Marketing and older consumers: Jamie Oliver, payment ninjas and positive action

Mark Beasley asks:  is Jamie Oliver to blame for the failure of marketing to connect with many older consumers?

TV cook Jamie Oliver has attracted widespread derision for giving brexit as the reason for closing six of his restaurants.  A conservative MP has suggested that he should look closer to home: perhaps his restaurants just haven’t met consumer expectations.

After all, it is unlikely that Jamie has much influence on the meal you eat at one of his restaurants.  It is more likely that your dining experience will be in the hands of a number of low paid, unskilled young people, some of whom may have only recently learned how to eat with a knife and fork. Let us further assume that the restaurants are operated by a management focused on operational efficiency, supplier cost reduction and zero hours contracts.

Lured in by the promise of Jamie’s loveable mockney personality, cooking skills and love for food, you will inevitably be disappointed. After all, Jamie hasn’t been there since the opening – and he kept the engine of his car running then.  It’s just another chain restaurant.  In fact, it is possible that by building the whole brand around Jamie, the enterprise was doomed from the outset.

Too often, that’s the problem with marketing:  the yawning gap between promise and delivery.

Remember cognitive dissonance?

If you have studied marketing, you will probably be familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance:  that post-purchase state of mind when consumers realise that their product or service experience has not met the expectations generated by marketing communications. If you are an older consumer, you will almost certainly have experienced it.  Probably on a daily basis.

I’m going to go one stage further and suggest that many older consumers experience cognitive dissonance before they purchase – as well as after.  When exposed to marketing propositions and communications, they know – almost immediately – that this is a promise that cannot possibly be delivered.

Furthermore, they may also think that this is a promise which is quite ludicrous, completely at odds with reality and of no interest or relevance to them – even though they are likely to be potential customers for that product. The over-50s outspend the total population in most mainstream categories, remember?

Take the current TV advertising for MBNA, the biggest credit card provider in the world.  In order to boast about their credit card prowess, they opt to use four nerdy twenty-something ‘payment ninjas’ who ponce about claiming to be ‘boringly good at credit card stuff’.  Is it really credible that the expertise of such a large organisation (whose directors are all in their 40s, 50s and 60s) is vested in these people? I assume that the target audience for credit cards is quite broad – but is this likely to appeal to anyone of any intelligence or age?  This sample of one says not, but I welcome your opinions.

Older consumers and marketing:  please, get real

My hypothesis runs as follows. Older consumers are experienced consumers.  And as experienced consumers, they are likely to be less responsive and more cynical to marketing.  We’ve been there, seen it, done it and returned the Tshirt. We are sceptical about the marketing promise and quick to judge if the experience does not match the promise.

To appeal to us, marketing needs to be more realistic. It needs to support propositions with relevant information and facts and to deliver what it promises.  It needs to stop patronising us with fatuous drivel (remember when TV advertising was good? But that’s for another day). Instead, we are given payment ninjas and an obsession with youth.

Research has told us this for many years now.  Ten years ago, academics Smizgin and Carrigan concluded that ‘despite all the evidence, advertisers continue to pursue youth’.  In 2015, JWT found that 73% of people 50-69 say they don’t pay attention to ads because they don’t seem relevant.  I could go on about this subject at length – and in the Mature Market Report, I do.

So, to answer my own question:  is Jamie Oliver to blame for the failure of marketing to connect with many older consumers? The answer is of course, no. Jamie is a decent bloke, good cook and no economist. However, the closure of six of his restaurants suggests that, with an ageing population, marketers should be ever more careful to make realistic and deliverable promises,  not spout the meaningless guff that often passes for branding and communication.

Positive action for older consumers

We believe that older consumers deserve better.  That’s why we formed rhc advantage – a marketing consultancy to help brands connect better with older consumers:  from one-off professional copywriting or design, to educational seminars, to strategic planning, to brand communications.  All with older consumers in mind and not a payment ninja in sight. For a friendly discussion, why not get in touch?

It’s also why a group of us formed the Mature Marketing Association in 2013. We felt that those of us interested in marketing needed to get together and promote the subject to the rest of the marketing world. We now run Europe’s largest conference on the subject and this year, launch the Mature Marketing Awards. We’d love you to join us!

With all good wishes for a successful year,

Mark Beasley
Director – rhc advantage
Chairman – Mature Marketing Association
Email Mark

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