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The Graying of the Internet

by Glen Emerson Morris

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With the first of the baby boomers turning 50 in 1996, advertisers should start planning how they will tap into the rapidly growing 50+ market segment. The 50+ segment is going to become big league -- boomers will cause the ranks of 50+ to double over the next ten years, and advertisers need to be ready for them.

Currently, the majority of home computer users are under the age of 50, after which the number of home computer users falls off sharply. This has led online advertisers and computer manufacturers to largely ignore the 50+ market. This is unfortunate because the 50+ segment has considerable disposable income, and the Internet may be the best way for advertisers to reach it.

Just consider the advantages Internet distributed advertising has over print media. Internet distribution of ads is far cheaper than print, and ads can be updated constantly at little cost.

For the 50+ group there are even more advantages. As people age they frequently have problems reading the relatively small type found in newspapers, magazines, and catalogs. A computer would give seniors the ability to select a type size they can read comfortably. Vision impaired seniors could take advantage of the Macintosh 7.5.2 operating system's Speech Manager, which let's the user hear text on the screen spoken aloud by the computer. The user can select from a variety of voices. Though none of the voices is very human sounding now, the quality is adequate for conveying content, and the quality is continually getting better. By using the new Web browsers that have buttons which literally say their name when the computer's cursor is dragged over them, even those who are completely blind can navigate the Internet.

Advertisers only need to come up with the right entertainment and information to attract seniors to their Web page. Fortunately, there is plenty of inexpensive content available for both national and local advertisers.

One approach would simply give seniors what they used to have. Anyone over fifty grew up with radio, not television. Many of the radio shows seniors heard as kids are public domain now, and those that aren't won't be expensive to license. Netcasting old radio shows would actually be a lot more practical than netcasting music. Old radio shows are mono, which reduces the bandwidth needed by half, and they have a limited frequency range anyhow, because of the rather primitive systes originally used to record them.

Broadcasting old radio shows on the Internet can be done now. Software is already available which allows people to talk to each other over the Internet. Naturally, the phone companies are sending both money and suggestions to lawmakers to make this illegal. However, as long as Internet/voice software remains legal, any advertiser who wants to can launch an Internet radio station.

Another source for content is the thousands of books in the public domain. These could be made available over the Internet, either in text or spoken format. It would also be possible to license the netcast of the thousands of commercial audio books available.

Advertisers could also sponsor services on the net targeted at seniors, like chat groups. It would be possible to create a chat group for every graduating high school class in country since 1920. Seniors would be able to get in touch with classmates they haven't seen for decades, make new friends, and perhaps even have a social life again. A project like this could end the isolation most seniors face today, and it's something even small local advertisers could take part in. Someday, every graduating class in the country may have a business sponsor.

The payoff for national and local advertisers is likely to be substantial. As seniors get older they become less mobile and more isolated, making them less likely to go out and buy things from local retailers. Mail order becomes more convenient, assuming they can read the type, and know about the mail order catalog to request it. Local Internet advertisers can make it a lot easier for seniors to spend their money, and enjoy life more in the process.

It's just a matter of time before advertisers and seniors learn how much the Internet can do for them, and the gray turns into gold.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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