Leonie Roderick: How are we still getting age in advertising so wrong?

Marketers are still failing to accurately portray the over-50s in advertising, despite extensive research showing a golden opportunity for brands that get it right.

Last week saw the return of the annual Mature Marketing Summit. The event, run by the Mature Marketing Association (MMA), looks to showcase best – and worst –practice when it comes to portraying senior consumers in advertising.

The summit came at an opportune moment. Just a week before, Gransnet and Mumsnet revealed a staggering 85% of Brits aged 50 or over believe ads aimed at older people rely on stereotypes, with 79% claiming their age group is patronised by advertisers.

The accompanying jargon featured in ads is equally as jarring; more than half (55%) of people surveyed expressed a hate for words like ‘older’, ‘silver’, ‘mature’ and ‘senior’. In light of all this negativity, more than half (52%) unsurprisingly claim brands whose ads resonate with them would win their custom.

So what’s going wrong? Brands by and large still have a very outdated view of age, argued Karen Strauss, chief strategy and creativity officer at Ketchum 50+, a creative agency aimed at producing work specifically for mature consumers.

READ MORE: Over-50s marketing should stop focusing on age

Like millennials, older people are often presented in packs and are subject to awful stereotypes. Instead, brands should be focused on making age completely irrelevant.

“There are a lot of ludicrous depictions of older people. We need to magnify bad practice, and call out campaigns reflecting implausible representation of [this group],” she said.

One bad example highlighted during her presentation was a Marks & Spencer campaign from 2013 that focused around several ‘leading ladies’, including actress Helen Mirren, singer Ellie Goulding and fashion icon Grace Coddington.

M&S might have thought this wide selection of ages on show would have been a hit with older women – yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. The fashion retailer’s ad presents an “airbrushed representation of who older women really are”, thereby alienating them in one fierce swoop.

Procter & Gamble’s attempt to woo older audiences did not go down well either. Back in 2012 it launched a toothpaste specifically aimed at those aged 50 and over – but this overly specific targeting “pissed people off”, Strauss said.

“Why the hell do we need a toothpaste line specifically designed for us? Calling out of age does not resonate with the lion’s share of people aged 50 plus,” she explained.

The BBC’s approach was a lot better, however. To celebrate the launch of BBC Music, it remade The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows with the help of numerous famous performers of different ages – without resorting to silly stereotypes.

It’s clear brands can no longer claim ignorance to this growing amount of attitudinal research. But if they are willing to ignore mature consumers repeatedly telling them they hate being patronised, perhaps they should consider the following: The over-50s outspent their younger counterparts for the first time in 2016, spending an eye-watering £376bn.

And besides having generally more money to spend, they are not brand loyal and will easily drop brands that don’t speak to them. Oh, and let’s not forget that we’re ultimately living in a country with a greying population.

READ MORE: The shrinking and emerging demographics marketers need to know

There were murmurs at the event that brands can sometimes struggle to produce inspiring creative due to the youthful nature of their in-house advertising teams. And when it comes to working with agencies, there needs to be a “chemistry” between both parties, which is why specialised agencies with older employees can sometimes miss out.

A bit of open-mindedness among younger creative marketers would therefore not be amiss. And the next time you might be working on a campaign aimed at those aged 50 and over, please leave the zimmer frame out.

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