Russell Parsons: A memo to marketers everywhere, life doesn’t end at 50

All too often marketers are still grouping those aged over 50 into a homogeneous group defined by their age but it is folly to fail to represent them.

over-50

If the internet had been a thing when I was 18, brands would have concluded from my searches, purchases, site visits and social posts that I was a football-loving music fanatic; a voracious collector of trivial items relating to trivial matters. In other words, a typical 18-year-old.

Fast-forward several decades and any brand keeping score of my internet behaviour would conclude the same thing – I like football, music and collecting a bunch of stuff that has no practical purpose. It’s just that I am now 46.

If only life was a simple as it once was, however. Complexities are inevitable when you are in your fifth decade, a homeowner and a relatively old father of a seven-year-old daughter. As much as I might still be lit up by the same things as I was in 1991, moved by the same beliefs, and thinking of the world in a broadly similar way, there is also a financial future that my partner and I have to think about for ourselves and our child.

It’s complicated – for me, for sure; even more so for marketers. As my example illustrates, people’s life stages are not as nicely characterised as they once were.

Here at Marketing Week we’re addressing this theme. Some upcoming exclusive research reveals that you, dear readers, have no truck with segmentation by age and gender and are increasingly opting for behaviour, attitudes and life stages when determining which consumers to target.

So far, so good. However, despite what we are being told, there are still huge failings. Specifically, there is a huge blind spot among marketers when it comes to those north of 50.

READ MORE: Stop defining over-50s by age alone or risk long-term brand decay

In the same way that it is a big mistake to think those born between 1981 and 1996 – millennials – think, feel and behave the same way, those entering the autumn of their working life or retirement are not one grey-haired mass with a single view on life, love and happiness. They have many of the same passions as when they were 20 and indeed as people many years their junior.

Our feature lays bare the worst excesses of brands’ treatment of over-50s as a homogeneous group, as well as the folly of failure to represent them. It is full of colourful illustration from experienced marketers subject to the dumbest of dumb age-based targeting.

So why is this happening?

Advertising’s slavish devotion to youth is often cited, with the finger generally pointed at agencies. Age and experience are too often under-valued by many agencies when building teams; the natural consequence being advertising that is badly targeted, full of stereotypes and unrepresentative.

Marketers, too, have shared frustrations with me that age was a barrier to landing a particular job but there isn’t yet a chorus of discontent.

As much as diversity in age within your team would improve your output, what would be more of a silver bullet is this: be better at marketing.

We as an industry are falling over ourselves to understand millennials. We attack the pursuit of dissecting Generation Z with vigour with relish. There isn’t seemingly the same enthusiasm for those older consumers who have more money, more time, and more need for products and services across more categories.

From me to brands: Don’t give up on me when I hit the half-century. I will still voraciously consume new live and recorded music, seek new technology to make my life easier, divide my time between new media and old – at the same time as buying whatever it is my daughter is angling for that week and finally getting around to sorting out our financial lives.

Hold the mobility ads for the moment.

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Comments
  • AJ de Montjoie 8 Apr 2019 at 9:44 am

    I think as someone who is over 50 (ugg) there is a marked difference between 50 year olds now and those of 20 years ago. We are active, generally have more disposable income than those in their 30s and we’re also not afraid of new technologies.
    I often find the marketing aimed directly at me is for over 50s care plans and over 50s funeral plans … so I need care and then I am going to die! What I really would like to see is something that reflects more than a generation that is somehow too over the hill to travel (unless it’s on cruises or with Saga – which is fine for some but not all!) and is waiting to die.
    So who am I? A runner, who loves seeing the world, takes photographs, writes a lot and works hard. What am I looking for? You tell me 🙂

  • Karin Bennett 8 Apr 2019 at 1:17 pm

    I am also north of 50 with a career that rivals that of my kids. My house is paid off, I have more discretionary income and my husband and I are in the best health. We still have a third of our lives ahead of us and are poised to enjoy it. We are NOT unique in this. What are they thinking? Oh, wait. They are not.

  • Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance 10 Apr 2019 at 10:29 am

    Sigh. I get so fed up when 50+ people complain about mobility ads and funerals. This is NOT about you. This is for people like my family who are buying stuff to care for elderly parents – a massive market, because the very elderly (85+) can be so expensive to take care of.

  • Julian Pratt 10 Apr 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Pete Austin – That is a very good point

  • Robbin Block 11 Apr 2019 at 9:09 pm

    Agreed. And once again for emphasis, target marketing is more than demographics. Psychographics and behaviors can far outweigh them.

  • Dave Vranicar 15 Apr 2019 at 12:39 pm

    @Pete Austin, maybe mobility ads and funerals are not about us, as you say. I’m 68, and I don’t get many of either. By getting “so fed up” with people over 50 who complain about ads for mobility and funerals, I think you may be missing the bigger point of @Russell Parson’s article. Look, I know there’s a lot about older people that’s irritating. I daresay I spend more time with them than you do. And as we and our friends age, I can’t stand some of my own social circle who fit the stereotypes. We seek younger friends.

    Boomers have earned much of the criticism younger generations have piled on us. In fact, I could add plenty of my own. I like to think mine would be appropriately nuanced.

    And I confess to having done some of my own eye rolling about Millennials. Mea culpa.

    Your response feels angry and hostile. If you have a role in marketing to older people, is it possible your feelings are clouding your judgment? And desensitizing you to opportunities?

  • Charles Mitchell Heggs 17 Apr 2019 at 5:27 pm

    I agree that in marketing to older age groups you need to dig deeper to get genuine insight (actually applies to marketing to all broad age groups). The article mentions attitude and behavioural analysis – but these also fail to go deep enough (think about it – people do the same things but often for very different reasons!). What underpins and drives both attitude and behaviour? VALUES! These are psychographic, emotional constructs. They are the nest of beliefs and motivators – largely subconscious – that underpin our attitudes to almost everything we encounter. They are tied directly into our emotions, not our rational faculties. They are what so frequently make us choose something or perform an action before we have really thought about the consequences.
    Segmenting and analysing by Values is possible and can deliver a richer basis for more effective engagement.

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