Why Aren’t More Brands Targeting Over 50s?

There are few countries in the world where the population is not ageing, and this will fundamentally impact economies and life as we know it. The US Census Bureau projects the over 65’s to almost double from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050. In the UK in 2015, 23% of the UK population were 60+, projected to grow 31% by 2030. The under 60’s are projected to grow by just 2%.

There are lots of them, but why’s that interesting? Well, if you look at the UK alone the over 50’s hold 80% of the wealth — and they like to spend it! Their consumer spending has grown on average 4.4% annually for the last ten years, compared with only 1.2% for their younger compatriots. SunLife’s annual ‘Cash Happy’ report found that average savings amongst the over 55 is double the UK average, with them holding £47,237 of the folding stuff. What they are going to do it with it then becomes very interesting!

And this isn’t just happening in the UK. A McKinsey Global Institute report last year identified the global consumers to watch. In the past, global consumption growth was driven by population growth. This is no longer the case as total population growth numbers slow. At the start of 2000, over half of global consumption growth came from increasing populations. This rate has slowed dramatically. By 2030 population growth will generate only 25% of global consumption growth. The remaining 75% will come and only come from rising per capita consumption. Basically, it will for the most part depend on how much each and every individual spends. Thus, knowing who’s the most likely to spend, where they are and what they prefer to purchase is going to be Marketing 101.

According to McKinsey, the over 60’s in developed markets will grow from 164 million in 2015 to 222 million in 2030, generating 51% of urban consumption growth in those markets and contributing 19% to global urban consumption growth. A further 10% will come from those over 60 in China alone.

The numbers don’t lie; the over 50’s are where the money is today, and in the future too! A prime target for most brands, one would think. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Lloyds banking group’s ‘Reflecting Modern Britain?’ inclusion and diversity study examined 1,340 TV and press adverts from 40 brands paid for by the top 20 advertising spenders in 2015. The results, needless to say, did not reflect modern Britain whatsoever and were mightily shameful for all concerned.

The over 65 represent nearly 18% of the population, but only appear in 6% of the advertising, and the ratios are even worse for other groups.

So how are older consumers portrayed in the adverts that they are actually in? For the most part, in stereotypes, as “the wise, generous, engaged parent or grandparent in a nuclear family”. Being of a certain age myself, and neither of these stereotypes, I can understand why only 47% of consumers felt that they were accurately portrayed by advertising.

A study by The Age of No Retirement backs this up with a staggering 90% of respondents aged 18+ feeling that there is too much ageism and generational stereotyping in the media.

Another study by SunLife of 50,000 consumers found that 89% of respondents said they believed brands weren’t interested in them, 74% thought they were never represented in mainstream ads, and 72% thought the representation of people over 50 was an out-dated stereotype.

What they found was that the 50+ were happier, wealthier and more carefree than when they were younger. That they feel younger both physically (four years younger) and mentally (ten years) and wouldn’t be ‘old’ until they reached 77, as they expected on average to live to 84. 61% were enjoying life more than ever as they had more time to spend on personal activities such as adventurous travel, sport and being active, learning a language or how to play a musical instrument. They were busier than ever and couldn’t care less what other people think, and many were single and dating. Sound familiar?

The over 50’s are not one homogenous group of oldies and advertisers need to stop treating them like one. Stereotyping is lazy! Future Thinking, in their Ageing Well study of  1,600 consumers aged 50+ in the UK, France, Germany and Spain identified six distinct groups. All of which were very different in terms of attitudes, behaviour and motivations in country and cross country.

Psychologists have shown that age stereotypes are one of our many unconscious biases. Age stereotypes are also stronger and more resistant to change than those about race or gender. Age is just a number. It’s not a defining characteristic. Attitude and behaviour are the discriminators.

“Fish where the fish are” is an old adage but, increasingly more relevant than ever before. Are you sure that you’re doing this? 50 year olds today bear no resemblance to their forebears in their attitudes and behaviours. It may be wise to reconsider.

When talking to your customers and trying to convince them to buy your products, you need to reflect who they are and even more importantly portray them as they see themselves, rather than how you see them! Understand your preconceptions, dig deep to get to the truth. I for one implore you to do so. In the meantime, these five brands stand out for doing just that!

1) AARP The Magazine – ‘Real Possibilities’

2) Lastminute.com

3) Toyota Venza – ‘Social Network’

4) Boots UK

a) No7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Serum with Alessandra Ferri

b) 7 Age Defying Serum with Amanda Foster

5) SunLife UK – ‘Welcome to Life after 50’

Life begins at 50. The last 49 years have just been a practice!


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