Marketers only see older people through the lens of age

Marketers are forgetting that older people are consumers too, as they’re rarely featured in marketing campaigns and are only targeted with age-based products.

Tanya Joseph
Photographer: Rehan Jamil

I have just been investing time in understanding the output of a key media channel at a key scheduling point – or at least that is what I have been telling myself while spending the afternoon watching a bit of daytime TV – seriously, who doesn’t love a bit of Judge Rinder with a cuppa and Jaffa Cake?

It didn’t come as a surprise that almost all the advertising is aimed at unemployed people and old people – it makes complete sense they are the people most likely to consume at that time of day. What is striking is the content.

Unemployed people get ads for loans and debt consolidation, while old people are fed almost exclusively a diet of incontinence products and mobility aids. There are also the ads for cheap furniture, which presumably target both the unemployed and old people on the basis that the former can’t afford anything else and the latter will not want to spend much because they are going to pop their clogs at any moment.

Older people are consumers who buy most of the things that their younger counterparts do

Tanya Joseph

It is shocking and ridiculously crude. It is extraordinary to me that in these days of ‘nth degree’ targeting, such an unsophisticated approach is taken. It seems that marketers see older people just through the lens of age, which has made them a little short-sighted.

We know that older people have genders, ethnicities, different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and, yes, even sexual preferences. Really importantly, we also know that the number of over-55s is growing, as is their disposable income.

So why do we treat them as decrepit souls with weak bladders?

Why don’t we try to market all types of products to them? I am talking about mainstream health and beauty products, perfume, automotives, food. And while the ads change as the hours pass, the impact is not that different.


Turn on the TV during prime time, flick through a magazine – from weekly budget to glossy monthly, check out out-of-home sites and you won’t generally see older people, or let’s be honest anyone over 40, unless they are celebrities with the clout of George Clooney or Helen Mirren.

There are one or two notable and honourable exceptions but older people just don’t feature in mainstream campaigns. Marketers seem incapable of seeing them as anything other than old. They seem to have ignored or forgotten that consumers connect to ‘people like me’.

Marketers might secure more brand affinity if they included images of older people in their collateral – not wearing sad cardigans sitting on a stair lift or playing a grandparent but doing what other people do, such as, driving cars, cooking, wearing make-up, eating pizza, being active and being happy.

I could speculate that this happens because marketing and creative don’t have enough older people in their teams. Yes, I know senior directors tend to be older (and white and male – but that’s the subject of another column), but do they feature in the teams actually generating the work? I am not so sure.

READ MORE: The big debate: Is age discrimination rife in the marketing profession?

There are lots of programmes and initiatives to recruit bright young things; should there be something for their greyer counterparts? It won’t solve the entire issue but it would at least add a more informed voice to marketing discussions.

When I ‘bang on’ about diversity, as one former colleague so charmingly put it, I am not just talking about gender or ethnicity. I am talking about the whole kit and caboodle. It just makes good business sense. Diverse teams bring different perspectives.

Only when our industry is truly representative will we be able to deliver the most creative and best solutions for our clients. Only then can you truly reflect the target audiences we all love to bang on about.

Tanya Joseph is a consultant and was architect of the This Girl Can campaign at Sport England.