Imagine getting a call from me this month with a novel idea:
A radio station geared to seniors.
I'm not just talking 35-64s, better known as the “demo that never was.”
No, I'm talking about seniors – members of AARP, MediCare recipients, and those of Social Security age – in other words, consumers whose only drawback is that they're over 50 (or even 60) years of age.
Your response would fall somewhere in between “Fred, you've lost your mind” or “Dude, what radio industry do you work in?” (Or maybe “You're already doing this – it's called Classic Rock!”)
And based on radio's history since the 1980's, you'd be 100% right. There's no market for a format that targets radio listeners in this stratospheric age group, even though:
- They spend a LOT of money on consumer goods of all shapes, sizes, and prices
- They are popular with other mass media, from broadcast and cable TV to print
- They consistently vote without fail in every election
- They provide the bulk of donations and membership dollars to public and Christian radio
- They own smartphones, they watch Netflix, they text, and they're all over social media
- They listen to a LOT of radio
That last bullet point is a big one. These often well-heeled silver-haired American consumers, mostly members in good standing of the still-massive Baby Boomer generation, may be some of the only folks left with any respectable spendable income as the coronavirus crisis rages on.
A 2018 interview with Dr. Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave, put a point on the generational dichotomy and the marketing mystery behind why 50+ consumers are often overlooked and underestimated.
Dychtwald told Media Village‘s Charlotte Weisler there's huge opportunity in the silver wave:
“Most people in business are driven by shareholder value. Where can I make the most money? Perhaps the most untapped opportunity is hiding in plain sight…People who are 40, 50 or 70 are no longer brand loyal. They are reinventing themselves and very eager to try new things.”
And then there's this beauty by Brand Keys' President, Robert Passikoff:
“While the Millennials are sharing stuff, Boomers are buying stuff.”
Perhaps, but the senior marketing opportunity that other media are cashing in on continues to elude broadcast radio – in spite of the fact its listening demographics are heading in the exact same direction.
COVID_19 may ripple this trend, but it won't change it. Changes are, those with accumulated wealth will continue to spend it, looking for new ways and experiences as life becomes less predictable.
In case you hadn't noticed, Tinder isn't the only dating app out there. When you look at the subset of senior dating platforms, it becomes clear there's gold in silver relationships.
Established players like eharmony and Match.com can hook up AARP members, but a number of dedicated sites like Zoosk, Our Time, Silver Singles, Elite Singles, and others that cater to the gray set.
The trend was driven home to me by the news the producers of ABC's franchise series, “The Bachelor,” are strongly considering a spin-off, despite the pandemic – a senior citizen version.
Variety's Elizabeth Wagmeister reported last week a mature version of the show “is a hot idea at the network.” It's hard to imagine that same energy and excitement could exist in radio for a format targeting this demo.
The pandemic may be slowing the concept down (along with other reality TV shows for obvious reasons), but the storylines are strong. ABC reality chief Rob Mills told Variety how the casting interviews for this senior version were so compelling:
“….they were just so touching…these people are just at a totally different place in their lives. There is an interesting thing about people who have hit the other end of the spectrum, who’ve lived their lives, they’ve raised their kids, some have been widowed or divorced and maybe some have never been in love. We thought that would be an interesting dynamic through the ‘Bachelor’ prism.”
“The Bachelor” machine (it's now 40 seasons deep) was scheduled to debut this fall, but Mills is hopeful it will hit the airwaves in the 2021-22 season. The concept will most likely work among the millions of viewers still watching network television. ABC doesn't care that Generation Z will be sharing TikTok videos – they're fishing where the fish are.
Radio broadcast sales units are being forced to retrench, rethink, readjust, and reboot as you're reading this post. But how many are attacking the problem strategically? So many of the key business categories that were reasonably healthy just a few months ago are upside-down or teetering toward financial ruin.
Restaurants, bars, concerts, sports, movies are all under water, struggling to regain any degree of equilibrium. Local retailers are on the brink, praying for another round of bailouts and stimulus checks. To rely on what has worked in the past for radio is a fool's errand.
WIllie Sutton, The infamous 20th century bank robber was once asked why he made a career of sticking up financial institutions. And his reply summarizes what marketers and strategists are being tasked with as the radio industry struggle to regain its footing in what will go down in history as the worst year ever.
Watch cable news for an hour, and start writing down who's still consistently spending serious dollars – all varieties of insurance, pharmaceuticals, investment firms, health and wellness products, weight loss –
The upper-demo audience doesn't need convincing. They're already on board, having listened to broadcast radio their entire lives. Rather than run away from the medium's true sweet spot, leaning into the silver is a plan that could be an annuity for the industry.
For as long as I've been creating PowerPoint presentations, the old axiom “Content is king,” has been intoned by marketers, managers, and owners again and again. And you'll get no argument from this programmer about that foundational rule of the radio road.
But long before it became part of our vocabulary, there was an older, greener monarch – CASH. It is still the ruling class in 2020. Ad spending may be taking a hit, but the categories that are very much alive and well today are having banner years, from Walmart to Amazon to Apple.
Broadcast radio didn't become one of the world's great mediums by thinking small.
Mass appeal, mass reach, mass money have all been the cornerstones of radio's long-term success.
The executive gurus of radio's past – Mel Karmazin, Nick Trigony, Herb McCord, Stanley Hubbard, George Beasley, and so many others owe their success in large part to adhering to this tenet:
In the midst of this existential crisis, it's still a smart piece of advice.
Thanks to Scott Jameson and Pierre Bouvard.