By Dave McCaughan

Tried boosting a post on Facebook?

I did about two weeks ago. I was working on an assignment and we wanted to experiment with different ways to get a message to some unique audiences through social channels. I went to the correct page to fill in details to boost a post and filled in the options for subject, location, gender etc. but when I wanted to fill in age I was stuck. You can choose an audience profile as young as 13 (fair enough and as a parent kind of comforting that, in theory, children can’t be targeted) but you can only choose people up to “65+”. So you can identify any age range between 13 and 65 and be very precise but if you want people over that age they are all one big lump?

Now I have subsequently learnt that with some hard work you can identify people over 65 by more precise demographics. But I only found out by asking some friends at Facebook.

More importantly is the symbolism of the experience. Why is it in 2016 we still live in a world where around 15% of the global adult population, a group that has a roughly 50 year difference from the youngest (65) to the oldest (last time I checked the oldest person on the planet was 113 year old Japanese man). That 15% goes up to near 25% across OECD countries, and that does not include the over 400 million over 65 year olds in the BRICs.

What I find worrying is that this is not a problem for Facebook. It is a problem we see again and again across on-line platforms, across all those annual “trends” decks our screens were flooded with the last couple of months …. And most worrying of all we see it constantly within all sorts of market research. From panels to tracking, from qualitative profiling to nearly all public sentiment surveys. If you are over 65 you are just one big lump.

Sad. Better than it was, but sad. Five years ago I checked a number of the largest panel companies and found most actually stopped asking people at 59 (and couple generously included those to 64). That was shocking. Fortunately in the years since the realization that the world is indeed ageing, that older people do have opinions, do shop, do trial and do use technology has started to get through to a few researchers. The myths we used to use to justify not researching people in the last 30-40% of their lives (if you live in most developed countries and turn 65 today you have between 30-40% of your life to go) are slowly being exposed. So we do see people over 65 included in more and more all population studies.

But we group them together all being the same. Research that readily breaks down all other ages in five or ten year cohorts decides that a 66 year old and an 87 year old do not need to be separated any more than we separate a 16 year old and 36 year old. Not rational is it? After all, if you look at demographic shifts that 87 year old is likely to be the 66 year olds mother. So if you are under 65 we have no problem identifying generational differences (the infamous X, Y, Z, millenials misinterpretation for a start …). But if you are over 65 we think that everyone in that 50 year age range has the same tastes, opinions, influences and influencers?

I don’t think so!!

Now as it happens I am biased. I find myself increasingly working on understanding the ageing populations of Asia (around 600 million over 60 in the region today and a population growing faster than any other in the world). And I would love to know more about the differences in shopping habits and content preferences between Singaporeans of 78 and those of 68, 88 and 98. I want to know what the 70+ Japanese who turn 100 each day think, drink, and play and how that is different from some one who just retired. How they act as consumers, viewers, customers – as people.

So I am begging you… if the over 65 year olds represent 20% of the population in any market you are tracking for anything like an “all population” study, get a sample of that size and then break it down just as you do those younger.

By Dave McCaughan, Thought Leader & Storyteller, Bibliosexual – a consultancy that helps understand the roles of context and content in the marketing/media/people mix.