Old Opinions Not Needed

Advertisers don’t really care about senior citizens.

For years, one of the ways that I obtained extra money was by answering online surveys and participating in focus groups and mock trials. The groups and trials were always fun, because after giving your opinion for several hours, you were given a check. With online surveys, I amassed points that I could trade for magazine subscriptions, gift cards and even frequent flyer airline points.

The best thing about online surveys was that I could do them at home at my leisure. I could indicate which ads I remembered in fashion magazines, rate fast food restaurants, and analyze new cereal box designs. Did I love my cell phone carrier, health care provider or bank? Market researchers around the country were interested in what I had to say.

Recently, I checked out my favorite online survey website. The phrase, “You have a survey waiting,” beckoned. I clicked on the icon and waited for my new survey, worth $7.50, to open. I answered the initial questions and clicked “next.” But instead of questions about a new product or favorite beverage, I got another message: “Thank you for your interest in this study. Unfortunately, your responses do not meet the criteria required to fully qualify and complete this study.” Undeterred, I checked to see if I had another survey waiting. I did, but after entering my demographic information, I got the same message. Instead of earning at least $5 a survey, I was getting 25 cents for every survey that I wasn’t able to complete. I could find that much change on the sidewalk. It happened four more times until I got a survey about dental practices. But after listing the dental procedures that I knew about, the next page took me to a survey about dentures. Dentures? I knew nothing about dentures. I am trying to keep my own teeth for a long as possible. I wondered why I was getting a survey about dentures until the realization hit me over the head like a wooden cane.

I was in a new age group. When I turned 60 in January, I entered a new demographic. Now I was checking a different box when I entered my personal information to see if I was qualified for a study. Now I was lumped in with the senior citizens, a demographic that most advertisers don’t care about. Soon, I noticed that the studies that I was asked to participate in were also different. Researchers were only interested in me if I was having post-menopausal problems, diabetes, arthritis, or high blood pressure. As a 60-year-old woman with no major health problems, all of my original parts and most of my own teeth, I became invisible to companies who wanted to introduce new products and study lifestyle choices. But I’m the same person that I was a year ago. I still eat out at restaurants (not just Denny’s for the senior specials). I still wear jeans (not with comfy elastic waistbands), tees, leather jackets and Converse shoes. I still leaf through magazines and notice fashion and beauty trends. I even go into the stores to check out the new styles and I even buy some of them with my elderly earnings.

For many years, Sacramento has been considered an ideal place to do research because of its diversity. One market research firm gives the median age of a Sacramento resident to be 34 with a median household income of $56,000. Is that the age and income of the perfect respondent? What about age diversity? Why don’t market researchers care about us? Do researchers realize that we are not a homogenous group? Some researchers consider “baby boomers” to be in a different category than “adults,” who are considered those 18 to 55. A few years ago, I sent a complaint letter to AARP (I’ve been a member for ten years). The ads in their bi-monthly magazine were for insurance, mystery books, alert systems, medicine for cataracts and incontinence pads. Why? Most seniors I know do more than read books, fall down and pee on themselves. There were no fashion and beauty ads, even though women (or men) don’t automatically lose interest in their appearance after making it to their sixth decade. Most seniors could use the extra money from answering surveys, going to focus groups and participating in mock trials. Personally, I could use some more airline points because I want to go to Europe next summer. A gift card would be nice so I could get some new designer jeans or boots to take with me.

But it appears that my new demographic is only of interest to researchers when they want to measure the rate of our decay. Unless I start falling apart soon, my profitable survey days are over.