Growth market is getting older

With someone in the UK turning 50 every 40 seconds, marketers must find ways of targeting this large population if they are to realise the silver pound’s significant potential. By Daney Parker

Brands seeking solace as economic dark clouds continue to roll in could do worse than to search for a silver lining in the form of extra spending from older consumers. With the over-50s estimated to account for 80% of the nation’s wealth, this sector is an obvious source of sales, but many marketers are still failing to develop the potential.

To think that marketing to this group as a whole needs some type of special approach is misguided, however. Fiona Hought, marketing director of Millennium – an agency that specialises in the over-50s market – is incensed that people aged 50 and over are considered different from the general population.

Biggest bugbears

She says: “One of my biggest bugbears is marketers treating the over-50s market as niche. How can a group numbering over 20 million be labelled as niche?” Hought points out that the over-50s is the fastest growing demographic, with someone in the UK turning 50 every 40 seconds.

Focusing on different segments is the only way to target older consumers. Hought believes problems arise when companies misunderstand who they are targeting and take a one-size-fits-all approach. “A 50 year old is clearly very different to an 80 year old. The big question therefore is how to segment the 50-plus market to create niche pockets of customers that will be most amenable to a product or service.”

According to Millennium, the answer lies in identifying lifestage, lifestyle, affluence and financial sophistication. Its research shows that failing to segment can ultimately prove extremely damaging to a brand, with more than half of the over-50s feeling that advertisers patronise them (see How the over-50s view marketing).

Grey campaigns

To create campaigns that do not speak down to this market, as with any market, involves gaining in-depth understanding. Ian French, strategic planner at direct marketing agency TDA, says that too many grey campaigns make a nod towards targeting by slapping on an image of a person of the right age. He says: “True targeting requires a detailed appreciation of the attitudes of the over-50s market.

“Even relatively straightforward measures, such as segmentation and profiling by age group within the over-50 demographic, can deliver revealing insights.

“People over 70 spent their formative years in wartime or post-war Britain and are generally suspicious of anything promising instant gratification. They were brought up to ‘cut their suit according to their cloth’ and have prudent values.

“On the other hand, people in their 60s will have been influenced by Elvis and The Beatles, the Suez and Cuban missile crises and the space race. They grew up in a time of volatility, but also of great possibilities. They are likely to be wealthier than their parents were, but they are still financially prudent and dislike debt.”

Once brand owners realise how their customers’ experiences affect their attitudes towards buying, the next and harder step is finding the right way to reach them.

French believes that, ultimately, it is not a matter of choosing which channels to use to communicate to this audience, but deciding how to use these channels appropriately. “The use of ambient, or digital or traditional channels should be a strategic decision based on an understanding of the role different types of media play in the lives of the target audiences,” he says.

Attention to detail

“Appealing to this demographic requires minute attention to detail both in strategic planning and in the finer points of art direction and copywriting.”

As so much advertising fails to impress the over-50s, many brands are clearly using the wrong language and images. It is not just marketers who are getting it wrong, but also designers of products and services. As Caroline Gibbs, senior planner at integrated agency Kitcatt Nohr, says: “Try finding a greeting card for anyone over 60 that doesn’t imply they’re either falling apart physically or are a few pennies short of the full shilling.”

Gibbs thinks this may be partly due to the age of those working in agencies. “I suspect the fact that people over 50 are pretty thin on the ground in the average advertising agency might have something to do with it,” she says.

Another reason why campaigns focus on a younger audience is because they are easier to reach. Andy Wood, managing director of database marketing specialist GI Insight, points out that the younger market is more responsive to marketing campaigns and is not as cynical as the older generations.

There is, however, a downside to focusing on youth. Wood claims that younger consumers are more likely to respond to the incentive, but then not buy, unlike their older counterparts. “If a consumer aged 45-plus has taken the trouble to respond then it is usually with more serious intent to buy,” he says.

According to Nick Lalaguna, business development manager of Help the Aged’s engage business network, marketing has been youth focused for a long time, but the ageing population is encouraging change and marketers are asking advice about how best to do this. He adds: “Through the engage network, for example, we are working with more than 50 companies that are allocating time and money to promote and share best practice to become more age friendly.”

Some sectors are better at reaching this audience than others. Following an online survey of over 1,000 UK consumers by GI Insight earlier this year, banks, the public sector and the music retail industry were criticised the most for sending out irrelevant, and poorly personalised communications to the 45-plus age group. The retail sector, on the other hand, was revealed to be the best at directing targeted offers and communicating in a relevant way. In particular, the techniques of British supermarkets met with the greatest approval.

GI Insight’s Wood argues this is because retailers, through their loyalty schemes, are in touch with their customers and tailor their communication to them as individuals.

As well as using the right creative approach, media strategies need to be tailored depending on the particular group being targeted. Those well into retirement, for example, may not be as easy to reach with an outdoor campaign as those who are still commuting to work.

