A Review of the 2017 Mature Marketing Summit. Marketing’s inconvenient truth?

The Mature Marketing Summit took place on October 10th, 2017. It was the fourth such event, organised by the Mature Marketing Association (MMA), and is now established as Europe’s leading ‘mature marketing’ conference. Once again, it was chaired by Mark Beasley of rhc advantage, who is also Chairman of the MMA.

150 delegates – from businesses and organisations large and small – enjoyed a full day of eight expert speakers and four networking sessions, including a seated ‘Power Lunch’, in a modern air-conditioned conference centre in Central London.

The best and only conference of its type in Europe. Why?

The feedback was overwhelming: it was an excellent event and the best summit yet. But as one delegate commented: ‘Given the importance of the subject-matter, it is absolutely amazing that the Mature Marketing Summit is the only conference of its type in Europe. What is even more amazing is that it is also one of the best marketing events I have ever attended. In fact, despite being run on a voluntary basis by the MMA, it out-performs most so-called ‘professional’ marketing conferences on all counts. ’

As this delegate suggests, the lack of attention paid by marketing to our ageing population is indeed amazing. After all, this is one of the most important megatrends to face business: the size, growth and partially-tapped economic power of older consumers offer huge business potential. Get it right and both consumer and business will benefit. But to get it right, marketing needs to grow up. An obsession with youth made sense in the 1950s and 60s, when marketing developed to meet the needs of a much younger population. But that was then, and this is now.

It is perhaps not surprising that the inconvenient truth of population ageing is at odds with today’s technology-driven, fast-moving, cool-grooving marketing culture. The fact that the vast majority of people working in marketing are aged under 40 may also be a factor – but while this is a good debating point to make, there is limited evidence to support it. Age, as we all keep saying, is irrelevant – and this cuts both ways.

However, Marketing’s Inconvenient Truth – that the majority of consumers are actually aged over 40 – is not going to go away anytime soon. The Mature Marketing Summit is part of the MMA’s continued efforts to address the age myopia of business and marketing.

Marketing’s Inconvenient Truth

The facts about population ageing and its implications for marketing have been in the public domain and the marketing press and literature for the past 25 years – perhaps more. These three things we know: population ageing in developed markets is a megatrend which will continue for the foreseeable future; this group represents significant economic power, but also presents complex economic challenges; and if older consumers are not ignored all together by marketing, they are targeted en masse, expected to default to the norms of younger people, or stereotyped in unrealistic and often patronising ways by advertising.

None of this is new. However, it continues to be important and we need to be reminded of these facts – or in some cases, have them brought to our attention for the first time. Many of the speakers at the Mature Marketing Summit did what advertising does best – they dramatised a known truth, commanded our attention and interest, and made us want to do something about it.

So what actually happened on the day?

The speakers – all highly-rated by delegates – covered topics ranging from advertising, design, digital and direct marketing through to a marketing case study, middle-aged women. PR and research.

No-one demonstrated my previous point (what advertising does best) better than the first speaker, Robin Wight – founder of WCRS and advertising legend. ‘Does advertising have any idea of how to talk to the biggest spending consumer group of all time?’ he asked, going on to answer his own question with a clear ‘no’. The fact that he is 72 should of course be irrelevant, but given that this is unusual in advertising, let it be said that he retains all the enthusiasm and intelligence for which he is famous.

Apart from anything else, this was an object lesson in presentation skills, although quite why the presentation ended with a series of ads for Warburton’s bread, amusing as they were, was a little unclear. Robin also entered a plea for agencies and clients to avoid youth bias by involving more ‘late radicals’ like himself – older people with solid marketing credentials – in their planning and campaigns. A service offered by the MMA, incidentally (contact me for details).

Robin’s credentials as a ‘late radical’ were eclipsed by those of another speaker: direct marketing guru, Drayton Bird, 81. David Ogilvy said that “Drayton Bird knows more about direct marketing than anyone else in the world” and Drayton spoke from the heart (rather than from notes or PowerPoint slides) about how ultimately, mature marketing is simply good marketing. As one delegate said, ‘When Drayton stopped swearing, he spoke a lot of good sense.’ I disagree: the swearing made sense too.

Karen Strauss, Chief Strategy and Creativity Officer, and Kelly Kenny, from Ketchum, one of the world’s largest PR and communications firms, took a different approach. No swearing was heard and inter-generational working partnerships were preached and practiced: Kenny, in her 20s, and Strauss (possibly a few years older, let’s not go there) work together. Their main hypothesis was that age is – or should be – irrelevant, and marketing should be inclusive.

