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‘The lost generation? Why aren’t more brands marketing to the over 60s?

07 May, 2015 - Source: Y&R London

It’s become accepted wisdom that brands and marketers are obsessed with extracting every pound possible from alienated Millennials while ignoring the burgeoning over-60s market.

This approach seems surprising given the long tradition in the marketing industry for coining (admittedly awful) terms to describe older consumers. “Silver Surfers” and “the Grey Pound” are among the more prominent examples.

It’s obvious that this group should be of interest to marketers beyond those touting free bus passes, Mediterranean cruises and discount deals at the local hair salon. The population of the UK aged 65 and over was 11.1 million (17.4% of the UK population) in mid-2013, up by 290,800 from mid-2012. The number of people in this age group increased by 17.3% since 2003, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Alongside increased life expectancy, brands will also be aware that people over 60 are relatively wealthy and are set to have even greater spending power following recent pensions reforms. Research from Saga shows that those over 50 hold 68.3 per cent of all UK household wealth at £7.8 trillion.

Some sectors grew wise to the potential some time ago, cinema for instance with the rise of films targeted at the over 60s audience following the success of The King’s Speech. This pattern continued with the recent release of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film’s star Dame Judi Dench told the Telegraph that the film captured the sentiment of many in her age group: “I don’t think age matters at all. What matters is your determination not to give up and not to stop learning new things, which I absolutely applaud.”

Many brands in major categories have yet to embrace this spirit. Despite the knowledge that those in, and approaching, their 60s, were children of the swinging 1960s and, therefore, unlikely to opt for the quiet pipe and slippers approach just yet. Just ask Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan or Susan Sarandon.

Brands stand accused of ignoring or patronising people over 60. Issues at play include the perceived notion that an older audience is more resistant to marketing messages, more set in its ways and less likely to switch brands. A further issue is an inbuilt bias in a marketing industry populated by younger people - the average age in agencies, for instance, is 34.

This bias could also extend to media channel selection, with a growing desire in the advertising business to create digital and social content combined with a misplaced perception that older groups aren’t interested in or capable of accessing it.

The reality is more complex. Research shows that while over-60s are big consumers of TV, national newspapers and internet content, their use of digital channels is also on the increase. Half own tablets, three-quarters own a laptop and 96 per cent said that they are more adept with technology than five years previously, according to research from property developer McCarthy & Stone published on Mail Online. More than half said they use Facebook, with YouTube used by 41 per cent. The report suggested that 72 per cent read their daily news online and 88 per cent used the internet to research deals, utility quotes and travel options.

Advertisers need to appreciate this and reflect the wisdom, achievements, and aspirations of this multi-faceted audience rather than caricature them as sofa-bound, silver-haired pensioners with a penchant for gardening. A good example being Marks & Spencer, which in its “Leading Ladies” campaign, celebrated women over 60 including Helen Mirren and Grace Coddington, photographed by the great Annie Leibovitz. The campaign respected its audience, showing the way forward for communications that makes connections based on attitudes and behaviours rather than age. 

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