Second Act

Marketing Electronics to Boomers: Don't Call Us Old

There’s a reason you don’t see many products marketed as “senior-friendly” or “good for boomers”--nobody would buy them.

People who are middle-aged may have failing eyesight, receding hairlines and legs that can’t run a 10K as fast as they used to. But no way do they want to be reminded of it by special packaging or marketing pointing out those deficits.

When it comes to computers, cell phones and other electronics, boomers want to be seen as vital beings, not doddering know-nothings who need to be catered to or otherwise patronized, says Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab.

Coughlin shares his thoughts in a guest blog post he wrote for CNBC, a commentary that comes on the heels of the Techonomy 2010 conference on technology and economy. “This will not be your father’s old age,” Coughlin writes about marketing to boomers. “Products serving older and disabled people will certainly be an important and growing market, but big winners will serve the older consumer by stealth.”

Instead of building different products for different ages, Coughlin urges companies to create products that are, in his words, “convenient, connected, caring and cool.”

Elie Gindi arrived at much the same conclusions two years ago, shortly after launching a blog called to review products for people over 65.

Gindi, a Los Angeles entrepreneur whose expertise with seniors comes from running assisted living facilities and caring for an ailing father, quickly discovered there weren’t that many products specifically labeled “senior-friendly” on the market. What was available wasn’t anything the then-58-year-old even considered using himself. “If you put the word ‘old’ on it, nobody would buy it,” he says.

Instead, Gindi started reviewing all kinds of consumer electronics--everything from smartphones and digital cameras to vacuum cleaners and glucose meters--whose features make them easy to use whether you’re 45, 65 or 85.

According to Gindi, the iPad is the epitome of ageless usability. The electronic tablet, of which Apple sold 3.27 million in the first three months it was available, has shown how simple complex technology can be: “Push one button and you get e-mail or the web or contacts or call someone,” he says.

Touchscreens are a big part of the iPad’s appeal. In addition to their one-button functions, touchscreens’ resolution is so clear, it’s great for aging eyes, Gindi says. He expects to see a raft of new touchscreen products by the holidays, including more electronic tablets, smartphone competitors to the iPhone and Motorola Droid, and e-book readers to rival the Amazon Kindle.

Touchscreens, and the iPad in particular, are so good and so popular, their appeal can’t be tainted by a “senior-friendly” label, even if they are, Gindi says. “I don’t call it made for the elderly. I just say it’s got a whole bunch of really good features.”