The winners of the first-ever Mature Marketing Awards were announced by MMA Vice-Chairman, Kevin Lavery. Intended to celebrate and promote excellence in mature marketing, the five category winners were: Age UK Mobility, Doro, Grand UK Holidays, SunLife and Sunswept Resorts. These provided five excellent case studies: an essential ingredient in any marketing conference. More information

Remember Lunch?

There was a time when lunch played an important role in the world of marketers and (especially) advertising folk. To commemorate these great days, we didn’t just have lunch, we enjoyed a Power Lunch. With a seating plan, a table host, and an agenda of pre-prepared questions from each delegate, conversation flowed easily and indeed volubly – as did the wine (unusual for any conference these days). This innovation made it very easy for delegates to meet and talk and made ‘networking’ less of a cliché and more of a reality.

More great speakers

Professor Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design, Royal College of Art, was the highest-ranked speaker at the first Mature Marketing Summit and did not disappoint this time either. Drawing on the successful ‘New Old: Design for our future selves’ exhibition that he curated earlier this year at the Design Museum, he gave practical examples of solutions to the key design challenges for an ageing society.

‘Welcome to the Big Five –Oh – Yeah’, was the theme chosen by Ian Atkinson, Marketing Director of SunLife. Ian explained the thinking behind SunLife’s new £23m advertising campaign, drawing upon what is believed to be the largest piece of research ever conducted amongst the ‘over 50s’, which included interviews with 50,000 people. This case study of ‘mature marketing’ in action proved to be one of the highlights of the day.

Professor Leela Damodaran , Professor of Digital Inclusion, Loughborough University took a more academic approach to dispel some myths around digital technologies and older people. However, this was far from dry as Leela – as well as her impressive academic credentials – was able to draw on her experience of working with government departments, ‘blue-chip’ companies and groups such as Ofcom and the Government Digital Strategy team.

‘How can brands connect better with middle-aged women?’ asked Sandra Peat, the co-founder of consultancy Superhuman. This is something that brands clearly need to consider, as although women dominate the consumer economy, controlling 85 per cent of global spend, 74 per cent of women aged over 40 feel that brands do not accurately reflect their needs and desires.

The final speaker was Sophie Schmitt, CEO of Seniosphere Conseil, who took as her theme ‘How are Baby Boomers preparing for their longevity?’ Sophie based her presentation on ‘Ageing Well 2017’, which focused on the attitudes of 1500 respondents aged 50-75 years, carried out across the UK, France and Germany.

The day was ably chaired by Mark Beasley, Chairman of the MMA, and Sally Winfield, CEO of sponsors, Accord, who provided humour, insight and statesmanlike skills in equal measure.

Delegate feedback

The event received extremely positive feedback from delegates, with scores in excess of previous years. Approval ratings of 90% and above were received for the overall event, the speakers, the venue and the catering, with the Power Lunch also getting an honourable mention.

  • ‘It was a great event with some very colourful speakers! Think it was the best one so far.’ – Jonathan Wilson, AXA-PPP
  • “The conference was really well-organized and informative – much more so than others I’ve attended. One key difference is that each presenter told a real-world story – challenges, analysis and solutions – rather than a generic pep talk on geezer-world. Anyway, I took a ton of notes.” – Barry Robertson, Boomer-Next, USA
  • ‘I was very impressed with the quality of speakers and how well organised everything was’ – delegate, Hargreaves Lansdown
  • “Just a quick note to say thank you for yesterday’s event. I found it informative and entertaining. I also made some good connections.”– National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Newcastle University
  • “Congratulations for assembling a great lineup of speakers yesterday and for putting on a well run conference.” – Ketchum
  • “I just wanted to say thank you for the MMA summit yesterday, and to congratulate you on a great event. It was very insightful. Many thanks, Trifonia Asmar”
  • “Just to say thank you so much for Tuesday – absolutely loved it and took so much from the day.” – Marketing and Communications Manager, Brightlife
  • “Just to say a big thank you for a really good day – I thought it was the best MMA conference I have been to. I learned a great deal and was very impressed by the speakers. The power lunch was fun and a great way to network and discuss ideas.” – MD, Silver Travel Advisor
  • More anonymous comments: ‘Best summit to date’; ‘Power Lunch was a great idea. Gave you the opportunity to discuss topics raised and hear others thoughts and opinions.’; ‘All very varied and great presenters’; ‘Fantastic day, really interesting, thank you!’


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