How Do You Market ‘Retirement’ Without It Sounding Old?

Rearview of a senior couple holding hands while looking out at the ocean together

If there’s one thing no one likes hearing it’s that they’re getting old. So for retirement brands it can prove a marketing challenge for making it not sound like it’s a place for old people.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

The concept of ‘retirement’ has changed over the years, however the communications around marketing the concept are lagging, said experts in the field.

“When you’re selling retirement, you’re not selling retirement anymore, because retirement’s changed,” said Rebecca Wilson, CEO and publisher of over 60s site, Starts at 60. “Joe Hockey made sure of that.”

There’s a shift happening in the retirement industry at the moment, with retirement villages moving towards fun, resort-style living villages. Sandra Hook, former NewsLifeMedia CEO and current chair of Baby Boomers website WYZA, said: “I think the developers are very much moving into that space, it’s just a matter of whether the communications around it are lagging a little.”

It’s about really knowing your customers, who they are and what they’re looking for. And unfortunately, many retirement brands don’t actually know who their customers are, said Wilson.

This stance was echoed by Hook yesterday who said brands don’t know how to market to Baby Boomers.

“It’s a generation who have been marketed to for all of their life. This is not an unsophisticated generation,” she said.

“Suddenly when they try and target a mature audience, brands don’t always get it right.”

Starts at 60’s Wilson exemplified one specific wrong-doing in retirement marketing communications. Wilson said if a company is looking for a single woman in her 50s or 60s, don’t market to them with images of a woman in white pants, walking down a beach, holding hands with a guy, “which is what they’re selling at the moment”.

And a quick Google Image search of ‘retirement’ pulls up many pictures of couples donning white together on a beach. These four images are from the first page of a Google Image search.


However, there are some companies who are looking for very specific customers, with Wilson explaining how some are looking for over 75s with a health issue, for example – very specific, which means very specific marketing communications.

WYZA’s Hook believes terminology hinders communications, using words such as ‘senior’, ‘elderly’ and ‘old’.

“This is a group of people who just say ‘don’t call me old. I’m not old, I don’t feel old’,” she said, referencing the industry’s current debate to call ‘retirement villages’ ‘lifestyle villages’ instead.

“I think over the next couple of years we’ll probably see some of the language changing around that because for some reason, for a long time, people have connected the word ‘retirement’ with ‘retiring’ from life, and in many ways it couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

“The new trends towards retirement living really are pretty much parallel with resort living.”

Referencing Starts at 60, Wilson said, “our environment is a young voice and so we tend to want to work with the players who have young vibrant, energetic voices as businesses.”

Citing some of Starts at 60’s competitors, Wilson said many advertise funeral packages on the site.

“Nobody wants to check out and go and die!” she exclaimed. “We see players in the over 50s market promoting funerals and we say ‘you do that’.

“We don’t want to want to be about death at 60. Over 60s still have around 30 years left to live.”