Marketing’s age concern

The rapidly ageing UK population isn’t just causing a pensions crisis, the marketing world is also being affected by the demographic changes.

She’s back. Isabella Rossellini, the actress and model who was allegedly dropped as the face of cosmetics brand Lancôme because she was too old at the age of 40, is making a new foray into the world of celebrity endorsements. Now 52, the elegant Italian will act as brand ambassador for Silversea Cruises and is to feature in print ads and brochures for the company as well as making appearances aboard the line’s ships “to create a photographic journal of her travels” (MW last week).

Beauty before age

Silversea says Rossellini was hired for her “timeless beauty” and ability to represent the brand’s Italian heritage. But a spokesman admits that her mature years will strike a chord with people aged over 50 who make up the bulk of the market for cruises.

The issue of how to promote brands to the burgeoning mature market is set to become a major concern for marketers over the next 20 years.

Cruises, coach tours, financial products and medicaments are age-specific and can be directly targeted at the senior market. But the bigger question is how best to promote products such as packaged groceries, new media, cars and clothes, which are bought by people across the age spectrum, when declining childbirth and increased longevity mean there are fewer consumers under 35 and more over 50.

The population is rapidly ageing. In 2020, there will be 5.2 million more people in the 45-to-74 age-group than there are today, according to census analysis by Future Foundation. In the 2001 census, it was revealed that for the first time there were more people over 60 (21 per cent of the population) than under 16 (20 per cent). By 2041, the over-75s will outnumber those aged between 55 and 74.

The Government is being forced to grapple with the demographic time-bomb as it addresses the pensions crisis and the realisation that many people will be heading into retirement with insufficient provision for their old age. One important question will be how to unlock the enormous spending power in retired people’s homes (see box). Another will be how marketers should tap into this income.

Marketers also sense a looming crisis. Some believe that the age shift will drive the conventions of 20th-century marketing into a crisis, as older people are harder to persuade to change brands or try out new trends. Consumer capitalism itself will suffer as new products have generally been aimed at younger generations.

Others see this as defeatism and believe it is the high numbers of young people working in marketing departments that make so much of their output unattractive to older audiences. They argue that marketing has become “ageist” and will have to change to accommodate the new realities.

Get ’em while they’re young

But sceptics point out that marketing is predicated on winning new customers under 35, whose brand preferences are then set for the rest of their lives. With their numbers shrinking, the take-up of new technologies will decline while the growth of new markets continues to stagnate.

Y&R Europe planning director Simon Silvester has explored the crisis in a report called “You’re Getting Old. Europe’s Demographic Problem is Your Marketing Problem”. In the Sixties, he argues, 3.5 per cent of adults in Europe were 20-year-olds coming of age. An effective three-year ad campaign could win over these fresh-faced consumers – only too willing to be persuaded to take up a brand – giving the product a chance of winning up to a ten per cent share of all adults. Many would then become loyal and heavy users of the food, detergent and toiletries brands as they went on to have large families. With a powerful advertising campaign, a brand could grab a quarter of a market’s volume within the space of a few years.

But today, newly maturing adults only account for two per cent of Europe’s population and they are having fewer children later. Silvester says that a successful campaign today would only deliver up to six per cent of total adults over three years. This is why developing countries such as Brazil, China and India are so attractive to brand owners – their young populations are ripe for persuasion.

Every cloud…

Given that most product preferences are set by the age of 35, this means a crisis for advertising new products and technologies. But there is a bright spot according to Silvester: “The ageing of Europe has slowed down marketing, but it will be good for brands because brand loyalty among older consumers is likely to be higher.”

He gives the example of Harley-Davidson motorcycles that revved up their cool status in the Sixties with the film Easy Rider. Most people who buy the bikes today are over-50s who bought into the image in the Sixties. Many of these will not have had the money – or the guts – to buy the product at the time. Sony has performed well in the new market for flat-screen televisions – many of these are bought by 50-year-olds who saw Sony as a cool brand in the Seventies. Much modern marketing that revamps brands from previous decades, using grainy old footage and swinging Sixties-style images, is seeking to revive the stored aspirations of the ageing population.

But Reg Starkey, a creative consultant working for grey market agency Millennium Direct, says it is a myth that older consumers are more loyal or less prone to brand promiscuity. He claims there is no evidence to support this. “It is wise to start marketing where the money is. Most products are bought by people aged between 45 and 59, so it makes sense to start with them rather than try to get people in their 20s and hope they will stay with you forever.”

A survey by Millennium, called GreyPower, showed that of 30,000 over-50s questioned, 74 per cent said they cannot relate to television advertising and most of them would like to see more mature people featuring in ads (MW last week).

Split into two

Even so, many over-50s do not want to be constantly reminded of their advancing years. Research group Future Foundation believes the over-55s should be viewed as two distinct groups, the “young elderly” or baby boomers, who came of age in the Sixties, and the “old elderly”, who were born before the Second World War.

Act your age

Future Foundation director Paul Flatters thinks that many advertisers will continue to shy away from using images of older people in their ads. He says: “There is an argument that older people will meet marketers in the middle. They are behaving like younger people, so maybe advertising won’t have to change much at all.”

Using the likes of Rossellini and other mature celebrities to promote age-specific products is on the rise. But many brands will continue to use youthful images knowing that most older people’s main aspiration is to feel younger.


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