Gray Hair: White Space

Geritol. AARP. RVs.


These symbols of retirement are losing their relevance, empty shells of another’s generation concept of how to spend the remainder of your life once you have worked your last day.


In the past week I talked to several people across the country who all turned 50. The same story surfaced organically. Thanks for the miracle of direct marketing and census data each of them received their invitation to the AARP. The envelope sat on their desk for a week, taunting them, a reminder that they are ready to be “put out to pasture,” according to one. As a declaration of existence, each friend said “no, no,” crumbled the invitation into a crisp sphere and tossed it into trash.


This empowering action demonstrates a growing trend. At 50, many Americans are not ready for age-based membership discounts, retirement, and the thought that their best years, their prime, has passed. In fact, they felt threatened by the invitation.


What used to be a right of passage has turned into a rejection of the model for Americans Gray Years. Because we are living longer, healthier lives, the organization no longer holds the mindshare of its potential audience.


Every 10 seconds an American turns 50. We are living longer than ever. The graying of the nation is occurring quickly, and yet people over 50 yearn for more engaged, enriching lives.


According to the Administration on Aging, “The older population—persons 65 years or older—numbered 46.2 million in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available). They represented 14.5% of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014.” By 2040, more than 20% of the population will be 65+.


This type of longevity for a massive slice of the population represents a major shift for our species and our culture. As we say in the realm of market strategy, this trend is a vast, growing white space. There is no trusted brand guiding this social movement. In fact, the AARP, while still a billion-dollar behemoth, has been characterized as “out-of-touch” and is losing market share at an alarming rate.


When discussing market strategy know that I do not mean to indicate that this is a cutthroat opportunity to sell people things they do not need. Rather, we, as a culture, are pioneering this late phase together. Needs will be uncovered that we cannot know by taking a historical perspective. This is a new era and we have no map. The white space is an opportunity to provide new value for emerging needs, a win-win that is need based, and form the basis of the new American Dream: Active Aging.


Active aging is the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.


Active aging allows people to realize their potential for physical, social, and mental well-being throughout the life course and to participate in society, while providing them with adequate protection, security, and care needed.



Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of going Electric. Visit to learn more.