For years, advertisers furiously pursued 18 to 49 year olds. Anyone over 50 was considered too old, too cranky, too stuck in their purchasing habits and probably too miserly to be worth a company's valuable marketing dollars.
That was then.
This is now: Slowly but steadily, the don’t-sell-to-anyone-over-50 taboo is being broken, proof of the powerful purchasing power of what boomer marketing guru Jim Gilmartin calls “the single largest consumer group in America.”
In particular, there has been a rise in health care products for the 50-plus crowd.
(MORE: Senior Discounts Aren't Always the Best Deals)
You’ve probably seen ads for Crest’s new line of oral products, “Pro-Health for Life,” with its prominent blue icon “Selected for ages 50+” emblazoned on the boxes. Or Bausch & Lomb’s Occuvite 50+ supplements to “help replenish vital nutrients your eyes can lose as you age.”
Marketers are no longer tiptoeing around the concept of aging. True, many of these beauty products are euphemistically called “revitalizing” or “youth renewal.” Nevertheless, the advertisers are prominently pitching items specifically to older consumers.
But I have to wonder: Why now? Also, are products geared to boomers really necessary or just gimmicks?
The answer to the “why now” question is easy.
Boomers already account for nearly $230 billion in annual sales of packaged goods, or 49 percent of total sales.
And while the number of 18- to 49-year-old consumers is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2030, the 50-plus segment will expand by 34 percent, according to a 2012 report by the global information and measuring company Nielsen Holdings and the advertising and marketing firm Boomagers. The report concludes, “Boomers are simply too valuable to ignore.”
As a Crest spokesperson said to me in an email: “This age demographic is becoming a larger segment of the overall population both in absolute numbers and in spending power. Therefore it is critical to us that we ensure we are meeting the needs of the 50+ market.”
Just this week, Amazon launched its "50+ Active & Healthy Living Store," selling everything from vitamins to mobility aids. It's based on the premise that there is a huge marketplace with specific needs.
(MORE: Why Oral Health Is the Key to Total Health)
That brings me to my second question: Are these types of products necessary?
What the Medical Experts Say
For that answer I sought out a few experts knowledgeable about dental and eye issues faced by consumers over the age of 50, the audience targeted by Crest and Bausch & Lomb, among others.
Crest’s “Pro-Health for Life” line includes toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes and floss made with aging mouths in mind. The toothpaste attacks a myriad of issues, like cavities, weak enamel, plaque, tooth sensitivity, surface stains, bad breath and tender, inflamed gums. The toothbrush's bristles and the floss are extra soft.
Anthony Iacopino, dean of the faculty of dentistry at the University of Manitoba and the American Dental Association spokesperson on geriatric oral health, wouldn’t comment on the Crest products specifically. But he said he applauds the number of new products on store shelves that give older consumers more options than in the past and raise their awareness about ways to improve their oral care.
That said, Iacopino noted that shoppers need to be careful so they don’t waste money on products that address problems they don’t have. His advice for anyone over 50: Visit your dentist at least once a year and follow his or her advice on which types of oral care products to buy.
Eye Care Products for Older Consumers
Dr. Monica L. Monica, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offered similar advice for boomers concerned about age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss for people over 50 in the Western world.
A particular formula known as AREDS (based on an Age-Related Eye Disease Study done by the government’s National Eye Institute) with high levels of antioxidants and zinc can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration by about 25 percent. If you have the condition, Monica says, you should be taking AREDS supplements, which are clearly labeled on several over-the-counter formulas.
(MORE: Learn New Skills to See Through Vision Change)
While Bausch & Lomb makes vitamin and mineral tablets with the AREDS formula, Monica says Occuvite 50+ contains some, not all, of the AREDS ingredients. As a result, she encourages consumers with age-related macular degeneration to use other products that adhere to the precise AREDS formula.
Keep in mind, too, that supplements are for people who have the condition, not someone who wants to stave it off. “If you haven’t been diagnosed with AMD, you can’t just take these vitamins and expect them to prevent macular degeneration,” Monica says.
To help reduce your chances of getting age-related macular degeneration, she says, eat healthy foods, exercise and stop smoking.
The bottom line? Just because a health care product is aimed at someone your age doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.
Think about your personal needs and consult a medical professional. It’s nice to be loved by Madison Avenue, but that doesn’t mean you should always buy what the marketers are selling.