In a couple of days, my 84-year old-dad -- father of seven, World War II veteran, and former advertising executive from television's golden age -- will undergo surgery for early stage cancer. I'm cautiously optimistic, but any surgery at this age has real risks.
Leaving nothing to chance, my wife and I flew our twins from Cincinnati to my beloved hometown of Pasadena, CA, to send good vibes and lift his spirits. Along the way, we were able to spend quality time with my mother, who's now in the early stages of Alzheimer's, a condition which prompted both of my parents to move to assisted living earlier this year. I'm still in California through the surgery and beyond.
My dad's an amazing guy, but in the last few months his frailty and vulnerability have started to really shake me up. His condition, along with my mother's, has had me thinking about not only my parents but also our entire aging population. How do we treat them? How do we protect them? How do we thank them?
Marketing and Seniors
One obvious answer came to mind after I read a very troubling yet familiar story in the "The New York Times," "Bilking the Elderly, With a Corporate Assist." The article documented how unscrupulous hucksters buy readily available targeted mailing lists from respectable firms to lure senior citizens into coughing up personal identity, bank account information, and more. The key insight: prey on their loneliness and their desire to feel connected.
"Telemarketing fraud," the article notes, "once limited to small-time thieves, has become a global criminal enterprise preying upon millions of elderly and other Americans every year, authorities say."
Much has been written about seniors as a target and demographic. They have more money, disposable time, and feel a need to be connected, reasons online usage among this segment is growing. But our targeting and relationship marketing also contribute to key segments' vulnerability. The reality is though we marketers wax poetic about the power and beneficence of conversations (admit it, you used the term a hundred times today), the same principle is shamelessly used as a deceptive, unethical, and often illegal hook to scam unsuspecting consumers, from teens to the elderly.
If we're to preserve and grow the integrity of our industry, we always need to keep that in check. As purveyors and ambassadors of the Web 2.0 movement, we have a vested interest in ensuring our "join the conversation" hoopla doesn't become another convenient entry point for manipulation, deceit, dishonesty, and abuse. This is why commonsense foundational frameworks like the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's (WOMMA's) Ethics Code are so important.
Ten Strategies to Protect Our Parents From Marketers
But if that's too righteous to swallow or act upon, we can still take a few proactive steps with our own parents or aging loved ones to ensure they aren't victimized by the ugly side of marketing. Trust me, you'll feel better. Here are a few tips:
Once Again, Let's Learn from Consumers
I love marketing, but the thought of my parents getting abused by unscrupulous marketers elicits an emotion that conquers all. Consumers have taught us a great deal about the power of banding together to drive greater transparency. In the context of keeping the marketing airwaves safe for our parents, there's no reason marketers can't do the same thing.
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."