Until COVID-19 crept its way around the globe, nobody had eaten a Passover Seder with their elderly aunt on Zoom or used Houseparty to chat with Granny and Grandad. The pandemic has forced all of us to embrace technology with a new sense of purpose – though this is particularly true for our seniors.
A new-found tech aptitude among the older generation has created a unique opportunity for consumer tech brands to embrace a sizeable audience. Below we’ve set out what we think are the key lessons for tech communicators when engaging with what we’re calling the ‘Sliver Streamers’.
If we define the older generation as age 65+, that’s an audience of over 12 million people in the UK. It is too easy to think of older people as a homogenous group, when of course there’s a diverse range of demographics, behaviours and attitudes represented. Older people weren’t all technophobes until the pandemic hit and they don’t all use technology in the same way now. For every older person who has only discovered the smart functions on their phone since lockdown began, there is another who was already using their iPad to play bridge with their friends. Paying more attention to the diversity of this audience will yield some fascinating and actionable insights.
Some older people have always embraced technology more enthusiastically than they have been given credit for. The Silver Surfers trend identified in the noughties were a group that spent more time online than any other demographic. Levels of smartphone adoption were already very high before COVID-19 arrived. What we are seeing now is an acceleration of pre-existing trends.
One of our favourite learnings is about older ‘super users’ who we are calling ‘Tech Owls’. These are the early adopters in the age bracket, who are so proficient with technology that they both influence and become a supporting resource for their friends and peers. There is a real opportunity for tech brands to celebrate and target this niche, given that they are creatively interesting and potential brand advocates.
The usual cardigans and grandkids depiction of older people has run its course. Facebook’s new ad for Portal might be shot in 1080p with some ultra-modern colour filters, but it’s essentially a Werther’s Original ad for the digital age. Intergenerational relationships are powerful and emotive territory, but brands can do better when targeting Silver Streamers. Older people are not just grandparents – they’re football fans, foodies and travellers too. Embracing older people, their ideas and their interests would make for far more interesting and original creative.
Nike was on to something back in 2016 when they released their celebratory video of 86-year old Sister Madonna Buder who has completed multiple Iron Mans. While this avoided a ‘tropey’ depiction of older people, it did fall into the other marketing trap of demonstrating that success for an older person is often defined by how well they’ve retained youthful qualities or habits such as exercise.
When it comes to targeting Silver Streamers, most communicators will go straight for certain print media titles and linear radio. All of the audience data to date has justified this approach and both channels will still have an important role to play. That said, we know that since COVID-19 hit, older people are now much more likely to consume news digitally, podcast consumption is increasing and so is the use of on demand TV services. We’ve also seen older people start to adopt apps like House Party and Zoom too. Innovative use of some of the newer channels to reach an older audience could have news value in and of itself, particularly if the channel is usually seen as a young person’s domain. For example, brands could promote support sessions a ‘tech owl’ via Whatsapp or host an influencer Q&A on Zoom.
If technology brands want to win the Silver Streamers audience, they need to tailor both their products and their marketing to do so. As the pandemic has shown, older people aren’t the technophobes or Luddites they are sometimes caricatured as. Nevertheless, technology is optimised by default for a younger audience – prioritising miniaturisation means buttons and text can be tiny while touch screens require a youthful level of dexterity. Product innovations are a staple weapon in the tech PR’s arsenal. If possible, making small adjustments to products to refine them for an older audience will be newsworthy. If this can’t be done, then finding ways in which the product can be used innovatively by this audience will also be effective.
Campaigns can be designed to reach a certain target demographic, but they will nearly always reach beyond the intended core audience. The beauty of a campaign aimed at Silver Streamers, is that these campaigns will engage more with younger audiences too. Whether it’s a parent or grandparent you’ve not seen in weeks, buying groceries for your elderly next door neighbour or worries about a relative in a care home, never have we all been so aware of our affection for the older generation. Seeing a brand making meaningful steps to design for and engage with an older audience will increase brand favourability across the spectrum.
This pandemic, as vicious and as destructive as it has been, has taught us lessons across many aspects of civic society and professional life. Older people have learnt to use technology proficiently and value it’s place in their lives. In return, technology brands need to see the value of the older audience and get more proficient in communicating effectively with them. We here at Brands2Life are looking forward to working with our clients to address this audience better than we have ever done before.
Written by Nabil Hanafi, Associate Director, Consumer