Over-50s marketing should stop focusing on age

Over a third of the UK population is aged over 50 yet representation of this demographic in advertising is lacking and tends to be stereotypical. The latest in Marketing Week’s diversity series explores the portrayal and targeting of highly valuable mature consumers.

Saga magazines

The UK population has aged and is ageing. There are more than 23.6 million people aged 50 years and over, 11.6 million of which are 65 plus. There are also now more people in the UK aged over 60 than there are under 18s, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But marketers continue to ignore or misrepresent this growing audience. Just as the term ‘millennial’ should not be used as a catch-all term for younger people, lumping mature consumers into a ’50-plus’ demographic is lazy and off-putting for consumers.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Millennials are out; blah blahs are your next target group

“If you think about it, [50-plus is] getting close to half a life span. Most women today can expect to live to 82 or 85 – more if they come from richer areas of the UK. It’s a heck of a span and to lump it all together seems a bit blunt in terms of targeting,” says Karen Fraser, strategy director at the Advertising Association.

“The people that we speak to feel that if represented, it tends to be in a limited way – featuring mainly on limitations or the problems that come with ageing rather than a full representation of the entirety of their lives.”

“Brands should celebrate [older consumers] because from a strict marketing perspective they are a highly valuable audience.

Hugh Pile, CMO at L’Oréal

Fraser is also director of advertising think-tank Credos, which will publish a report on the portrayal of 50-plus marketing in 2017. This is because, she says, although this group represents 75% of the country’s wealth, an Age UK survey shows two-thirds of this group believe advertising portrays them negatively.

The report will therefore look at both women and men and ask them whether their portrayals are too limited.

Age-agnostic design

Rama Gheerawo, director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, works on inclusive design projects and how designers can shape a future that includes people of all ages and abilities.

He says: “One of the ways of looking at diversity is, ironically, to unhitch it from age. We talk about 60- to 70-year-olds, or older people, but these [are] homogenous terms and the only relevance that a numerical age has is to your passport.”

Gheerawo says that when the college runs projects, it does not data mine hundreds or thousands of people but instead uses “deep data” and works with six to 20 people that are “very different”.

He adds: “Two 70-year-olds [will be] completely different so we step outside of the age conundrum, which is just a box-ticking exercise. [This] moves us from being locked down and being age inclusive rather than age exclusive.”

READ MORE: Brands need to ensure their designs are age-agnostic

Celebrating age

“Brands should celebrate [older consumers] because from a strict marketing perspective they are a highly valuable audience. They are loyal, cash-rich and quite frankly there is so much to celebrate from their lives and experiences,” says Hugh Pile, CMO at L’Oréal.

The brand used actress Helen Mirren to front a campaign for its Age Perfect Golden Age day cream to celebrate a “more mature period in life”. It was born out of consumer research that helped the brand recognise a need to ensure women of that age are “not invisible” and give them the “presence and confidence to stand shoulder to shoulder in any room”, according to Pile.

He says: “That was why Helen was such a strong fit for us because she is a bold, confident and sassy individual who reflects those values.”

In some cases, being labelled a brand for the mature market can be tricky and those brand associations can be difficult to shake off. For Saga, which offers a range of products and services for the over-50s, one of its fundamental challenges is that people feel they are not quite old enough for it. In one focus group, an 84-year-old non-customer told the brand they “don’t feel nearly old enough for Saga yet”, according to group CMO Matt Atkinson.

Speaking at the Mature Marketing Association summit this month, Atkinson said: “We have homogenised this customer group by using a language that constantly makes them reject us as a result. They are on alert – that status of alert is ‘please do not tell me that I am old’.”

With this in mind, Atkinson’s mission since he joined the group has been to reinvent the brand to make it relevant for today’s over-50s. As part of this strategy, Saga is relaunching its magazine in November, which will be “more multichannel in its nature” without “non-enhancing communications”, according to Atkinson.

READ MORE: Former Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson on his new role reinventing Saga for today’s over-50s

He recalled seeing a cover of the magazine with a picture of Al Pacino on the front cover but opened the front page to an ad for Stannah stair lifts. He said: “I have nothing against [Stannah] but for a brand like Saga to be part of energetic, enthusiastic and adventurous people entering later life we have to shift our brand product and service to embrace that attitude.”

Saga will “refresh the brand next year to focus on the positive and tackle the negative head on”, according to its marketing chief.

The over-50s market is lucrative so brands would be wise not to ignore or misrepresent this multifaceted group.

The ASA’s Fraser concludes: “From what I have read to date, older people are more loyal to brands, they buy more quality, they are willing to pay more and are less price sensitive but they have higher expectations – using all of that information and being thoughtful when planning campaigns will lead to a better result.”

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