Why more branded products and services do not specifically target senior citizens is a puzzle. Despite their growing numbers and spending power, seniors have been generally ignored by marketers in favor of youth. But the trend of targeting this older demographic will continue to grow as marketers increasingly value those who are in, or who are entering, their golden years. There’s simply too much money to be left on the table.
Embattled financial services companies, particularly mutual funds and insurers, are leading the charge when it comes to marketing to seniors. Companies such as Ameriprise, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity Investments have aggressively targeted the “baby boomer” market.
In general, however, technology companies haven’t quite figured out how to create brands that appeal to seniors. But there is a US company, GreatCall, that has designed Jitterbug, a cell phone, from the ground up for older adults.
GreatCall founders Martin Cooper and Arlene Harris worked directly with Samsung to create a cellular phone that addressed the needs of its target audience. Why Samsung? “They knew that there was a huge opportunity for this older market, but none of the carriers were interested,” says Harris, quoted in a BusinessWeek article (“A Cell Phone for Baby Boomers,” May 29, 2007).
The company then paired up the Jitterbug phone with uncomplicated and affordable calling plans (GreatCall uses Sprint’s wireless network). The result is an integrated wireless phone service that provides simplicity for the senior set. “Jitterbug” was a dance style made popular in the mid-1930s, so the name squarely targets consumers who remember that era.
Cell phones are getting smaller, trendier, and more technologically sophisticated. They tend to target teens and young adults with lots of bells and whistles and cool names. Today’s cell phones have become everything from cameras to music-listening devices to Internet gateways. Jitterbug is just the opposite. The phone allows the user to make and receive voice calls and nothing else—no texting, no music, no data, no Internet. It’s like a standard landline phone that happens to be wireless.
Jitterbug comes in two versions—an emergency-only phone (Jitterbug OneTouch) and a full-service phone (Jitterbug). The Jitterbug OneTouch has just three buttons: 911, Operator, and a button that can be customized with any one phone number. The OneTouch is actually an evolution of “SOS Wireless,” an emergency telephone service for seniors introduced in the 1990s.
The Jitterbug phone is physically larger, with a cushioned earpiece that accommodates hearing aids, and a speaker that amplifies sound. The phone’s buttons are bigger and backlit, and text on the screen is bright and large.
User-friendliness, as this commercial highlights, is built into the phone. When you open the phone, you hear a dial tone. Dial “0” and you are connected with a live Jitterbug operator. These are functions similar to a landline phone—which is what seniors are used to. Any instructions on the screen can be answered via the “Yes” and “No” buttons that are on the phone’s keypad. While the phone stores up to 50 numbers, there are few other features—and for a senior citizen who just wants a wireless telephone, that makes perfect sense.
GreatCall extends the ease-of-use concept of Jitterbug to the service plans it offers. Monthly plans are priced based on minutes, with no roaming or long distance charges. Plans are competitively priced and compare favorably to other cell phone service providers.
To make programming easier, the phone is managed through a Web-based interface. GreatCall, or the user, can configure and program the phone remotely. GreatCall can even disable a function for users. Harris told BusinessWeek: “We don’t want them to see a screen that they don’t want. If all the customer wants is the phone list—no call history, no voicemail—that's all they see.”
Introduced in late 2006, Jitterbug had the market pretty much to itself for a year. In October 2007, however, UTStarcom introduced a phone designed for older adults with features similar to Jitterbug. The phone has three emergency keys and a simplified menu with large font. It is being marketed as the “Coupe” and it is available on the Verizon Wireless network.
Still, the Coupe is just a phone, while Jitterbug is an integrated service from a single provider. With Jitterbug, for example, live operators available 24 hours a day can make calls for customers, provide directory assistance, and even add names to a customer’s phone list. Jitterbug offers free rate plan switching, no long-term contracts or cancellation fees, and a 30-day return policy.
Venture capitalists think the Jitterbug brand is a good idea. In June 2008, GreatCall announced it had raised US$ 38 million in a third round of funding. While Jitterbug was originally available only directly, consumers can now purchase the phone at Best Buy, Sears, and select CVS and Beltone Hearing Centers.
Jitterbug is the kind of product that could have seniors dancing in the aisles.