In this wide-ranging interview, the leadership team of Age Wave—Co-founder and CEO Ken Dychtwald, PhD, Co-founder Maddy Dychtwald, and President Elyse Pellman—share what motivated them to start Age Wave—the world’s preeminent think tank on longevity, aging, and retirement issues, what market opportunities are hiding in plain sight, and so much more.
Ken Dychtwald, has emerged as the foremost visionary and original thinker regarding the social, economic, healthcare, marketing, financial, and workforce implications of the age wave – a term he coined in the 1980’s.
Ken is a psychologist, gerontologist, documentary filmmaker, and best-selling author of 18 books, including his two latest What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age and Radical Curiosity: One Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life. He has served as a fellow of the World Economic Forum and was a featured speaker at two White House Conferences on Aging.
American Demographics honored him as the single most influential marketer to baby boomers over the past quarter century. In 2018 he received the Inspire Award from in the International Council on Active Aging and in 2020, was the first recipient of the Pioneer Award from the Retirement Coaches Association.
Recognized by Forbes as one of the top fifty female futurists globally, Maddy Dychtwald, has been deeply involved for more than 35 years in exploring all aspects of the age wave and how it’s transforming the marketplace, the workplace, our world, and our lives.
This has led her to become an internationally acclaimed public speaker, Wall Street Journal blogger, thought leader on longevity, aging, the new retirement, and the ascent of women and author of three books including Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Change Our World for the Better.
Maddy has been involved in more than 25 thought leadership research studies worldwide on aging, longevity, retirement, health, family, caregiving, housing, and leisure, which have cumulatively garnered more than twenty billion media impressions. She is currently completing her long-awaited new book Women’s Longevity Bonus: The Art and Science of Ageless Aging.
Elyse Pellman brings 40+ years of experience in management and consumer and B2B strategy to Age Wave which informs her oversight of business development, operations, client management, and marketing.
Elyse oversees Age Wave’s multidisciplinary team of internal and external professionals to ensure first-class thought leadership as well as renowned client satisfaction. She works closely with clients to create results-oriented strategies, marketing programs, and services that optimize business growth with older adults.
Under Elyse’s direction, Age Wave has collaborated with leading Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations, as varied as Bank of America, PBS, Edward Jones, American Society on Aging, United Healthcare, Merrill Lynch, the XPrize, and the New York Times. She is currently co-editor, with Ken Dychtwald, of a new book for students and professionals in the fields of longevity and aging, ‘Sages of Aging: A Guide for Changemakers.’
Following are the highlights of the interview:
Ken and Maddy, what motivated you to start Age Wave, and what were your initial goals?
Ken: During the past century, dramatic breakthroughs in medicine, public health, and lifestyle management have caused two predictable trends: declining fertility and increasing longevity. These demographic forces, together with increasing numbers of older adults due to the aging of the massive Baby Boomer generation, are creating an “age wave,” transforming every aspect of our personal, social, financial, and political lives.
This profound demographic revolution is shifting the epicenter of consumer activity from an exclusive focus on youth to an increased focus on midlife and mature consumers. Companies whose products and services are aligned with the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s mature consumers are on the threshold of tremendous growth. We wanted to help companies and governments see the vast opportunity connected with better serving a new generation of older adults.
Maddy: Back in 1986, Ken was already working in the field of aging and writing his 8th book Age Wave. His passion for the subject was contagious, and I caught the bug. With no business experience to speak of, we decided to start Age Wave at our kitchen table. Fast forward to today and we have had the good fortune to have grown dramatically while positively impacting the way companies and the general public think about and value the mature market. Our mission has always been clear:
- Alert the world to the power of the coming age wave and the vast opportunities and challenges it holds.
- Liberate the business marketplace from its ageist perspectives and youth-obsessed orientation.
- Prepare both our healthcare system and consumers for the chronic health/longevity challenges of tens of millions of older adults and their caregivers.
- Turbocharge global scientific research to beat Alzheimer’s before it beats us.
- Envision a new purpose for older adults in what Ken calls “life’s third age.”
Ken, can you explain what you mean by the “third age” of life?
Ken: Decades ago, a compelling philosophy emerged from the European tradition of adult education called “Le troisième âge” – “the third age.” It proposes three “ages” of life, each with its own focus, challenge, and opportunity.
In the first age, from birth to about age 30, the primary tasks of life center around biologic development, learning and survival. In the second age, from about 30 to 60, the focus of adult life is on family formation, parenting and work. Until the last century, most people didn’t expect to live much beyond that.
But, with the rise of longevity worldwide, a third age is unfolding with new freedoms, challenges and purposes. With children grown and many of life’s basic work established or achieved, this is a more reflective period for further development of the intellect, emotional maturity and even spiritual identity.
