It’s a lazy stereotype typically played for laughs: a befuddled senior trying to figure out how to turn on an antiquated desktop computer. It turns out, it’s as wrong as it is outdated.
“I love YouTube! I’m a YouTube fanatic. I get up in the morning and get on YouTube.” This rousing endorsement didn’t come from a Gen Zer. It came from Joan,1 a 64-year-old who participated in research we conducted last year into the digital habits of older adults.
A majority of online seniors spend at least six hours a day online and own an average of five devices.
Smart marketers know about the spending power of boomers and that the leading edge of Gen X is now hitting 55. But it’s sometimes easy for a youth-obsessed industry to fall back on demographic stereotypes or to assume that those over 55 haven’t evolved their media habits. According to the Office for National Statistics, about 80% of U.K. adults aged 55 and over are online, and the proportion of those 75 and over using the internet has nearly doubled in the past seven years.
Today’s 65-year-olds have spent much of their adult lives experiencing advances in technology firsthand: They were only 36 when the first internet browser was introduced in 1992 and 42 when Google was founded in 1998.
Google partnered with market research firm Known to conduct qualitative and quantitative research in summer and autumn 2020. This research sought to understand the digital habits and behaviours of today’s boomers and seniors.
By digging deep into their digital habits, we found that the majority of online seniors — 86%, according to our analysis, which segmented seniors by their tech adoption and utilisation — are enthusiasts who spend at least six hours a day online and own an average of five devices. We call this group “digital seniors.” These are sophisticated, engaged consumers: 8 in 10 continued their education beyond high school, and 82% use their smartphone every day.
Why seniors turn to digital
For many of the seniors we talked to, being online and staying up to date with technology isn’t a choice. It’s an imperative. “Digital platforms play a big role in our lives, and there are always new possibilities that come along. Digital is here to stay, and it's good to learn all we can,” said Maude, 77. Jeff, 59, put it more bluntly: “I just don’t want to be a dinosaur, you know?”
These digital seniors go online for a vast array of reasons, from staying in touch with friends and family (91%) to organising their finances (87%) to improving their health and wellness (73%).2 And their enthusiasm isn’t simply a reaction to COVID-19: 70% of seniors say that they’ll spend the same amount or more time online once they’re no longer concerned about the pandemic.3
This shift in attitude extends to shopping behaviours too. In a U.K. study, 36% of shoppers aged 55 and over said they expect to be shopping online for clothes in six months’ time, up from 19% before the pandemic.4
In the beauty sector we see a similar trend, with 42% saying they read customer reviews online, 69% using digital platforms to browse for products, and 77% making a beauty-related purchase online in the past six months.5
For many seniors, being online and staying up to date with technology isn’t a choice. It’s an imperative.
All of this digital engagement, whether it’s in-app shopping or streaming beauty tutorials, is coming at the expense of time seniors used to spend focused on traditional TV. EMarketer estimates that all baby boomers will watch 5.7% less TV this year than in 2020, with continuing declines into 2022, while Comscore reports that time spent watching YouTube videos among adults 55 and over grew by 10% from May 2020 to May 2021.6
Globally, marketers who have traditionally relied on TV and print to reach older audiences have noticed the rise of the “digital senior” and are making changes to their strategies to meet the moment.
With seniors’ digital savviness likely to only increase in the next few years, here are three ways you can begin reaching them:
- Understand your consumer with data and insights, not outmoded assumptions and hunches.
- Meet your audience where they are. As we’ve seen, YouTube plays a crucial role in seniors’ lives. Increase your investment where they’re increasing their time to build awareness and consideration.
- Prioritise high-value audiences, rather than broad ones. Use the rich set of intent signals available on YouTube (in-market, newly retired, similar audiences, location) to reach your most valuable consumers at scale.