Advertisers turn attention to an untapped demographic—seniors

With the younger generation preoccupied, ads are turning focus on senior citizens, who have more time for TV


Revathi (left) and Kirron Kher (right) in a Godrej soap ad. Indian advertising has become inclusive enough to accommodate seniors promoting products beyond insurance and banking products for the retired.
Revathi (left) and Kirron Kher (right) in a Godrej soap ad. Indian advertising has become inclusive enough to accommodate seniors promoting products beyond insurance and banking products for the retired.

New Delhi :Defying the demographic surge of the young, marketers are discovering that there is life in India’s aged and aging.

For years, advertisers have focused on the world’s largest population of the young (51.8% of Indians are below 35 years of age), wooing them with youth-centric advertisements.

But two endearing grandmothers in a Godrej ad are defying this equation. In its latest commercial for its germ protection soap, actors Kirron Kher and Revathi are caught in a little tiff over what their granddaughter should choose: germ protection or skin care. The commercial was launched on 23 June.

Sunil Kataria, business head-India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL), said the objective was to get the most credible people to talk about the product’s natural ingredients. “Getting a dadi and nani made sense because they are the best endorsers for natural ingredients,” he said, adding, “Casting grandmoms lent a lot of authority and credibility to the product because people know that they (old people) must have used the ingredients in the past.”

Godrej had rolled out another campaign in December for a glycerine and honey soap featuring a grandmother (actor Farida Jalal) talking about the benefits of honey for a smoother skin.

Clearly, Indian advertising has become inclusive enough to accommodate senior citizens promoting products beyond insurance and banking products for the retired. The new commercials cut across product categories—potato chips, air conditioners, music apps, hair oil and e-commerce brands—in weaving stories around the elderly.

Lowe Lintas launched a campaign in Tamil for classifieds site OLX featuring two grannies making fun of a young man using an outdated phone, guiding him to sell it on OLX.

In the potato chips Lay’s ad by PepsiCo, actor Ranbir Kapoor clashes with his grandmother who is acting like a ninja to get her hands on a pack of Lay’s.

Experts believe the elderly are a captive audience for commercials since they watch more TV, but advertisers say senior citizens have purchasing power and are willing to spend more.

E-commerce website Amazon’s ad shows a grandmother introducing Amazon’s electronic store to her grandson who has just returned from US and is trying to show off his gadgets.

“I think we went through a phase in Indian advertising when we ruthlessly eliminated all signs of grey hair. In that context, the current bunch of ads is far more inclusive,” said Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer, South Asia at the advertising agency Leo Burnett. Sinha has worked on brands like Britannia, Colgate, MasterCard, Reckitt Benckiser, Emirates, Dabur and Marico, among others.

Ad industry experts explain the change. For starters, the elderly, like children, are perceived to be more endearing and touch an emotional chord.

Anuja Chauhan, creative consultant at J. Walter Thompson, India, says advertisers are trying to leverage the wrinkles and saucy lines to make their products noticeable as star charisma starts yielding diminishing returns. “The advertisers are using character faces so they can come across as more genuine and authentic and less plastic and perfect. This is probably to do with the fact that young audiences today are pretty cynical and generally don’t believe anything they see in ads.”

Since the younger generation is preoccupied, ads are turning the spotlight on seniors who have more time for TV. Advertisers believe they are also the target consumers. “They have more money to spend, more time, they want to do more things, eat out, shop and travel more, and they are willing to try new experiences. They are, probably, by virtue of being at the most relaxed stage in their lives (either retired or semi-retired or nearing retirement) at their most experimental ever,” said Raj Nair, chief executive officer and chief creative officer at Madison BMB, the advertising arm of Madison Specialist Communication Services Pvt. Ltd.

Nair’s argument is backed by Lufthansa Airlines and Thomas Cook ads. The airline ad shows a grandfather travelling with his grandson to Germany.

The Thomas Cook India campaign, titled “Never Too Old”, features older people planning international travel.

