Mom at Age 18
The Courage To Be Our Age

Advertising to Older Folks

Recently Crabby Old Lady was catching up with David Wolfe’s Ageless Marketing blog. It’s not that she cares much about the techniques and practices used by Madison Avenue to part Crabby from her money. Most of the time advertising’s attempts at emotional manipulation are so clumsily obvious and off-key as to be laughable.

An extreme example currently running on television is a black-and-white commercial in which a man and woman come as close to having full-blown sex onscreen as Crabby has ever seen during the family hour. And what’s the product? Car tires - although Crabby can’t remember the brand name - and she laughs out loud every time at the incongruity of sexual rapture over wheels.

But David’s blog is worth Crabby's time because he sometimes reports on research about older people’s behavior, psychology and thought processes and he lobbies, bless his heart, for more realistic advertising communication.

Still, Crabby thinks these folks, who devote vast amounts of time and resources to trying to figure out what kind of marketing will best induce people to pay inflated prices for both useful and useless products, miss the mark.

One example: For years – yes, several years – Crabby fairly regularly thinks about buying the Bose noise-canceling headphones. Crabby has about 8,000 mp3 files on her computer. She likes the “surround-sound” a headset provides, but the cheap set she owns is uncomfortable on her ears and doesn’t envelop her in the music quite the way she would like.

Friends who know about such things tell her that Bose probably makes the best-quality headphones, or close enough. The company ubiquitously buys full-page advertisements in magazines; Crabby runs across them at least once a week. And unlike most ads for most other products, these explain in detail what they do.

This is a product Crabby wants to own and she’s even willing to overlook the fact that they spell canceling wrong in the product name, as cancelling. But she still has not bought it.

Why? It’s simple: there is no price listed.

What there is instead, is an 800 number, but Crabby has never telephoned because there is no way she will make herself captive to a sales pitch for one little piece of information.

So how dumb is it to leave off the price?

Bose isn’t alone in this practice. Many times, Crabby has sought out a product she read about in an ad only to be struck silly by sticker shock in the store. She might have paid the outrageous price if she’d had time to get used to it for awhile before being confronted with the actual purchase. But when Crabby’s head is reeling while the sales person impatiently taps his fingers on the counter, she ain’t payin'. And a sale is lost.

For about a year now, David Wolfe has been deconstructing marketing techniques, particularly those targeting older people, and often doing it quite interestingly. But Crabby thinks it’s a lot easier than Madison Avenue makes it out to be:

  1. Tell her what the product does.
  2. Show her a picture.
  3. Make the copy and images relevant to the product.
  4. Throw in some emotional manipulation if it justifies the expensive research; Crabby can see through it anyway.

It’s that simple.


Dear Crabby,
I bought those for my husband last year for Christmas and he loves them. They are expensive, around 300.00, but it was the only thing I bought and it was something he wanted. He loves to wear them when he mows the lawn or when we are on a plane and they are amazing. Worth the money.
But I agree with you on the advertising.

I see those adds for Bose products on cable TV here and when I see a little notice at the bottom that says "financing available" I figure the price is out of my range and I don't need anything that badly. Eight thousand MP-3s. WOW! And I thought I had a large collection.

Hey Crabby,
These are great to wear on planes even when you're not listening to music.
They actually do reduce the noise level on the plane a lot --something that I didn't realize how loud and exhausting it made me.
Now if they could just create something to take care of moisturizing my skins and dry eyes while I'm flying I'd be a happy camper. Would that make you a less-crappy flyer?


You hit the nail on that head, Crabby. I always figure if there is no price in the ad I can't afford it. I do have a Bose radio, though, and it is an amazing piece of work, so I expect the headphones are no less a wonder of technology.

I was always brought up with the notion that if you had to ask the price you couldnt afford it - perhaps the marketeers were not so well educated by their parents! Unfortunately for the firms selling, this translates into 'no sale' here too :o)

Cancelling vs canceling - could be a case of global advertising and the use of Brit-spelling???

Interesting thought about the spelling, Sophy. I'll check the ad next time I see it to check if they're consistent with Brit spelling throughout the rest of the ocpy.

My husband got a Bose stereo from my daughter and her husband last Xmas...he didn't expect something that nice (and expensive) and he cried like a baby; that's how happy he was. But I agree...I'm uncomforable when the price of something is not included...especially something of that nature...."SHOW ME THE MONEY!"

I've always hopelessly confused my American and British spellings probably because I read a lot of British lit in my teen years. I always put in the double "l" (cancelling, travelling) as the British do. (It's a short e, after all.)

Then yesterday I was reading an ad for Smart Cars and I was shocked to see enroll spelled as enrol. It looked so naked and lost without its final l. My dictionary says that enrol is British and enroll American. Aarg! How's that for consistency!

My spelling (when we will start writing it speling?) is more confused than ever now that I've married a Brit. Neither of us can spell a thing anymore.

In addition to Bose, another outfit that does that is Oreck. The price of their "amazing 8-pound" product is never in their print or TV ads, and even at their web site, it's buried deep on one page in small print.

Of course these companies don't want to tell Crabby the price: it might scare her off, and we can't have that, can we?

Great post today on Michelle Miller's "WonderBranding: Marketing to Women" blog. "Midlife Metamorphosis" is about how to reach women 38-55+, may of whom are having mid-life crises...on purpose. This group of women actually has the financial resources and life experience to work on and resolve their frustrations - to take action. A market force to be reckoned with.

What I loved most, though, was the vignette she used to open the piece: When, at the age of 67, actress Bea Arthur was asked why she was taking on a (non-singing) role with the Metropolitan Opera, she replied, “There are three things I’ve yet to do: opera, rodeo, and porn.”

I love me some Bea Arthur.

I tend to think that most marketing research doesn't get how people over 40 think is because most of it's done by people who are well under 40!

They can't get the correct answers because they don't know how to ask the quesions...or what the questions should be. Their perception is skewed by the empahsis on youth in media.

And, as all of us here know, the needs and compulsive spending patterns of youth are not the more prudent spending patters that come with the wisdom of age.

not to metnion that none of us have the time to sit and listen to some telephone generated speil. We have better things to do and a slim-to-none tolerance for b.s. (which, after all, is most of what sales is about.)

I gotta say I love that Bea Arthur comment that Jen mentioned. The only thing worse than other people stopping us from doing something is our own judgemental thinking.

If there's no price, I figure I can't afford it, or at least wouldn't want to pay the sticker price. I agree. Tell the price. Let us consider the purchase with that in mind.

Of course, to tell the truth, if it's small enough to ship at a reasonable price I'm probably buying it on Ebay.

Oh, I am with you! I hate the emotional manipulation that happens with advertising. It is so insulting.

Great meeting you and talking with you at BlogHer. I took away so much wisdom from our conversation.

Prices differ depending on the retailer. A product's price hasn't been a standard in advertising since the late 60s, and that's because different retailers have them at different prices.

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