Senior Living Terms Drive Marketing Success

Terms and phrases often used when marketing for senior housing communities and brands are approaching taboo territory—even commonly used ones like “senior living,” according to a recent survey by a marketing firm that specializes in the senior housing industry.

It may not be much of a surprise that 94% rated “nursing home” as the term they had the worst association with in their mind, out of all choices presented, revealed the survey, conducted by, which polled 1,114 people regarding language used to describe those aged 50 and older. Nearly half (48%) also felt negatively toward the term “retirement home.”

However, a couple other terms that are often used by marketers are also viewed unfavorably:  44% said they have negative associations with the terms “senior living” and “retirement community.”


For a majority of those surveyed, those terms are becoming obsolete. Nearly six in ten (58%) of people polled felt that “senior living” and “retirement community” are outdated.

“Our survey results clearly show how certain words, acceptable a generation ago, have rapidly become taboo,” says Kevin Williams, president of “Knowing the preferred terms when talking about particular groups of people is important from both a human and marketing perspective. The wrong word or phrase can alienate your target audience overnight.”

No clear winner emerged when survey takers were asked for suggestions of better phrases for those aged 55 and older. A majority—18%—thought it was appropriate to simply say, “a man or woman age…” while the next highest amount (17%) went with “boomer.” Only 11% thought “senior” was appropriate.


“All the typical euphemisms used to describe older populations reek of ageism,” says Jim Gilmartin, principal of online senior and boomer marketing agency Coming of Age. “We in marketing use the terms baby boomer and senior to help differentiate between the two groups because they’re in such common use.”

More than seven in ten said they were comfortable with the term “baby boomer,” compared to the 49% who felt comfortable with “senior.” The two groups should be kept distinct, says Gilmartin.

“A significant pitfall is to lump all boomer and older customers into the same group,” he says.

In order to effectively approach baby boomers and older consumers’ demands, marketers need to know about their values and purchase motivators. That knowledge, he says, can then be converted into images and copy that connects with the target.

“Just like other groups, boomer and older customers identify with others who reflect their core values, their lifestyle, and their stage of life. Marketing of products to boomer and older customers should appeal to their core values and motivators,” says Gilmartin. “For example, goods and services that “celebrate the vitality, energy and individuality” of the purchaser are more tempting than those that do not.”

However, mature audiences tend to be less responsive to sweeping claims in marketing messages, he continues, and hyperbole is a turnoff. Rather than trying to force a marked distinction from the competition in terms of product—senior living—it may make more sense to stand out as a company.

“Because boomer and older people tend to be more highly individuated, and less influenced by external influences, perceptions of products more internally shaped,” Gilmartin says. “They typically conclude that there is little difference between products than marketers claim… Boomer and older customers tend to be more responsive to ‘companies with a conscience’ than younger customers are.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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