A mere five years ago, marketers were all over millennials,
fawning over their do-for-self mindset and love for experiences. Come 2020, attention shifted to Gen Z’s love of sustainability and TikTok-fuelled democratised creativity. Fast-forward another two years and some brands are casting aside Gen Z in favour of Gen Alpha. Adland’s ageist focus shifts faster than you can say ‘OK Boomer’.
And yet our industry’s obsession with younger audiences means we’re missing a trick. Sure, younger generations may set the majority of trends. But that doesn’t mean they have the majority of the country’s spending power. Over 50s comprise nearly 50% of the UK population and represent almost 70% of household wealth. They are fast becoming the biggest spenders in every single category. Meanwhile, younger audiences, who are at the beginning of their earnings journey, are being hit harder by the cost-of-living crisis and recessionary horizon.
Not only are over 50s wealthier, they are also more experienced and arguably wiser. In fact, they have many unique facets that should intrigue strategists and creatives. As the people who experienced everything from post-war austerity through to punk and rave, they are also the generation that has grown up with both analogue and digital.
Despite such rich and diverse characteristics, marketers often act like people cease to matter as they grow older. But the 1990s 20-something who loved tech, music and early video games doesn’t quit loving those things as they grow older. Instead, their interests become supercharged by an increasing level of disposable income.
You’d think brands would follow this powerful combination of personal passion and disposable income. But, no. Instead, the misconception that people become less relevant or influential as they age (TikTok’s grandmother coastal trend, anyone?) means that ageism continues to put the blinkers on brands. This leaves a gaping hole in the market; a hole featuring £6-trillion in spending power.
In our culture, over-50s are either completely overlooked, or stereotyped based on outdated ideas. Only 12% of UK adverts currently feature an over-50 in a leading role. 87% of over-50s feel under-represented in technology campaigns, 84% in fashion, 79% in entertainment and 76% in cosmetics. Nearly two-thirds (62%) believe they are ignored because advertisers are too young to understand the demographic, with 88% saying brands and agencies should employ more older people.
When elder people feature in advertising, they are routinely misrepresented and caricatured as a one-dimensional and singular demographic; people in need of pity and help. This homogeneous and lazy lumping together of elder people into a trope of frailty belies the fact that this audience’s life stage and mindset makes them prime targets for authentic engagement.
Empty nests mean this section of society is more time-rich. They can actively look to rekindle old passions and and are hungry for new experiences. Plus, as the rat race comes to an end for many, they can generally afford a slower pace and intentional mindset, leading to more life-enhancing adventures. What’s more, their brand loyalties — and wealth — will be organically passed down to their children, thus creating a natural UGC, WoM system.
Far from being past their sell-by date, over-50s are a compelling prospect for marketers. This cohort’s openness to experiences makes them a prime target for experiential marketing in particular. And yet the industry, especially the brand experience side of the market, needs a drastic mind shift if it is to capitalise on this missed opportunity. It too often feels like brand experiences are chasing younger and younger audiences.
The right brand experiences have potential to drive immense brand love and affinity amongst this audience. But brands need to shift from demographics to psychographics, using attitude and lifestyle, not age, as the defining qualities. The over-50s are not a monolith. They straddle both Baby Boomers and Gen X, thus spanning all the glorious differences and nuances that lie within.
This generation has a wildly varied appetite that goes way beyond cruises, funeral plans and walk-in baths. And it’s an appetite fuelled by colourful humour, character and spirit. So it’s time to put the tropes of frailty and dormancy to one side. As a proud over-50 myself, I feel terribly unwanted and unloved by the majority of brands out there. I may be playing in the 2nd half of the game, but I’m still too young, experienced and wise to be dismissed as solely being interested in stairlifts.
Featured image: cotttonbro / Pexels