Thinking of advertising to the over-50s?

NABER, the outdoor media company, recently asked me to write a short piece on advertising to the over-50s. In case you missed it, here it is again…

Thinking of advertising to the over 50s?

If you’re thinking of advertising to the over-50s, you’re in good company. It’s no longer just financial services and healthcare brands that are interested in this group –   mainstream brands in just about every category are also targeting this group in various ways. The business case is powerful: the size, growth and economic power of older consumers offer massive business potential.  While advertising wasn’t looking, the population got older. In fact, the over-50s now account for 35% of the population, but 45% of consumer expenditure and 75% of the wealth. This group will become increasingly important to most consumer markets over the next twenty years.

Avoid these common mistakes

However, before you rush off to plan your next over-50s campaign, consider this:  older people are resistant to advertising. A series of research studies in recent years have consistently told us that most older people believe that advertising either ignores them, even when they are purchasers of that category, or misunderstands them and depicts them in stereotypical and often demeaning ways.

One reason for this may be that while nearly everyone working in advertising is aged under 40, the majority of consumers are older than that.  Research tells us that unconscious age bias is inevitable and to overcome this, many agencies and brands now involve ‘mature marketing’ experts – people who are industry veterans, aged well over 50 and specialise in working with older consumers. That’s why NABER have asked me to write this article, rather than do it themselves.

Once you’ve decided to advertise to the over 50s, you’ve got a few important decisions to make. The media decisions are relatively straightforward and may involve a few simple tweaks to your media schedule. The creative decisions are more difficult. This is because the ‘over 50s’ are not a single market segment at all, but a large, complex and diverse group of people: in fact, we get more diverse as we age.

It follows that any creative that talks to us on the basis of our age is doomed to failure. Most of us do not think of ourselves in terms of our age. We may think of ourselves as younger than we are; we certainly do not wish to think of themselves as old at all; and we resist or ignore all implications of age.

However, while we may deny our age, that does not mean that we prefer to be treated as though we are really young. Avoid wacky depictions of older people doing unfeasible things like rapping, skydiving or surfing; tokenistic depictions of oldies (the still-attractive silver-haired woman, the jovial Grandfather with children on his shoulders); older people who look amazingly young for their age;   or any implication that youth is aspirational and the preferred default option. Most older people are happy in their own skin, believe it or not.

Five ways to improve your advertising

  • The ideal creative execution will be inclusive rather than age-focused (whether old or young). If you want to use images of people, think beyond using idealised stereotypes. Older people tell us that they prefer people who are ‘like them, but on a good day’ rather than people who are clearly unfeasibly youthful for their age. And do you need to show people at all? One cosmetics brand broke their mould by ditching the usual 20 year old model and using the distinctive image of a speckled brown egg instead.
  • The problems faced by consumers and the benefits promised by brands are usually the same, irrespective of age. Focus on product needs, usage and benefits, not age.
  • Seek visual clarity. Physical ageing is inevitable, including eyesight. This affects all aspects of design:  colour, contrast, font selection and layout, for example.
  • Tell a good story and tell it well. Older people are experienced consumers: of advertising as well as brands. They’ve seen it all before. They want facts and information and expect well-written and well-structured English (make sure you use a specialist copywriter: we can help!). Above all, they want to make up their own minds, based on the evidence.
  • Don’t rely on digital and social alone. We all know that increasing amounts of older people use digital and social media. But delve beneath the headlines and you will discover two important facts. First, there are still significant numbers of people aged over 65 who are not online. Second, of those who are online, a significant number lack confidence and experience, using digital and social only in a very cautious and limited way.  To reach older people, traditional media still have an important role to play.

I hope that by now you are asking one of these two burning questions. If you are advertising to the over-50s already:  how could we do this better?  And if you aren’t advertising to the over-50s,  why on earth not?    Please contact me if you would like to discuss either of these questions further.

Mark Beasley is Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association and Director of specialist ‘mature’ marketing agency, rhc advantage.

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