Reconsidering what it means to be 50 in 2011


Brands are steadily tuning into the fact that being 50 today is a far cry from what life at 50 was like 20 years ago.

I read an article in the Telegraph’s Stella magazine recently where the writer compared what her grandmother, her mother and herself were both like at the age of 50.

The writer, only recently 50, was a picture of health – slim, blonde and fashionable, a fan of exercise and clearly still in the throes of her career. Her mum was not so far off at the same age, but instead of exercising regularly, was a big fan of anti-ageing beauty treatments.

The grandmother, meanwhile, resembled an elderly woman at 50 – retired, frumpy, grey-haired, overweight. At that time it seemed there was very little to distinguish the years between 50 and 70.

Today, though, as the Stella writer demonstrated, what life is like between 50 and 70 is literally decades apart. Yet, as our trends feature in this week’s issue of Marketing Week shows, 50-year-old consumers are largely ignored. Brands target sexy campaigns at the ever lucrative 18 to 35 market, pitch more serious family oriented solutions at 40-year-olds, then switch gear straight to retired pensioners, selling them boat cruises and life insurance.

This week’s trends feature highlights research by consultancies fast.MAP and Involve Millenium, which documents how marketers are just not connecting with this age group (this article should be up online at by the end of today).

But not only does this group have time and money and are healthier and more active than ever before, there is much to be understood about their lifestyles. Today’s 50-year-old might not be kitted out with dentures and a walking frame, but a lot of them may not be running marathons either (although some probably are!).

They aren’t social media natives like today’s teens, but are developing a liking for Facebook and Twitter, with Facebook experiencing a 65% increase in May of 50 to 65-year-old men.

If you think of 50 as the new middle age, it’s worth marketers getting closer to this age group to determine in just what areas of life they are slowing down on, what areas are they discovering/rediscovering, and what areas are they doing better at than ever?

As Arnaud de Saint Exupery of Andaz hotels says in the feature: “The older generation is not as ’old’ as it has previously been. It takes a different attitude to life and has more financial health. We believe age is no longer a criteria when it comes to define our target audience – it is more about an attitude to life.”

We are seeing some savvy brands cotton onto this. Diageo chief marketer Andy Fennell told us recently that marketers need to stop being so youth obsessed at the risk of undermining this influential and valuable audience, and that communicating with the 50-year-old market is becoming a priority.

New brands aimed specifically at this market are beginning to emerge as this market’s promise becomes more evident. Recently, Gnu has positioned itself as a specialist travel insurance brand for the 50-plus market, Mumsnet has launched its more mature arm, Gransnet, and ad agency Beta has created its ’high50’ website as a sexy alternative to the likes of Saga magazine.

There are many ways brands could go wrong, as shown the episode of The Apprentice where one team’s attempt to connect with this market resulted in a magazine called “Hip Replacement”, featuring a silver-haired, conservatively dressed couple on the cover. Good on them for identifying the right gap, but the final result just goes to show how much insight is needed.

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