of the story: Please don’t ignore the spending power of us “old folks.” That would be a BIG MISTAKE! BIG! HUGE! We’re still working hard, going strong and spending big money. I suggest adjusting your 25-54 media buying target to 35-64 at a minimum. You’ll be glad you did.•


Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.


  • Ageism
    Good column. Those of us in the business of working with the "older" market have for years decried the fact that media and other producers tend to dismiss older adults as irrelevant. What they never could grasp is that the older adult typically has more disposable income than any other age cohort, and they do spend, perhaps on a changing mix of products, but still they do spend. So,keep yelling!
  • 64 should not be the top age limit
    What? 64 the top limit? Not if the youngsters doing the surveys are smart (actually, their bosses are probably older!) Most of the wealth is with the baby boomers and we;re different, smarter. We still buy and spend on bigger things. Are these surveys the reason we have such dumb television?
  • Bravo, Greg!
    You are spot-on in your assessment of over 55 buying power. And I love your reference to Pretty Woman--one of my favorite movies!
  • Agreed!
    I'm at my peak earning years, my financial commitments are lower than they have been in years, so why would I be overlooked as a consumer???
  • I'm not dead yet!
    Amen to everything you said! It's like we don't matter any longer to the population. I'm not dead yet! Don't put the Baby Boomer generation in the grave...we are are valuable part of this society.
  • Tell it!
    Dear Greg, you make an excellent point. While you are at it please remind Hollywood that we have disposable income and a bit more leisure time. We also really like to watch movies on the big screen rather than our phones. It would be nice if they would make more than a dozen movies a year that we can stand to watch.

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