Super Bowl Ads Need to Age Gracefully

If this were a less-serious publication, the headline for this story might read, "35% of Super Bowl Viewing Audience Pronounced Dead"

That's certainly the way it seemed to me as a 50-plus consumer watching the $100 million (not counting production and agency fees) worth of commercials that came along with what was actually an interesting game last weekend.

Seeing that the median adult age in this country is 49, the average TV viewer is over age 50, and most Americans watch the Super Bowl, one can infer that the median age of Sunday's Super Bowl viewer was in the neighborhood of middle age.

It was disconcerting to see advertising that mostly starred twentysomething men who seemed to be slaves to their thirst for beer, chips, and girls. Unintelligent slaves at that.

I, on the other hand, was represented by Betty White (88), Abe Vigoda (89), and a guy on a power chair (about 95). Don't get me wrong: I like Betty White, but she's old enough to be my grandmother.

So while the other advertising pundits can talk about the fact that almost all the commercials were crude, sophomoric, or lamely humorous for no good reason (the overall consensus), I am a lot more focused on the huge, missed marketing opportunity embodied by the 50-plus consumer.

where were the key buyers?

In my poll of about 20 of my over-50 friends across the country, the overwhelming consensus was: "I'm obviously not the target." Meaning that none of the advertising pitched this group in a relevant way.

But wait, let's look at the advertisers' products for a second: Beer, chips, beer, beer, cars, beer, tires, jobs, candy, soap, beer, restaurant, and technology.

Now let's look at the consumer dollars, drawing from sources such as Nielsen and the U.S. Census Bureau: Consumers over age 50 have 2.5 times the discretionary buying power of those 18 to 34. They earn $2.5 trillion, compared with $1 trillion for 18-to-34 year olds.

While representing only 30% of the population, consumers over age 50 buy 60% of all packaged goods—including the aforementioned beer, chips, candy, and soap, Consumers over age 50 buy 56% of all new cars and 80% own their homes. Consumers over 50 are online and buying in greater absolute numbers than members of any other age group.

In fact, at least 50% of all consumer spending in today's America is by people over 50.

To put it another way, the majority of beer, chips, and pizza consumed during the Super Bowl was bought by people over 50. Most of the homes where people watched the Super Bowl were owned by people over 50. Over half the cars driven to Super Bowl parties were bought by people over 50.

targeting the consumer—with contempt

Not one Super Bowl commercial featured a person over 50 that wasn't the brunt of a joke about age. (I don't really count Pam Tebow, as she wasn't "cast" for that spot.)

While most advertisers believe consumers over 50 are stuck in their ways and don't try new brands, a PEW Center study showed last year that people in their 20s and 30s were actually more averse to trying new brands and products than were people in their 50s.

This generation grew up trying new things. We went from American cars to Japanese cars to German cars to Korean cars. Today, people over 50 buy more hybrid cars than any other group. Talk about trying something new.

And then there's this: According to an AARP study, consumers over age 50 pay attention to advertising but don't always like what they see. Sixty-six percent say ads have gotten more crude in recent years. And 67% say they are less likely to purchase a product if they find the advertising offensive.

A final thought for Super Bowl marketers: Consumers over 50 have more money than any other group. We buy more of just about everything than any other group. Millions and millions of us were watching on Sunday and you either ignored us or made fun of us.

If you were us, what products would you choose?

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.