Coincidence or not I have been aware for most of this year that Robert DeNiro would have a new movie out this month about him being a 70 year old intern in a e-retailing company run by Anne Hathaway. Long before that as I started getting serious about helping companies in Japan think about the aging population not as a problem but as that countries biggest economic advantage. It had struck me early on that while it was fine for the government to push back retirement ages, and for a few enlightened companies to encourage skilled workers to stay on longer that there was and is a bigger opportunity. That having older interns made perfect sense.

Think about it.

Over the last two years as I have moved to talking, writing, consulting on the mythologies about marketing to aging populations the idea has grown with me. Recently reading about yet another ageist “40 under 40″ list got me thinking again. As one of my friends pointed out ( he is in his 40s ) ” does that mean all potential dies at 39 ?” Hence this letter to Campaign Asia

Now to be fair, Campaign was quick to want to print this and I think keen that I continue to write about the subject of aging asia opportunities, like this one they published a little while ago.  

So here is the case in brief :

  • Asia has four of the five oldest populations in the world ( Japan, Taiwan, Sth Korea, Hong Kong ), the fastest aging population ( Thailand ), a massive aging market about to break in China.
  • governments across the region are straining as to what to do, are pushing back retirement ages, considering getting rid of them all together.
  • smart companies across all sorts of categories from health to beauty to travel to electronics are realising that the real money is in developing ideas that appeal to the 65+… products that those people can use more effectively ( and that it then seems everyone then finds more useful and easier to use ).
  • there are increasing numbers of older folks who don’t necessarily want to completely retire, they want to expand their horizons…. yes there are many who will want to cut back, many who don’t have a choice but to keep working and all sorts in between and there are also many who want to use this next stage in life to try something new.

And there is a big problem to solve. Marketers and their agencies of all kinds ( advertising, social media, research etc ) are not geared or staffed to develop ideas for older people. Of course that is a generalisation. However it remains all too true. A very senior client of mine in Japan put it this way … ” Dave, you and I can sit around and brainstorm great ideas to turn my business around and tackle the aging opportunity. But as soon as I tell my brand managers ( average age 30 something ) or my account director at the ad agency ( 30 something ) and the team leader at my research company ( 30 something ), not the CEOs but the people who need to make these plans work, they lose interest. They either picture their own grandma from ten or twenty years ago making their favorite snack in the kitchen, or they just don’t want to to tell their friends in the bar on Friday that they are working on ‘old people’ stuff. They really need more older people in the working teams”.

We have to get rid of ideas that today’s sixty year old is the same as those of the past. In those four oldest Asian markets at 60 they will live an average of at least three decades to live, most in good health. They have had a life history of exploring new ideas, products, services and technology changes like none other. Educated, experienced, enthusiastic.

And many want to try something different. From travel to hobbies to the blooming of small scale entrepreneurship. And many would like to try a new career. So I am not advocating keeping older employees longer, or setting up the tools and schemes to help them build new businesses. That will and is happening and hopefully governments and corporations already understand the benefits. I am talking about giving people over 65 the chance to try working in the world of marketing communications for the first time.

A three or six months internship. Just like we would offer a student. A chance to try working in advertising agencies, design and production studios, social media companies, market research agencies, marketing departments. Offer the usual incentives : a little pocket money, a few free lunches, the potenial of a full time job later. What ever is normal. But tap their experience and POV. Ask them to write a blog on what they see, hear and learn. Give them some training and turn them loose on coming up with ideas. Use their imagination, experience, real world wisdom, technological savvy ( their what you ask ? well don’t full yourself… who do you think were the generation that first bought and learnt to use every new technology from color television to PCs to smart phones ? ).

Of course some will say that this will distract resources from hiring staff for the future. Really !!?? Are you crazy. This is Asia where staff turn over for younger generations is usually less than five years across the marcoms world. All the evidence says that older workers stay longer, work both harder and smarter and are way more efficient. So if you are planning ahead there is not much risk at all.

And most of all let’s ask those older interns to help the rest of your staff learn about who really is the market of the future.