Birds Eye View

Targeting the over 50s in digital

By Gabriella Krite, Head of Digital Operations, as originally featured in New Digital Age. 

With more time, freedom and money to spend, the over 50s should be every advertisers dream. But advertisers are missing out on silver dollars by failing to engage outside of their favourite Millennial and Gen Z sweetspots.

In The Kite Factory’s recent report, Older, Wiser, Richer and Disengaged, it was revealed that there is a massive 330% gap between the share of under 24s and over 65s who say advertising influences their purchase decisions, with the older demographic being dismissive of most advertising. Fifteen years ago, this gap was as little as 20%.

So what has gone wrong? Quite simply the advertising industry has increasingly alienated Over 50s by failing to give them appropriate on-screen representation, thinking of them as an amorphous group and concentrating innovation on digital-first platforms.

The exponential rise of digital media, and with it digital advertising, has played into the screens of the digital native Millennials and younger. It’s young and sexy and the new bright shiny thing.  But when you look at media consumption data, using social media alone will only reach 76% of 55-65s – which leaves a whole chunk of an affluent population not being spoken to.

But even this statistic leaves a lot to be desired. The Over 50s cannot just be grouped together as if they are all the same, and yet many measurement platforms do not allow granular segmentation of audiences when you reach the 50+ age brackets – most stop at a broad 65+. When you know this, you begin to understand why older audiences might feel disengaged from advertising – that’s millions of people we’re grouping together and treating the same. Just think of your mother and grandmother – the way they consume media, their formative experiences and their priorities in life will be vastly different, and yet they are likely to both be in the same segment available online.

Even if the platforms did allow granular age-targeting, we must caution against over-segmentation. Digital is a balance of allowing the platform to have enough data to optimise from and using the data you have available to create personalised tactics.

We also have the challenge that that the advertising industry is very young, particularly in digital. Understanding your audience is the key to media planning and we have access to tools to do qualitative research that informs our planning. But this needs to be complemented by the perspectives of people in your target audience and if no one in your agency is in the audience, it can be a barrier to understanding.

With these limitations in mind there several tactics we can implement to better reach over 50s online.

Do not disregard social

In most social platforms we can reach about 10%-30% of the over 50s audiences so we wouldn’t advocate for your media plan to hinge on social, but do not disregard the potential completely. With the ever-increasing uptake of Tik Tok we have seen the emergence of terms like “Twilight TikTokers” and “Granfluencers” showing a small but increasing audience base. Community is often cited as being very important to Over 50s and Facebook is one of the tools used to maintain that value. As a social hub this makes Facebook one of the best platforms overall to reach over 50s.

Focus in on values

We are all connected by our values and interests. With social and programmatic we have capabilities to target based on the interests people display through their browsing behaviour. If you can land a message that speaks to someone’s values, then you can work around generational differences.


Context seems to be the answer to everything nowadays but there’s no harm in this as contextual advertising is a strong mechanism to try to reach and identify an older audience. There are publishers like Silver Surfers and Older Is Wiser that, while on the nose, allow us to guarantee targeting the correct demographic. You can expand contextual as a tactic to cover distinctive lifestyle elements as well, for example, luxury cruises are more likely to be frequented by our older and wealthier audiences.

Behaviour and data

This is the really exciting stuff! You can use signals from search and browsing behaviours and overlay them over other tactics to get closer to your target audience. For example – someone researching retirement planning is more likely to be in the younger end of the 50+ bracket. You can even use signals from social to identify people talking about grandchildren rather than children. This allows us to take some of the less sophisticated targeting mechanisms and then refine them with the data we have available.

As an industry, digital is exceptionally ill-equipped to advertise effectively to Over 50s audiences. With the depreciation of cookies and the rapid takeover of AI solutions, I don’t have confidence that we’ll be improving in this area. So, I would encourage every digital planner to recognise the issue and challenge yourself to step outside of your shoes the next time you receive a brief. We have so much data available and ready for use but it requires clever and innovative application to be put to the best use.