The shining silver generation

Brand marketers are waking up to the enormous potential being offered by the affluent aged


Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

A lot has been written about how India has the youngest population among the larger economies and how they are going to pose great challenges and opportunities for corporates and brands. Much less has been written about the growing size of the Indian elderly population. According to the 2011 Census, half of the 1.2 billion population of India is 25 years or younger, and around 9% are 60 years old or more. But come 2041, this number is expected to balloon to 20%, about 340 million, roughly the current population of the US.

This large population will have some interesting subtexts. For instance, the sex ratio among the elderly which was 960 females to 1,000 males in 1981 has moved up to 1,033 females to 1,000 males in 2011. According to a study published in the highly respected international medical journal Lancet, the life expectancy of India men has gone up by 5.9 years (57.19 to 64.16) from 1990 to 2013, while for females it has gone up by 10.3 years (59.19 to 68.48).

These numbers are indeed telling and they open up new opportunities for marketers who are interested in targeting the old.

Some decades ago the elderly appeared in Indian ads as the pill poppers, the balm massagers and the tonic guzzlers. No other ad presented it better than the Bajaj bulb ad, which even had a jingle that said “...goli kha kar jeeta hoon”. The aged were not just popping pills, they were also gorging on traditional medicines like chyawanprash, with veteran actor Shriram Lagoo asking his grandson to first have his Dabur Chyawanprash, and then play badminton.

The elderly are continuing to appear in Indian ads, but they are no longer just used as brand ambassadors for pills and potions. Ariel in its #sharetheload campaign presents the woman’s father going to his home town and learning how to operate the washing machine from his wife.

A few years ago, an ad for an insurance brand showed an old man packing his bags to go on yet another trip to attend the wedding of a friend’s friend’s niece, much to the irritation of his wife.

A recent ad for Amazon shows an old man packing his bags (with pills and potions) to make a trip to meet his sister for Raksha Bandhan, especially to see her toothy smile.

So, what is happening here? Is it that the aged of India are all on road trips? Are they living a life of leisure, travel and no care? Or is it just wishful thinking by brands?

The truth may lie somewhere in between. Brand marketers are waking up to the enormous potential being offered by the affluent aged. The first set of products and services to jump on to this bandwagon are the insurance and financial product marketers. But this is just the beginning.

Just as in Western countries, we in India too will start seeing the emergence of a large market for products and services aimed at the affluent aged (Modern Maturity was for many years one of the largest selling magazines in the US).

Luxury homes for the retired have started springing up all over the country. I am told Coimbatore is becoming a buzzing city for these homes, so is Dehradun.

Travel services too have started offering packaged tours for the elderly; I suppose with a doctor in tow, in addition to the tour guide and the mandatory Indian chef.

Consumer product brands have not done a great job of segmenting the market, except for the self-medication and hair colour marketers; the hair colour marketers have, in fact, abandoned the aged in their pursuit to chase the young and their need for multicoloured streaked hair.

Durables too have not tapped into this market, except for hearing aids and the occasional mobile phone that offers larger display and bigger keypads. I am sure as the market grows, we will see scooters and cars, washing machines and televisions targeting the elderly by tweaking their features—with larger screens, easier navigation, better service.

As products and marketers start chasing the elderly, I think there is a great opportunity for the educational and training sectors as well. We are now seeing talented executives retiring at the mandated age of 58 or 60. They definitely have five or more years of active life ahead of them—not all of them want to go on 10 holidays a year. If they can be retrained, they can be a highly valuable human resource for educational institutions and even the SME sector that cannot afford their full pay. It is here that specialist edu-tech firms can play a role in creating special programmes to help the just-retired get ready for a new career. A just-retired HR manager can easily become an HR adviser to a non-profit. A just-retired finance manager can hopefully become an adjunct faculty in a business school, and I can go on.

I think the new nom de plume, Silver Generation, says it all. Sixty is the new 50—they may not be gold, but they are very valuable all the same.

Ambi M.G. Parameswaran is brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com. A former chief executive of FCB Ulka Advertising, he will take stock of consumers, brands and advertising every month. The views expressed in the column are his personal views.

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