Advertising to an Ageing World

Priyanka Gothi

May, 08 2019, 4:57 AM

Let's face it. The world is addicted to the youth.

Be it the movies, advertising or even the subjects of our research. All we crave to understand is what makes the youth tick, how they eat, how they watch TV and make all important life choices.

We firmly believe that younger equals more valuable and chase young employees and audiences to learn from them and find ways to delight them.

But is it really true? Or is it us just tracing the behaviour reinforced by centuries of practice?

In a rapidly ageing world, being ageist is dangerous and ignoring this group all the more.

As this excellent article by Alex Murrell in Medium notes, the over 50s are seriously under-represented in advertising.

According to Campaign’s Simon Gwynn, the over 50s make up a third of the UK population but hold 80% of the wealth. But not only does this older age group have more money, they’re also not afraid to spend it. Nielsen broached this subject in a recent report:

“While it’s well established that Boomers have the most money to spend, there is a bias to believe that older people spend less of what they have. While this may have been true of the generations of older consumers that preceded the Boomers, it simply does not apply to this generation.”

The over 50s spending is so high, in fact, that they account for the majority of value in many categories. Campaign found they make up 60% of all car sales. Lonely Planet claim they account for 58% of spending in travel and tourism. Barclays believe they are responsible for 58% of hospitality and leisure sales. Kantar found they account for 50% of healthy and beauty value sales and Nielsen report that they make up 49% of all FMCG sales.

In Hong Kong as well, Seven in 10 older consumers in Hong Kong feel let down by the range of goods and services catered to their age group even though many have cash to spare, says an SCMP report 

To put it bluntly, the over 50s are the most valuable generation in the history of marketing.

And yet they are ignored by almost all advertising.

It is estimated that only 5% of advertising dollars are targeted to adults aged 35–64. Imagine how small that figure would be if we were to focus in on the over 50s only. The world’s TV screens, social feeds, billboards and press ads are full of shiny, happy twenty-somethings. Not a wrinkle, spare hour or bulging bank account in sight.

Bob Hoffman notes

"Marketers, it seems, would rather pander fruitlessly to young people than make real money selling things to old people.
The idea of people over 50 driving their cars, drinking their coffee, eating their hamburgers, and wearing their sneakers is so appalling and such an embarrassment that they willfully ignore and disparage the most valuable economic group in the history of the world......Today, marketers are just as likely to target people simply because they are young -- even though they have no money and cannot and will not buy their products . Conversely, they are just as likely to ignore people who are old -- even though they have lots of money and are prime targets for their products."

While most advertising would refuse to venture near a wrinkled face, those that do feature overwhelming stereotypes.

Angry, frustrated, grumpy, forgetful, physically debilitated, digitally incompetent are some of the common ways in which this group is caricaturized time and again.

A series of ageist ads called “Don’t Vote” got some attention recently. The videos feature caricatures of angry older people telling young voters to keep away from the polls. The purpose was to scare young people into voting by pitting them against older voters on a number of key political issues. 

Senior Planet expressed its disgust about this campaign by emphasising the toxicity of this campaign .. "At a time when our society is more divided than ever, this series is despicable on so many levels we’ve lost count. Every tired cliche about older people…and some new ones…are on display. All this feeds into a very real and very unhealthy generational dynamic"

What's bizarre is that instead of an empathy driven approach to delight this customer segment - campaigns such as these are only alienating older target audiences.

Age discrimination impacts how we see ourselves evolving - As a millenial I dont have any older age role models, thanks to reductive advertising that barely explores the nuances of the 'modern elder'. I don't see older women who are working, volunteering, engaged in the community and that needs to change if brands are to stay relevant and authentic. 

If brands want to stay relevant and tap into this growing silver economy, they need to pivot their approach to representing older consumers and develop products and services that don't use a one size fits all approach and leverages a human-design centred approach to be meaningful, respectful. 

Our 3 top ways to do this:

  1. Steer clear from big age buckets (E.g: 50-70 years of age): Older people are not one homogenous set of people. 50-60 year olds are young old, who are not very different from Gen X in terms of attitudes towards work, technology know how etc. People over 75 are more sensitive towards health needs nd less attracted to career goals. In a nutshell, they're not all the same and need a nuanced understanding to develop impactful marketing strategies
  2. List down everything you believe to be true about this age group. Now throw away that list: What you think you know about older folk is not true. They are not all a grumpy, rigid, tech-unsavvy, sedentary, senile lot. Generalising this segment is harmful and alienates this cash rich audience. The modern 60 year old has life aspirations, high degree of awareness, a well informed point of view, a desire to experience and achieve and doesnt see him/herself as old and dowdy - so why depict them that way? Start observing the new 60 year old and reframe the conversation.
  3. Understand the extremes, but don't design just for them: Its important to know how requirements change as people age - but often we get stuck with the extremes and end up designing only for the extreme use cases - such as people with dementia, vision impairment or those who are not physically ambulant. Don't forget the ones who lie in the middle. The 50-65 year old today is highly aware, consumerist, conscious about health and life choices and has saved up to spend. By focusing on the extremes, you don't look at this cohort at all and miss on valuable opportunities. 

Want more ideas?

Reach out to us for ideation, focus groups or workshops on understanding how you can successfully create propositions for this exploding age group.