Packaging for the golden age

With nearly a quarter of the population aged 50 or over, brand owners wishing to appeal to this demographic must address aging consumers’ specific packaging needs, while keeping the broader consumer base in mind.

All businesses would do well to approach aging with such a positive attitude, particularly as it is a growing market.
All businesses would do well to approach aging with such a positive attitude, particularly as it is a growing market.

Aging is an inevitable part of life, but so often companies seem to overlook older people in their marketing strategies and advertising campaigns. So why aren’t more companies celebrating it or looking to harness this age group? Unfortunately, it may be because modern society has a tendency to either ignore or talk disparagingly about old age, teasing or even ridiculing people of a certain vintage.

It isn’t a disease, however, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Aging should be viewed as a subtle, quiet process, and one that should be celebrated as bringing with it newfound wisdom, new experiences, and new opportunities. This is how many older people approach their later years, and brand owners should do the same.

Inspirational campaigns

Historically, marketing to this demographic has been sparse, and when it has appeared, it has tended to be stereotypical. We most often see older people on our televisions and billboards when it’s an advertisement for insurance policies or retirement homes. Some brands, however, are aspiring to inspire with timely, high-impact campaigns focused on positive aging. One recent example is L’Oréal’s campaign starring Helen Mirren, which has driven sales of the Age Perfect skincare range.

An older example is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, which is now well into its teenage years but still going strong. The tagline, “real types not stereotypes,” has prompted many conversations on what beauty means, as well as the development of Dove’s Pro-Age campaign. The narrative for this sub-brand is written into the name: Be in favor of later life, don’t apologize for it.

Growing demographic

All businesses would do well to approach aging with such a positive attitude, particularly as it is a growing market. According to Euromonitor, by the end of 2017, almost a quarter of everyone on the planet will be over the age of 50. What’s more, these consumers are often more affluent and looking for exciting ways to spend their hard-earned cash.

It’s a broad and diverse demographic that encompasses extremely active over-50s, those who are slowing down in their 70s, plus octogenarians and even older, so brand owners need to make sure they don’t pigeonhole consumers or stereotype when they design packaging.

In fact, while segmentation by age has been a tried and trusted method for both product development and marketing for decades, many people now argue that an age-neutral, intergenerational approach is the key to creating the successful products, services, and brands of the future.

As Todd Yellin, Vice President Product Innovation at Netflix, explains, “Everyone’s instinct was that if you could find out [people’s] age and gender data, that’s fantastic. But what we learned is: it’s almost useless. [What matters is] not who they are in a superficial sense—like gender, age, or geography. It’s not even what they tell you. It’s what they do.”

According to social enterprise The Age of No Retirement, “Universal or age-inclusive design is the future. It is people-centric and not product-centric, has a lifetime value, and benefits everyone, at any age.”

Navigating age-neutral packaging

In light of this, what does age-neutral packaging look like? What factors, if any, should be taken into consideration to avoid making packaging mistakes?

The more discerning customer: While you can’t generalize too much, shoppers in this demographic tend to be more exacting and conscientious than other segments of society. Decisions while shopping often reflect sustainable values, and these consumers may have little patience for flash-in-the-pan marketing stunts. The focus for brand owners must be on quality product and customer experience, at all stages of the buying process. With regard to packaging choices, higher-value aesthetics are a worthwhile investment to connect with the older consumer, and brands should consider matching a luxury look and feel with a sustainable, 100% recycled board option.

Omnichannel shoppers: The spending power of older consumers isn’t limited to the high street. Research from Eurostat shows that more older people are using the Internet than ever before. As of the beginning of 2016, more than four fifths (82%) of all individuals in Europe between the ages of 16 and 74 use the Internet at least once every three months. Compare this with the 24% who had never used the Internet in 2011, and we can see a striking trend, believed by many to be driven by older people, who are doing more online, including shopping.

According to research by the Future Company, 60% of people over 50 globally have bought something online, compared to 51% of those aged 16 to 34, and 56% of those 35 to 49 years old. What does this mean for retailers with an online offer? Crucially, packaging for home deliveries must work as easily and effectively for older consumers as it does for products bought in the store. It must be straightforward to open as well as be easy to use to return items in and easy to recycle. If designed well, there is an opportunity for the packaging to not only transport a product safely, but also connect with the consumer and create a moment of home theatre during the unboxing experience.

Accessibility is essential: While it is vital that brand owners do not patronize their customers, the reality is that many older shoppers are battling symptoms of aging. It changes our bodies, the pace at which we live, our strength and stamina, and the things we can do. Research by the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. has revealed that aging-related changes such as arthritis, deteriorating eyesight, and physical strength make consumers more at risk of experiencing vulnerability when buying packaged consumables in particular.

Weaker grip, poorer vision, and lower dexterity combine to make the use of some forms of packaging more challenging. Being unable to pry open a package that has arrived through the mail or being unable to read the product details on the supermarket shelf are unforgiveable packaging mistakes and will damage a company’s reputation. Examples of poor packaging have been known to cause rants on social media, heated discussions with friends, and ultimately a decision not to use a particular brand again. In an age when competition is fiercer than ever, to lose a customer because of a poor packaging decision is simply unacceptable.

Hearing and vision loss are common side effects of the aging process, with most people reaching for reading glasses by the age of 40. According to Mintel, two thirds (69%) of those over 55 think the text on food packaging is too small (compared to just 50% of all ages). Simply making fonts bigger is patronizing, so the solution needs to be subtle—shortening copy, for example, and using bolder, easier-to-read styles.

Cognitive sharpness, flexibility, physical strength, and our senses might deteriorate with age, but these issues are not confined to specific age groups, so improving accessibility is beneficial for all and is non-negotiable.

Older workers: Finally, another factor for brand owners to consider is that people are working far longer than before. For this reason, secondary packaging used to stack and hold products on the shelf needs to be easy to maneuver, whatever the age of the retail worker handling it. This is an often-forgotten element of the design process—understanding the cumulative effect of the dimensions of secondary packaging and ensuring that packaging works throughout the supply chain.

Ironically, catering to the needs of older consumers will in fact result in your packaging becoming accessible and desirable to people of all ages. Rather than viewing older consumers as a niche group, they can be seen as a gateway to others. An age-neutral, intergenerational approach is the positive way forward for progressive packaging companies and their customers.