AARP overturns the theory that age increases loyalty

NEW YORK: One of the most enduring maxims in marketing holds that brand loyalty increases with age. Younger consumers, so the logic goes, are more receptive to pitches, and therefore more valuable than their more senior peers.

NEW YORK: One of the most enduring maxims in marketing holds that brand loyalty increases with age. Younger consumers, so the logic goes, are more receptive to pitches, and therefore more valuable than their more senior peers.

Last July, the AARP set out to test that theory against actual purchasing behavior, commissioning Roper ASW to conduct a series of interviews that culminated this spring. What the research found turns the conventional wisdom on its head: In many product categories, silver-haired shoppers are every bit as fickle as the trendiest teens.

"After this study, companies are going to have to revisit everything," said Lori Rosen, president of The Rosen Group, the AARP's PR firm. "The results demonstrate that it didn't matter what demographic you fell into - you just weren't that loyal to any particular brands."

Consider the example of how prospective purchasers choose which variety of automobile to drive. Among 18- to 44-year-olds, 43% exhibit a strong preference for a particular type of car. That proportion rises as owners reach their late sixties. But even then, only 56% have a favorite brand.

When it comes to SUVs, trucks, and vans, those who qualify as senior citizens are actually less loyal - by nine percentage points, in fact - than members of Generations X and Y. Who they trust to insure their wheels is another story entirely: Auto-insurance providers scored an overall loyalty of 70%, the highest total in any of the 36 product categories included in the study.

"Right now, in this country, there are approximately 94 million people over 45, and they represent $750 billion in discretionary income,

said Lee Duffey, president of Duffey Communications, which has conducted similar surveys about the interplay between age and receptiveness to marketing.

In Duffey's view, the implications of these findings on his fellow PR pros are clear. "In order for campaigns to be successful, they are going to have to stop targeting folks in certain age groups,

he explained.

"Instead, you've got to focus on message, and market to different lifestyle categories.

"It is very unwise for companies to chase one group of consumers just because they are five years younger,

Duffey concluded. "They end up spending a lot of money on something that just does not exist."

Duffey was referring to ABC's unsuccessful - and highly visible - courtship of David Letterman, which was based on the fact that the Late Night host's 20-something viewers fetch higher ad prices than Ted Koppel's similarly sized - but slightly older - Nightline audience.

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