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Marketing to “Green” Consumers Over 50

When marketing to consumers over 50, companies should focus on how, when, and where information about the product or ethical practices is communicated.

Older consumers can be innovative purchasers with lots of disposable income.

How do older consumers in the UK regard ethical purchasing? Consumers over 50 are an important target market and will engage in either purchasing or boycotting.

Companies should focus on how, when and where information about the product or ethical practices is communicated. Marketers can use older consumers’ values and feeling of social obligation to improve the likelihood of ethical consumption.

Older, Innovative Customers

Ethical consumption—the idea that consumers deliberately choose to consume something because of personal or moral beliefs—is not new. It is a broader than just “green consumption,” encompassing purchases that relate to matters of conscience and moral principles. Ethical consumption can include issues like fair trade, animal welfare, labour standards and organic food. It can refer to positive choices, or negative ones, like avoiding particular products.

Past research has typically focused on younger consumers on the premise that they are the future and have more disposable income. However, recent research on older consumers suggests they can be innovative purchasers with disposable income they are willing to spend.

Characteristics & Behaviours of Consumers Over 50

They’re diverse in their knowledge and attitudes.

While about half of over 50 consumers in the study knew about ethical/unethical company behaviours, this info did not stay top of mind. Presenting these consumers with a range of information on good and bad firm behaviours triggered greater awareness.

They want credible, accessible, and reliable information about ethical practices.

Enough info exists but it is not in a user-friendly form or communicated in a way that raises awareness. Older consumers’ information generally comes from media, but word of mouth is also influential.

They prioritize quality and value.

Price seems less important than previous research suggests. If older consumers perceive value (ethical or other) in products, they may pay a higher price. For example, some consumers engage in patriotic purchasing.

They feel a social obligation to do their part.

Older consumers have a desire to do their part. The ability to provide for future generations and/or care for the environment may influence purchasing decisions.

They are moderate activists.

Older consumers participate in some activism measures like boycotts. But, they can quickly be turned off by extremist approaches.

Implications for Managers

  • Point-of-sale information is helpful to trigger recall of companies’ good deeds.

  • Corporate communications need to provide credible, accessible and reliable information in the media.

  • Quality and value are keys to success; if a higher price is charged, you need to show older consumers why, and appeal to their values.

  • Companies must be careful about their practices, especially if their products have close substitutes, because older consumers will boycott.

Implications for Researchers

This research involved only a few respondents (seven) and a large interpretive role for researchers. Cultural differences between the UK and other countries may exist. New research could examine coherence, or lack thereof, across ethical brands like FairTrade. Barriers to ethical purchasing, such as lack of choice, convenience and reliable information should also be explored.


This research was an interpretive study into attitudes and buyer behaviour of consumers over 50. The authors conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews with seven UK consumers who were recruited from the community that had an interest in consumerism, FairTrade, or community issues.

Carrigan, M., Szmigin, I., and Wright, J. (2004). Shopping for a better world? An interpretive study of the potential for ethical consumption within the older market. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 21(6): 401-17.

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  • Pam Laughland

    Pam Laughland was Managing Director at the Network for Business Sustainability from 2011 to 2017, and previously was the organization's Knowledge Manager. Prior to joining NBS, Pamela held research positions at the Richard Ivey School of Business, Statistics Canada, and the University of Guelph. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Ivey Business Journal and the International Journal of Biotechnology. She holds an MSc in Resource Economics from the University of Guelph.

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