“In our case, it was a very logical decision to enter a segment we believe is under-tapped, if not untapped, in terms of products. And hence the campaign. As per our internal data, more than 20% of the enquiries were coming from the senior citizens who were planning to travel with their families,” said Abraham Alapatt, president and group head, marketing, service quality, financial services and innovation at Thomas Cook India.

In India, between 2001 and 2011, the population of the elderly grew 36% from 25% in the previous decade, according to 2011 census data. The general population grew by 18%, slowing from 22% in the same period.

According to a report titled Elderly in India 2016 released by the Central Statistics Office, the elderly population is growing at a faster pace due to longevity resulting from greater economic well-being and better medical care, among others.

According to Dolly Jha, executive director & marketing effectiveness practice lead at the information and measurement company Nielsen India, older people are not just looking for retirement plans and financial services. They are also interested in transport, real estate, entertainment and leisure.

“And advertisers are likely to take notice of this trend. These trends make it all the more important to market to them effectively,” she said.

In its latest campaign, music app Gaana features a smart silver-haired woman dancing with her family to the tune of the popular Hindi song Mehndi laga ke rakhna.

“Music has an emotional effect—an ability to create spontaneous joy that is demonstrated through the dadi’s (grandmother) dance. To show this very effect, we depicted a united family having fun...” said Nirmal Pulickal, managing director and creative head, M&C Saatchi, which conceptualized the ad campaign.

Pratik Mazumder, vice-president and marketing head, Times Internet Ltd, which owns Gaana.com, says that it is a myth that to be a youth brand, all protagonists should be of a certain age bracket. “If white-haired consumers are shown doing youthful activities—like in our case grooving to a popular Bollywood tune—it reinforces the youthful quotient of the brand.”

According to Mazumder, the campaign saw awareness scores of more than 90%. “With the help of the campaign, Gaana has strengthened its leadership position in the music streaming market in India and crossed over 42 million app downloads. The minutes usage also grew by over 40% in the last quarter,” he said.

Older men and women are often being used by the ad makers to compare traditional and modern ways of doing things, or adding a hint of comedy to draw the viewers, or sometimes just to extend a social message.

Parachute Advanced hair oil recently attracted attention with an ad featuring a man in an old-age home during Holi. Excited about playing with colours, he is disappointed when others don’t reciprocate. That is when a woman smears his face with colours. Titled Khul ke khelo Holi, the ad was released only on digital platforms.

“We opted for an elderly cast as we thought they would be better narrators of the story, urging the younger generation to celebrate Holi whole-heartedly without inhibitions,” said Anuradha Aggarwal, chief marketing officer, Marico Ltd, which owns the Parachute brand. “The ad campaign created high conversations and engagement of 6.5 plus million views across YouTube, Facebook and other leading websites along with high organic shares on Twitter and Facebook,” she said.

The new ‘old is gold’ formula extends to joint family set-ups. In the latest Kurkure ad, actor Parineeti Chopra gets the joint family to gather around a pack of the corn puffs, produced by PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd, and gets them talking.

Partho Chakrabarti, vice-president (snacks category), PepsiCo India, says the firm always conceptualizes campaigns around typical Indian families that are relatively large and full of life. “When we talk about typical Indian families, the presence of elderly people is obvious.”

According to Chauhan of J. Walter Thompson, there’s been a lot of democratization in families and relationships have become more informal, which these ads are reflecting.

“Bollywood moms and grandmoms have become very edgy,” she says, citing the example of the whiskey-drinking mother and grandmother in Vicky Donor, and the nonagenarian played by Rishi Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons.

Clients and agencies sometimes avoid using the elderly because they think they need to depict their target market of youth, says Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director of Ogilvy and Mather India and South Asia.

“You do not have to show the target audience in your ads. You have to make ads that are capable of exciting the target audience. For instance, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk football ad showing old ex-students playing the current school team is far more charming than showing regular youngsters,” he said.

As for Nair of Madison BMB, the 60 plus are being introduced to something new almost every day. “With their kind of purchasing power, brands would ignore them at their own peril. It’s not about a social message or a hidden trend. It’s about certain brands being more aware of the universe we occupy and acting on the signs and signals.”

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