Mark Beasley speaks at House of Lords

Mark Beasley, director of rhc advantage and Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association, was invited to speak at the House of Lords today at a symposium on business and older consumers.  Hosted by Lord Filkin, the event was organised by the South East England Forum on Ageing.  A transcript of Mark’s speech is below.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The specific question I have been asked to address today is this: why does business neglect the older consumer?

I am happy to tackle this issue, as there is strong research evidence to suggest that this is likely to be the case in many – but not all – businesses.

This very question was asked by the marketing director of the insurance company Sun Life a week or so ago, when he launched their new £24 million ’50-plus’ advertising campaign.

He was quoted as saying: “Why do we discriminate against a group we all fervently hope we’ll join.”

By saying this, he inadvertently revealed the first of my four hypotheses as to why business is neglecting the needs of older consumers – an ‘Us and Them’ culture. It goes something like this.

We – the youthful movers and shakers of the business world – make the decisions for them – that large, amorphous, group of older consumers over there.  And never the twain shall meet!

The culture underpinning this is rooted in the belief that creativity, energy, and innovation are youthful attributes. And that these things decline with age, to the extent that business decisions affecting older people must necessarily be made by the young.

As a result of this somewhat divisive culture, older people are seen as largely irrelevant to today’s technology-led, fast-moving, cool-grooving business world.

The culture of business generally – and marketing in particular – is predominantly one of coolness and youth.

The dress codes, language and office environments of any of the global corporations who dominate our economy – and those who service them – are designed to appeal to younger people.  In the business world, age just isn’t sexy.

This leads to my second hypothesis,  which is that employment practices in business lead to ageist business practices.

Most people working in marketing are aged under 50 and – as research demonstrates  – are pre-disposed to see ‘age’ through a negative filter –  if they see it all.

Apathy, disinterest, a lack of empathy and misperceptions about older people are almost inevitable.

In fact, the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Agency Census tells us that in the UK, 50% of staff in advertising, media and marketing communications agencies are aged below 30.

Just 5% are aged above 50.

Compare this to the real world, where 32% of the UK workforce  is aged over 50.  These sort of employment practices just don’t make much sense in  a society with an ageing workforce.

My third hypothesis is that the failure of marketing as it is practiced in many businesses has led to the failure of business to address our ageing population as effectively as it might.

For various reasons, marketing has lost its seat at the top table of business. Arguably, it has failed to demonstrate its value and in many businesses is now little more than a business support function, managing advertising and promotion, instead of directing long-term business strategy, as it should.

Marketing people are central to the change that is required and it is the aim of the Mature Marketing Association and my own consultancy to influence them accordingly. As you can imagine, it’s an uphill struggle.  It is perhaps telling that there are few marketing people here today.

All this has meant that long-term marketing planning – which would involve identifying and responding to demographic change – is not always practiced, except in most global marketing-driven corporations .

When viewed year on year, demographic change is insignificant. Hence, short-term marketing planning will never identify it as a strategic priority –  nor address it.

Only long-term strategic planning can do that and in the absence of that, there are perhaps other more compelling calls for investment – which leads me to my fourth hypothesis.

For business to change its culture, its planning processes and its employment practices require leadership from senior management. Without this, nothing much will change.
It is significant that few senior business leaders are here today – they must be part of the debate if there is to be any chance of significant change.

Because in the absence of a very strong business case to invest in marketing to older consumers, businesses are investing elsewhere, where they believe they can find a better return on investment.

In fact, the number one investment priority for CEOs, according to Accenture, is technology.

Developing markets – the BRIC countries and elsewhere – are also areas where corporates have been investing heavily, in the expectation of good returns in the relatively short-term.  And of course, these are markets which do not have ageing populations.

A strong business case for a greater focus on older consumers is required –  – and communicated to senior business leaders – if there is to be change.

So, to summarise.  I have outlined four hypotheses as to why business neglects the older consumer. These are:

  1. An ‘us and them’, youth-oriented, business culture
  2. Ageist employment practices
  3. The failure of marketing and the weakness of marketing planning
  4. A strong business case is not being made to senior business leaders, meaning that resources are directed elsewhere

Thank you.            

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