Why marketers need to stop pushing age stereotypes

A new study shows millennials and older people share many of the same characteristics, as it warns brands to stop peddling age stereotypes in their advertising.

Nine out of 10 Brits feel there is too much age and generational stereotyping in the media, according to a new study from The Age of No Retirement, Flamingo and Tapestry Research [supported by The Big Lottery Fund].

Having gathered 2,000 respondents aged 18 to 70-plus, it reveals 86% of people across all ages believe inter-generational design principles are important, yet only 16% believe brands are currently applying them well.

It is common to hear terminology such as millenials, the grey pound and Gen X routinely used by senior marketers. However, this compartmentalised way of thinking will do “more damage than good”, according to Georgina Lee, co-founder of The Age of No Retirement.

Read more: Behaviour versus demographics: Why the term ‘millennial’ is useless

“The study shows people are bored of being catergorised by their age and brands that do this will only miss out on huge business opportunities by patronising their audience,” she claims.

“As part of the research, we looked at 28 industries from transport to banking, tech and automotives, and all them are failing miserably. Brands such as Barclays, which aims to appeal to five generations of customers with every campaign, feel like a rarity these days.

“It’s obvious that avoiding age stereotypes will give brands a wider appeal, yet so many marketers are stuck in the past.”

Georgina Lee, co-founder, The Age of No Retirement.

Similarities between the young and old

In particular, the study narrows down on the similarities between older and younger consumers. It shows 89% of young people and 84% of their older equivalents share the feeling that the internet is currently a huge part of their lives.

Meanwhile, 77% of people across all generations believe life is too fast and 83% feel like they are not like everyone else in their age group.

There is also an appetite to break away from age-based social circles, with 83% of respondents saying they want to mix with people from different ages and generations.

How brands are responding

Wendy Darling, strategy director of AXA PPP healthcare, admits her sector needs to change. Responding to the research, she explains: “Marketing around telecare [remote care] traditionally targets the 75 plus age group, with pictures of smiling grey haired ladies and gentlemen wearing personal alarm pendants.

Apple has been praised for making ads for products such as the iPhone which appeal across all ages

“Going forward, the marketing around such a device should be more about supporting a lifestyle choice – looking at those that want to live independently for as long as possible – rather than purely based on age.”

And, according to Marie Cesbron, director of innovation at Boots-owner Walgreens Boots Alliance and a board member of The Age of No Retirement, its customers are tired of being put into boxes.

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

She told Marketing Week: “Our mass-consumption society has led brands to put customers in boxes. However, we are now entering an era of post-consumerism, where people value being treated in a more personal and empathic way and can’t stand friction or an offer or
communications which feel irrelevant to them.”

Cesbron says marketers can learn a lot from the likes of Apple, Ford and Philips, with each of the above brands “finding clever ways to be age neutral and inclusive.”

She concludes: “It’s not just older people who feel alienated, but younger ones too,” she adds. Eventually, [age neutrality] will have to become the new normal as brands who don’t do it will struggle.”



There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Mark Beasley 29 Sep 2016

    This all sounds like good stuff. Readers (and Marketing Week) may be interested in the 2016 Mature Marketing Summit – London, October 11th – where issues like this will be discussed by 8 expert speakers and 100+ delegates.

  2. Pete Austin 30 Sep 2016

    I get that an increasing number of things are now becoming a “lifestyle choice”. You are the race and gender that you self-identify with. But this is not the case with age – we all secretly think we’re young, but that doesn’t make it so. Mutton dressed as lamb is not a good look.

  3. Shanghai61 3 Oct 2016

    Begs the question of how many people working in marketing and advertising these days are over fifty. Damn few.

    It’s important, because age is totally lost on the young. Everyone can remember what they were like when they were younger, but they simply can’t imagine what they will be like when they’re older. We’re just not wired for it.

    Having a few more people involved with actual experience of being older might help avoid the more egregious stereotyping that goes on.

    • I’d be surprised if there are that many over forty. And those that are are mostly White, male, straight and otherwise. Unless the industry tackles diversity from within, we will continue to see narrow stereotypes and products being offered.

  4. Kate Boyce 5 Oct 2016

    This great piece of research really brings to light what many brands are still failing to grasp – deliberately trying to tailor your marketing so it appeals to a
    specific age group is an outdated approach.

    At Indicia, we conducted research into how financial service brands are appealing to 50-64 year olds – the middle 40% of households, or what we call the forgotten 40%. From our research, we found that 66% of 65-69 year olds surveyed felt younger than their age. Over 55s are interested in travelling the world and 83% are exercising following retirement – debunking the myths that retirees don’t have the energy to do much.

    What both The Age of Retirement’s and our research demonstrates, is that brands need to start treating people as individuals – with unique needs and motivations. There is no such thing as the typical 60-year old or 18-year old. As the saying goes, age ain’t nothing but a number.

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