From television to social networking John Hazelton explores effective ways of reaching older audiences.

After years of putting most of their efforts into chasing the often-elusive youth audience, film marketers are learning some new techniques - and rediscovering a few old ones - in their quest to reach out to older movie-goers.

While television advertising, for example, no longer reaches a critical mass of younger viewers it still works for baby boomers and older audiences, marketing experts suggest. And while advertising - as well as free publicity - built around stars is not reliably effective with the young it still makes a mark with the senior cinema crowd.

“Boomers still tend to come out and support their stars,” says Jim Gallagher, CEO of marketing consultancy Apples & Shovels and a former president of marketing at Disney. “Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger - all of these people still have incredible resonance for boomers.”

Word of mouth is another important tool and it is something marketers are learning to cultivate through outreach to members of organisations such as AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons).

AARP The Magazine, which has a readership of 32 million, not only gives editorial coverage to older-skewing films and their stars; it also stages - under its Movies for Grownups banner - screening series that introduce readers to relevant new releases. Recent beneficiaries have included The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, Hope Springs and Parental Guidance.

‘Baby boomers still tend to come out and support their stars’

Jim Gallagher, Apples & Shovels

“In the past two or three years, we’ve seen a lot more studios proactively approaching us and recognising the power of this audience,” says Meg Grant, AARP The Magazine’s west coast movie editor. “It has got to the point where the studios are regularly asking us to do screening series in, say, 15 markets across the country, inviting our members to see movies for free.”

New ways of reaching the older audience include selected use of social networks and other online outlets.

The idea the choices of older film fans are not influenced online is a misperception, suggests Kristen Simmons, SVP of the motion picture group at US market research company Ipsos. “When you get into the older range of the baby boomers, that is true,” Simmons says. “But at the younger end of the range they are influenced by people on social networks.”

One company planning to exploit that fact is the UK’s Film4.0, which has developed a project to use digital platforms to engage the audience for forthcoming Ken Loach documentary The Spirit Of ‘45, about Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The project, dubbed My ‘45, will offer extended interviews as well as archive and other materials to members of the film’s older core audience. But it will also involve a wider audience through the use of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Says Film4.0 commissioning editor Anna Higgs: “The best possible result for us across this project is if we manage to connect older audiences with a younger generation and meet the call of many of the characters in the film itself - to talk to each other and to understand how our society today was built, and to think about the roles we can all play in shaping our world.”

Growth potential

The sizeable US Hispanic market also offers opportunities. By John Hazelton

If the grey audience represents a major opportunity for the film industry, there is another sector that, in the US at least, could prove even more valuable: the Hispanic audience.

Hispanic people are already bigger film fans than other ethnicities, with Motion Picture Association of America statistics for 2011 showing that while they accounted for 16% of the population, they made up 24% of frequent movie-goers (once a month or more). And the US Census Bureau projects that between 2012 and 2060 the number of Hispanic residents in the US will rise from 53.3 million to 128.8 million, representing nearly one in three residents.

Up to now, Hollywood’s attempts to cater to the Hispanic audience - which has a particular preference for horror, action and family films - have been tentative.

Among the specialised distributors that regularly release Spanish and English-language films for the sector is Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexico’s Televisa. Last year, the now two-year-old company had its biggest hit to date with Casa De Mi Padre, which starred Will Ferrell and took $5.9m domestically.

The major studios’ efforts have mostly focused on giving mainstream movies added Hispanic appeal, as Universal did with the cast and setting of Fast & Furious, the fourth entry in its street car racing franchise.

Now Paramount is going a step further by producing a Paranormal Activity spin-off that will reportedly feature mostly Latino actors and some Spanish dialogue.

The real trick, though, might be to cast a superhero movie with an Hispanic lead or to discover the Hispanic equivalent of Tyler Perry, whose films have become reliable hits with the African-American audience in the US.

“That is what Hollywood really needs,” suggests Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It is a huge sector. If they can tap into it, it’s definitely a place for growth.”