Simon Jenkins, strategy director at media planning specialists MPG, says that older consumers tend to spend less time outdoors. To reach them with an outdoor campaign, he says the challenge is to try to get into the routines of the consumer. “For example, the weekly shop, the post office visit, and the regular round of golf.”

Jenkins gives the example of COI flu jab activity as a targeted out-of-home campaign, which had ads placed in GP surgeries, near pharmacies, in post offices and libraries. The campaign also targeted key retirement conurbations on the south coast, such as Bournemouth.

Tide turning

Now there are more people over 65 than under 16, marketers must continue to create campaigns that speak to adults in an adult way. It is heartening that Help the Aged’s Lalaguna says there are signs of improvement and that although some marketers still focus disproportionately towards the youth market, the tide does appear to be turning. He says: “More and more companies are realising the significance and opportunity of the ‘silver pound’.” 

Case study: The British Heart Foundation

The British Heart Foundation ran a campaign using outdoor specialists Mobile Media’s advans last year to encourage the over-50s to do 30 minutes of exercise each day. The campaign took place in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Swansea. The BHF used advans because it needed a large-format way to seek out its target audience in locations where they would spend time, such as shopping centres and high streets.

Mobile Media worked with outdoor agency Posterscope to ensure the vans were in areas where the target audience would be. A full route was put together for each driver to follow to ensure optimum coverage. Drivers also used their knowledge to make the campaign a success by spending more time patrolling busier areas than others.

The approach, created by London advertising agency Farm, uses bold photography that gets away from outmoded ways of portraying the over-50 market.

How the over-50s view marketing 

As a growing market, accounting for over 50% of the UK’s population, the over-50s should not be ignored by advertisers and marketers. By conducting an online survey, we delved a little further into understanding exactly why the over-50s think marketing and advertising are getting them so wrong.

Among the 500 over-50s surveyed, less than 20% believe marketers treat them as intelligent and discerning customers. Instead, 55% insist that advertising aimed at the mature market can often be highly patronising and 33% declared their unhappiness with advertisers stereotyping them as old fashioned and averse to technology.

When asked which channel most affects their purchasing decisions, over 25% selected web advertising and emails, second only to word of mouth and recommendations from friends. And only 16% of those asked claim they are influenced by television advertising and 12% are affected by magazines and newspapers.

The sample’s responses illustrated the unsatisfactory nature of marketing and advertising to the over-50s. Although there has been progress over the past 25 years, there is still room for improvement.

Fiona Hought, managing director of Millennium 

Case study: The Glenlivet Whisky 

The Glenlivet, one of the most famous Scottish single malts, appointed digital communications agency Reading Room to devise and produce a one-year eCRM campaign to increase awareness of its brand, attract new customers and make them loyal to the brand through its existing loyalty programme.

The campaign was launched in September 2008, and was a first for the brand. It initially set a target of 4,500 opt-in members from its target audience of 40- to 64-year-old affluent male drinkers, who would be prepared to register for further communication. The idea was to drive respondents to a microsite using two separate emails, one featuring a competition and the other a money-off coupon combined with an interactive tasting video. The video was produced in-house by Reading Room and featured Ian Buxton, an independent whisky expert, and Alex Robertson, the international brand ambassador for Chivas.

The creative approach needed to respect the heritage of the brand, and Reading Room’s research suggested that the demographic would respond positively to marketing that was not overly elaborate but did emphasise the key selling points of The Glenlivet – craft, tradition, quality and a sense of place. A simple graphic approach was created that embodied the key aspects of what makes The Glenlivet an enduring brand.

The campaign has had impressive results, with over 50% of site visitors registering for further communications. In addition to increased communication with its customers, an initial segmentation question to determine the average frequency of whisky drinking among the opted-in members gave The Glenlivet the ability to put a lifetime value against a potential customer, proving the project to have a potential worth of almost ten times more than the initial investment.

Case study: CUNARD 

Working in the luxury brand sector for Cunard Line Ocean, we have witnessed dramatic shifts in the behaviour of “grey” consumers. They have embraced new technology and use a wide variety of channels to research and book holidays. They are more selective about which media they consume and the subsequent advertising messages they digest. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, over-50s account for 33% of the total time spent online. To reach this audience brands need to be tactical with their marketing and create a meaningful dialogue.

Traditionally, direct mail and national press were reliable ways for Cunard to generate response and convert to bookings, but consumers now demand a deeper engagement with the brand before booking their holiday and it is no longer sufficient to rely solely on traditional channels. We had to understand the cruise purchase cycle and create through-the-line promotional campaigns that engage the consumer at all key touchpoints.

For the launch of its latest Ocean Liner, Queen Victoria (below), we created an integrated media schedule using an online virtual tour, digital display activity, PPC, premium outdoor sites and a national press campaign. This was a first for Cunard to use rich media content online. All elements worked together to increase awareness and excitement before launch, as well as providing valuable data capture opportunities. The online element alone generated over 33,000 clicks to the Cunard website, 1,430 brochure requests and bookings totalling £194,000.

Dwight Thomas, joint media director of Nexus/H


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