The marketing's main role is to banish the stigma attached to the category, and educate the audiences on the difference between old age homes and senior living.
According to a report published in October 2021, the silver economy in India is valued at Rs 73,082 crore. An estimated 8.6 per cent of the country’s population are senior citizens. Yet, brands, media, popular culture and marketers, routinely overlook and ignore this demographic.
Not only is the baby boomer generation the least visible, but they are almost forgotten, from a pop culture standpoint. And, marketers, who are always looking to target cohorts with disposable income, barely talk to this audience segment.
In a millennial and Gen Z-obsessed world, it’s easy to forget that senior citizens are the fastest growing demographic in India. They will constitute almost 20 per cent of the country’s population by 2050. So, the future is certainly silver.
Senior care, as an industry, includes products and services made keeping senior citizens in mind, with the primary objective of making their lives simpler, more wholesome, safer and meaningful. It includes, but is not limited to, high ticket price categories such as senior housing to FMCG products such as senior diapers and utility products such as grab bars and hearing aids.
The demand for senior living communities, has grown exponentially, post-COVID. The key factors contributing to this demand are the sense of uncertainty and lack of support that seniors living by themselves have experienced, while being isolated and away from their children, who don’t live with them.
Seniors, for the first time, have realised the importance of living in a protected, safe, hygienic environment, where their every need is taken care of. This, in turn, has led to a large number of them looking for senior living communities actively in a city of their choice.
However, marketing senior living, as a category, is not an easy task. It comes with its set of inherent challenges, predominant amongst which is the stigma attached to senior living as a concept. Senior living in India is a very nascent category, and while it’s very much a sunrise industry, the concept is unfortunately still likened to the dreaded old age homes, where seniors go not out of choice, but out of compulsion.
Therefore, the main role of marketing is to banish the stigma attached to the category and educate the audiences on why senior living has nothing to do with old age homes. It should be the preferred option for golden agers looking to age positively and live the best years of their lives amidst like-minded people that keep loneliness at bay.
Much like the discourse around mental health, the conversation around senior living, as an option for active agers, can’t be normalised without the consolidated efforts of the media, cultural icons, influencers and tastemakers. The stigma associated with the category is too deep-rooted for it to be eradicated overnight. And, it’s not something a single player in a nascent category will be able to do.
The needle will move over time, and it’s a patient game. But the need of the hour is to make seniors a more visible cohort across platforms and channels. It’s time to shine the spotlight on the generation that brought us up and contributed significantly to the country.
It’s also time to give them the voice and the platform that they need to express themselves freely. That is the only way to make senior care, as a category, as mainstream as established categories such as FMCG, FMCD, retail, telecom, hospitality and others.
Things are changing, slowly, but steadily. Take, for example, the graceful Asha Parekh featured on the cover of the March 2022 edition of Harper’s Bazaar at the age of 79. Or, man of the moment Elon Musk’s supermodel mother Maye Musk gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated this month in a fiery orange swimsuit at 74.
These are all positive cultural cues, reflecting the changing times. Today’s senior citizens are fiercely independent, refuse to be generalised, keep up with technology, try new cuisines and travel extensively. They are confident and in charge of their own destinies, unlike senior citizens of yore, who left a majority of their life’s decisions to their children.
What appeals to this generation is communication that is high on EQ and empathy, and one that talks to them, as opposed to talking down to them. Contrary to popular belief, reaching out to this cohort on digital platforms, is not much of a challenge. A majority of them use, Facebook, emails and YouTube. Their digital adoption has increased through the pandemic, with most of them learning to use food, medicine and grocery delivery apps for their convenience.
It's time brands paid them the attention they rightfully deserve, because doing so is in their interest.
(The author is SVP Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities.)