The Eternal Question of How to Target Our Customers

David Ward this week reflects on what the many implications of our aging populations may be.

In developed countries life expectancies are steadily on the increase. We live longer now than we ever have. According to the Office for National Statistics, life expectancy in the UK increased from 73.4 years to 77.5 years for males and from 78.9 years to 81.7 years for females between 1991 and 2008. An interesting fact is that of all the 65 year olds that have ever lived, over half of them are still with us today. This fact is quite a stark illustration of the increasing life expectancy we can all hopefully look forward to.

Couple this increasing life expectancy with decreasing birth rates and we’re left with an ageing population. Of course the UK isn’t the only country experiencing these types of changes. Japan is an excellent example of where the population distribution is changing. The following website – – shows how the age distribution of Japan’s population has gradually got older since the 1880s. Starting off with the typical pyramid shape, by the 1960s it is clear that the base is narrowing and the age groups with the largest populations are migrating up the pyramid. With a current fertility rate of around 1.2 (a rate of 2.1 is needed to maintain a steady population), Japan’s population distribution shows no sign of changing.

It has been reported on a regular basis that this change in population structure will bring with it problems for generations to follow. Who will look after this ageing population? With such a low number of births, who will work to keep our economies running? We will have problems with provisions for the population too. Will it be a case of too many people taking out of the system and not enough people putting something back? These are just a few examples of the issues that could face the developed countries.

This ageing population will also pose an interesting dilemma for marketing and market research. A change of tack will be needed to tailor the marketing approach to suit the requirements of those people with the most spending power that have been gradually creeping up the population pyramid. They will also have to adapt to the changing attitudes of people as they age. Perhaps the population as it gets older will be less driven by consumerism, less inclined to want to have the latest tech gadget, and less influenced by the commercials as they are shown to us today. It may be the case that fewer whistles and bangs, and more substance and depth, might become the order of the day to sell your latest product to perhaps a more discerning customer.

To me, as someone who studied geography at university (although admittedly I was more interested in geomorphology and remote sensing), the population changes we are seeing are interesting. This is not only for the impact they will have on our societies but also from a marketing point of view. I for one will be interested to see how this one pans out.

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