Monday, March 7, 2011

But Will Boomers Buy It?

     A few years ago, back when I was working, my college alumni magazine asked me to be on the Board of Advisers, a volunteer job that involved traveling to campus twice a year and sitting in on a meeting to critique the magazine and offer up ideas to make it better, more relevant to alumni.

Alumni magazine too small to see
     One of my suggestions was to make the type size larger. I was pushing 50 at the time. My eyesight was not getting any better, and I was tired of having to turn on all the lights and squint down on the print to read the latest news from campus. "One objective of the magazine," I pointed out, "is to keep older alumni feeling connected to the college, but how can they feel connected if they can't read the articles?"

     The magazine staff consisted of college students, led by a post-grad teacher in her late 20s, and most of the other people on the Board of Advisers were under 40. They had no trouble seeing the small type and thought my suggestion was kind of lame, so the print stayed small allowing them to squeeze more of their precious prose onto the page.

     These days, however, people are beginning to pay attention to older consumers. Companies are quietly overhauling their product lines to accommodate aging baby boomers.

     One example is an investment firm where clients are offered coffee in a cup with a handle, rather than in a Styrofoam cup (easier to hold.) The firm uses lamps rather than overhead lights (less glare) and has turned off the piped-in music (background noise hampers hearing).

     Many retail stores have better lighting and offer more seating. They post displays in larger print, and in bolder colors that are easier to see. Sometimes packaging is made simpler. Jars have indented sides to make them easier to hold. Tops are easier to open for arthritic hands. Other stores have installed carpeting so people won't slip on the floor. And shelves are lower so older women don't have to reach up so high.

     The Kohler plumbing company is doing a land office business in bathroom grab bars, which they call a Belay shower handrail (suggesting the rugged outdoors rather than the threat of a broken hip).

A stylish grab -- er, Belay handrail
     Kimberly Clark has redesigned adult diapers to make them seem like underwear. They are made to look more like normal underwear; they are sold in smaller packages like underwear -- and advertised that they "fit like underwear, but protect like nothing else."

     Last month the New York Times did a story on organizations that help businesses understand the needs of older people and design products that appeal to them. The key, according to researchers at the Age Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is to design products with features that are useful to older consumers, without being too obvious about it. As one MIT professor said, "You can't build an old man's product, because a young man won't buy it and an old man won't buy it."

     One example is toothpaste that promises whiter teeth and healthier gums. Another is the car with blind-spot detection. Both of these are useful for everyone, but especially appealing to older consumers.

     Researchers from MIT, Stanford University and elsewhere are also brainstorming products designed to help seniors live at home as they get older -- to save money on institutional care, and also because that's what most people want. Scientists are devising technological solutions to promote wellness and independence, such as devices to alert a loved one if a person has fallen and can't get up; or wireless pillboxes to remind people to take their medications; or in-home sensors to monitor an elderly person's activities.
     Now, if I could just get my college alumni magazine to use larger print -- or, I know, I can read it online where I can adjust the type size myself.

7 comments: said...

My grab bars double as towel racks. My daughter says, I need some of those. I had a work lamp until they made me give it up. haha now they are bringing them back. I hated the piped in music, uck. Turned off the speaker near me. I wasn't a Luddite after all, just ahead of my times. Dianne

Hope said...

I have noticed I'm struggling to read at night and it was never a problem before. The typeface is often small and my tired eyes just won't focus. I guess this doesn't get better with age, then? LOL

Dick Klade said...

Hope, nope, it don't.

Deb said...

I say it's about time we market to more than the 20 something crowd! After decades of working on computers, my 50 year old hands aren't as nimble as they used to be. My eyes also struggle with small print. I realized on night, while reading in bed, that I was actually reading with one eye closed even with reading glasses on.

It just all seems in reverse. I think we should get better with age, literally! Perfect hair, eyes, skin, body. :::sigh::: This aging stuff ain't for sissies!

fred doe said...

yo! as one boomer to another go to the dollar store and get those reading glasses:) but your right madison avenue needs to tap into boomer potential.

Laura Lee Carter said...

Hey there...this is the Midlife Crisis Queen and I'd like to invite you to join our Boomer Carnival!

Sightings said...

Hope -- No, like Dick says, it doesn't get better with age. It gets better with glasses!

And Laura Lee, many thanks for your invitation, which I also got on my email account and so I sent you a response from there. But anyway, yes, I'd like to join your Boomer Carnival, because the main point of blogging, I've come to understand, is engaging in a network of friends and fellow travelers -- in our case, Baby Boomers -- and sharing information, insights, support and sympathy. I look forward to getting any additional info. Meantime, happy blogging!