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The Greying of America

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The success of the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may yet prove to be the watershed moment when the movie industry gets the message that ignoring people over 60 is a profound marketing mistake, not only for the film business but for "everything."

For those not yet conversant with this excellent movie, the ensemble cast is led by two formidable actresses Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, both 77. Others in the ensemble include Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, both over 60. The plot deals with a group of still vital British retirees visiting India desperate to find some saving grace to enrich the remainder of their lives.

It is a skillfully told character driven story which takes place in an exotic locale in modern India and deals with how intelligent human beings cope with their still resonant hopes and dreams in the twilight of their lives. What struck me as notable was that the audience was pretty much the same age as the characters in the film.

For too long this demographic, meaning people over 60, have been largely non-existent as a target for putting butts in the seats of movie auditoriums. The prime target demographic for films has been teenagers and below and people of dating age.

From the point of view of a movie goer in this "senior" bracket, I have nothing but high praise for the movie, largely because it deals with the most compelling problems that will affect the 77 million baby boomers in this country about to enter the physical and emotional territory explored by this film. Think of the subject matter of the film as a pebble thrown into a pond. Every part of the pond is affected by its ripple effect.

The central question it deals with is how one who enters this last rung on the ladder of life finds fulfillment, relevance, happiness and contentment when the heavy lifting of their "working" and "caregiving" life ebbs and they move into this last phase.

What those now entering this cycle are confronting is a new paradigm. Health science with its breakthrough pharmaceuticals and lifestyle changes has increased longevity to the point where people over 60 are a fast growing active, energetic, vital and productive population bubble.

People in the 60 to 90 category are growing at an astonishing rate and they are not going quietly into oblivion.

They are active sexually, intellectually, athletically, and a good portion of them have a reasonable cache of disposable income. Many are still in the workplace and in positions of authority in industry and academia. Mandatory retirement rules are being rethought and many are embarking on second careers. Indeed, as consumers and innovators, they are an active, energetic and creative force.

Using this film as an example makes the point that the big shift in marketing is, at long last, finding traction in this astonishingly fertile demographic. Of course, this trend has been out there for a number of years, but the surprise monetary success of this movie is a sign that there is a vast new shift in play.

The movie business has for years been the tailwind to spot popular trends and it has done so again with the full force of its hype and razzle dazzle promotion.

If my crystal ball is in operative mode, I would say that we are entering an era where more attention, a lot more, will be paid to this demographic in every phase of marketing products and services. It will also spawn a sea change in the way this group is approached in other forms of media and by advertisers eager to find productive eyeballs to flack their products.

For the most part, the people in this category will require a different approach than the mindless pitches that attract the still naïve and blindly hopeful young. They can't easily be conned and will be looking for offerings in product and entertainment that fill the needs of their current aspirations and lifestyles. Experience generally equates with greater wisdom and insight and one can expect more sophisticated attempts to engage their interest. In movies, magazines, books and other media, for example, they will be looking for material that explores real life and less mindless cartoony entertainment currently crowding out any more substantive offerings.

As time goes on, too, the yawning technological gap between the generations will close and people in the 60 to 90 demographic will be those who led the computer surge from its infancy. By then, they will surely have discovered that technology alone has not divorced them from the ups and downs of the human condition and hopefully they will have acquired the wisdom and insight to navigate the tricky shoals of their maturity.

Indeed, if the movie that sparked this essay is a harbinger, get ready for what is clearly the next new thing, the greying of America... and the world.

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections. His books are published in 25 languages worldwide and several have been adapted to movies, including "The War of the Roses" and "Random Hearts." His new book, The Serpent's Bite will be published in September. For more information visit www.warrenadler.com.