Chinese brands are turning their attention to an underserved affluent market: consumers over the age of 60.
Older consumers typically have greater spending power and more free time to shop than their millennial or Gen-Z counterparts.
Showing commitment to serving seniors is proving effective both for CSR as well as revenue.
In the run-up to this year’s Double Ninth Festival on October 14 — a holiday when Chinese traditionally pay their respects to ancestors and the elderly — calling for more respect and care for China’s elders was trending in the content of Chinese tech platforms and fashion brands. While some of this year’s content demonstrated a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), brands also prioritized showcasing how their products directly benefit aging consumers.
Short video platforms Douyin and Bilibili each took the second approach by releasing videos highlighting the common plight of elderly Chinese in adapting to a hyper-digital society. Bilibili’s video, “The Invisible Elderly,” focused on China’s millions of senior “empty nesters” living alone and far from their adult children. It highlights how seemingly minor inconveniences, such as inadvertently falling at home or being unable to use smartphones, can severely harm these people’s physical and mental well-being. For its video, Douyin released a five-minute monologue by the 88-year-old actor You Benchang, famous for playing the legendary monk Ji Gong in the classic namesake TV series.
The actor spoke about several scenarios in which retired or elderly individuals often struggle, such as waiting in long lines at the hospital because they do not know how to schedule appointments on smartphones, difficulties purchasing groceries on shopping apps due to small font sizes, and frustrations returning ill-fitting online apparel purchases. He then encouraged his peers to maintain a positive attitude, as Douyin makes it easy to learn digital skills while showing trending Douyin clips in which young people teach senior family members how to master their smartphones and smart appliances.
Other brands were more direct in promoting their products. Smartphone maker Vivo’s minute-long advertisement for the Double Ninth Festival highlighted the newest high-quality camera in its X70 series. The ad began with videos of senior family members taking part in their favorite activities such as playing chess or dancing and concluded with their profile pictures taken with the X70 series, accompanied by affectionate remarks by their children. For its 7 for 70 Photography Project, in celebration of its 70th anniversary, the Italian brand Max Mara invited 83-year-old photographer Hong Nanli to shoot a series with China’s female soccer team wearing iconic Max Mara coats.
A video for the project featured Hong praising the soccer team’s members as women with “poise” fit to “wear the best coat,” also stating that she is happy as long as she can take photos. Hong’s series was well-received on China’s social media and successfully conveyed Max Mara’s message of women’s empowerment across age groups. Along those same lines, Chinese apparel brand JNBY released a series of portraits featuring elderly women wearing fashionable JNBY apparel in their daily lives — a hint that style has no age limit.
According to China’s latest census (May 2021), about 264 million people over 60 years old in China account for 18.7 percent of the total population — a number projected to rise to 300 million by 2025. As pointed out in a recent report by Jing Daily and Wunderman Thompson Intelligence titled Transcendent Retail: APAC, China’s “silver economy” should reach $880 billion (5.7 trillion RMB) by the end of this year. It should be noted that older consumers tend to have higher disposable incomes and more time to shop.
The number of elderly users is noticeably increasing on digital platforms like Douyin, Taobao, and Kuaishou, which presents new e-commerce opportunities and should prompt those platforms to increase digital access for seniors. On October 12, Taobao launched a new “elder mode,” which includes larger fonts, a voice assistant, and a simplified information presentation, to attract more elderly users to participate in the Double Eleven e-commerce festival. Although it is still too early to tell the extent to which these Double Ninth campaigns impacted sales performance, the festival has undoubtedly gained greater commercial significance by reflecting the growing importance and potential of the “silver yuan.”