Modern strategies needed for grey area

Up to one-fifth of the population will be past retirement age in 2010, but are marketers paying enough attention to older consumers?

It is unlike the beauty industry to miss out on a marketing opportunity. However, last week a spokeswoman for L’Oréal admitted the company had been ignoring one giant section of the population – women aged between 55 and 75.

Announcing the launch of a range of home hair colourants called “Grey Chic”, which are designed to enhance grey hair, the spokeswoman said: “Women aged between 55 and 75 represent 19 per cent of the population… This market has more disposable income than any other. [But it] has yet to be tapped by the health and beauty industry.”

While most marketers chase the elusive youth market, they ignore the older consumers who are less responsive to advertising messages and branding. Perhaps older consumers are just too wise to fall for marketers’ tricks.

Tony Cole, marketing consult-ant of The Oldie, maintains: “This segment is more intelligent and cynical but most marketers, being young themselves, are oriented only towards creating a youth culture.”

While analysts predict that nearly a fifth of the UK’s population will be past retirement age in 2010, most marketers and advertisers ignore the “grey pound”.

Martin Smith, managing director of Millennium Direct, a “mature” marketing agency, says: “There is no market that really exists for the 50-plus people. It is surprising that a segment that includes 20 million people is totally being written off.

“The term ‘grey market’ itself sounds derogatory. In fact we call people aged between 50-59 years ‘thrivers’.

“These are people who believe that it was them who invented consumerism. They are more promiscuous in terms of spending and most seem to understand all about branding.”

According to research conducted by London-based analysts Business Strategies, in any average household the “greys” spend £9 more a week on leisure services, 25 per cent more on motoring, 15 per cent more on household and leisure goods and eight per cent more on household services.

Hann-Ju Ho, a senior economist at Business Strategies explains: “The study is based on the fact that most retailers are not paying sufficient attention to ‘grey’ consumers; there is no account of the fact that in the next ten years this segment will account for the majority in the market.”

Mintel, which separates the population into various age segments, says the “third age” is a large population sector whose numerical power has influenced successive markets as they have moved through various life stages. In its latest report, published in June, Mintel states that it is a common misconception that mature consumers are all alike in terms of lifestyle interests, values and characteristics.

Angela Hughes, consumer research manager at Mintel, says: “Those aged 50-plus today are different from when their parents were that age, so there is a gap which needs to be catered for. Most are not interested in the likes of Saga holidays – for the not-so-fit group.

“Today there is a market with an older but more sophisticated and knowledgeable consumer who does care about pensions and at the same time is interested in eating, drinking and clothes.”

The market meanwhile seems to be busy lumping the over-50s into one walking-stick-waving band with discounted travel passes. An insider at Saga Magazine, the specialist title for the grey market, says: “The proportion of ‘care’ ads in the magazine, which includes ads on dentures, arthritis pains and aches, cosmetic surgery and spectacles, accounts for almost 40 per cent. That is what our target market wants.”

And though some recent covers of Saga Magazine did feature the likes of Twiggy and Kevin Keegan, the publication insists that the perception of what its readers expect has changed little over the years. The magazine has a readership of more than 1 million in the over-50s age group.

Neil Jenner, managing director of Senioragency International, a recently launched company specialising in communication with seniors and owned by Grey Advertising, says: “Everyone falls into a trap of viewing the ‘grey’ market as senior citizens.

“But most over-50s end up spending huge amounts of money on things like holidays, luxury goods and health foods. They have 80 per cent of the nation’s wealth and are obviously more important in terms of commerce and economics.”

However, another study by Mintel on the financial status of over-45s reveals that a high proportion of the UK’s grey population have little money to save or invest. The study, which splits the greys into 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and 65 and over, adds that many “younger” greys find their earnings peaking and other financial commitments disappearing, leaving them with high disposable incomes.

The fact that there is a wide disparity among “greys” suggests the need for more targeted marketing strategies. As Smith concludes: “Marketers need to wake up to the fact that by only targeting the youth, they are restricting themselves to a declining market.”

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