There’s also plenty of time and opportunity to try new things, explore new facets of life, and contribute to society in new ways. From this perspective, we see older adults, not as social outcasts or burdens, but as living bridges between yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
What makes Age Wave the world’s leading think tank on aging, longevity, and retirement issues?
Elyse: Over the years, we’ve partnered with more than half the Fortune 500 and amassed an unparalleled understanding of the desires and demands of new generations of mature consumers and workers—their expectations, attitudes, hopes, and fears regarding longevity and aging – Sages of Aging: A Guide for Changemakers.
We have helped companies develop products and services from vitamins for the nutritional needs of older adults to superfood cookies for longevity, from long term care products to a new definition of retirement, all with the goal of improving the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s older adults. We’re convinced that the rising age wave will continue to create new opportunities for products/services targeted to this growing market.
What are the key services that Age Wave offers?
Elyse: Over the decades, we have developed highly effective, customizable products and services to help companies position themselves and prepare their team for the mature marketplace opportunity.
- Keynote Presentations that inform and motivate audiences on the opportunities and challenges of a maturing marketplace. We’ve already given live presentations to more than 2.5 million people worldwide.
- Thought Leadership Research that continually breaks new ground and generates unmatched media coverage, enhancing the sponsoring company’s brand. To date, our research has garnered more than 20 billion media impressions globally.
- Books, reports, and documentaries on various aspects of the emerging age wave and its social, health, financial, and marketplace implications.
- Education and Training Programs to empower professionals to meet the needs of mature adults, including turnkey seminar systems for client activation and enrichment.
What are some suggestions for companies trying to better reach older adults through advertising and marketing?
Maddy: After having been on this beat for a long time, we’ve realized that unless you’re a Medicare or a Medicare supplement insurance company, don’t target people exclusively by age. No one likes that. You’re better off to focus on lifestage. Are they grandparents? Are they newlyweds? Are they newly retired or starting a new career? Target lifestage, not age.
Second, generational anchors are a successful tool. What do I mean by that? When Tom Selleck appears in a reverse mortgage ad, everybody who grew up with Magnum PI can relate. Hearing a song by The Doors, Bob Dylan, or The Rolling Stones in the background of an ad catches the attention of the generation that grew up with that music. Actors, athletes, heroes, music can be effective generational anchors.
Third, be aspirational, not desperation-al. Nobody likes to be put down or made fun of. Be sure to show respect for older adults just as you would for any other group, and if you’re going to use humor, which is always a great idea, have it laugh with not at the individual or the group.
And last, be inclusive. There’s a lot of emphasis on inclusion regarding race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, but what about with regards to age? If possible, seek universal interests, solutions and messages that might appeal to a 20-year-old, a 40-year-old, a 60-year-old, or an 80-year-old, all at the same time.
There’s no reason we’ve got to put people into boxes based exclusively on their chronologic age. I would add that Age Wave research has shown that many older adults feel years younger than their chronologic age and don’t want to be pigeon-holed by a number.
That raises a thorny question: What is ageism and why is it so prevalent in our world?
Elyse: We live in a world where youth has become an obsession. Ironically, this obsession began when the Boomer generation—now between the ages of 58 and 76—were young. It remains today and most product and service developers and marketers direct most of their time, attention and resources to Millennials and Gen Zers.
But those cohorts are predominantly broke, time-constrained, and only marginally loyal to products and services. Focusing on the historically “sought-after youth market” is a costly mistake for companies when today’s older men and women now have considerable wealth, time, and interests to satisfy.
Instead, tomorrow’s biggest untapped opportunity is hiding in plain sight. In the U.S. alone, the 50+ population’s economic fortitude is stronger than ever – and growing moreso every day. 79% of the total net worth is controlled by people 50+.
They represent the purchase of 51% of all groceries, 52% of adult apparel, 52% of all personal care and beauty products, 56% of travel, 61% of housewares, two thirds of all the books, 68% of all OTC drugs, 71% of all the money in banks, 74% of all vitamins and supplements and 77% of all prescription drugs.
Seizing this massive growth opportunity is going to require a fresh appreciation for today’s and tomorrow’s older adults: what they’ll want to feel, eat, drive, wear, and buy; and how they’ll want to enjoy their longer lives and find purpose in their newfound time affluence.
Ken: The time has come for innovative solutions to the challenges, opportunities, needs, hopes, and dreams of what will soon be two billion men and women worldwide. At Age Wave, we feel it’s our job to help companies and governments see what’s coming and envision the new solutions required to meet the needs of this unprecedented longevity revolution.