The ageing opportunity, ignored by brands

A recent proliferation of new brand straplines is pointing to an increased awareness of a ‘life-long’ audience brands want to talk to. This is good. For a long time now, women of my age (‘midlife’ or Queenagers to coin Eleanor Mills) have been protesting at the invisibility of their peers – watching them disappear from pivotal roles in the media and industry whilst men of a similar age continue unchallenged. 

But are brands delivering on their promises? Boots’ new strapline ‘With You for Life’ and John Lewis’ ‘For All Life’s Moments’ feel ‘all of life’ positive.

Yet John Lewis’s first advert with the new positioning couldn’t have been more traditionally millennial-focused.

Reinforcing the stereotype of child-birth and child-rearing at a certain age, in a certain social construct. Narrowing ‘all of life’ to the already cliched and overdone.  And missing more carefully considered audience insights. 

Targeting an audience on age alone just doesn’t work. Today we do things like starting work and having children at massively different ages and within many varied social constructs (if we do them at all). And the focus on Millennnials as THE target market for consumer spend completely misunderstands where value lies. 

The over 40s are now outspending the under 40s by 250%. Forbes sees women of 50+ as Superconsumers, holding spending power for up to 95% of household purchases. In the UK, the over 50s total over 23 million people (and growing) and represent the highest disposable income of any other age demographic. At age 65, outliving men by an average of five years, most women still have over 40% of life in front of them.  

And what are they doing? Well, they’re certainly not sitting around at home. The number of over 50s in work has increased by 36% in the last 20 years. By 2050, 47% of all over 50s will be in work. And the fastest growing workplace demographic is women over 50.

With this, life’s milestones are coming later. More babies are now being born to over 40s than to teenagers. And more are being born out of wedlock than in. Young people are staying in education and living at home longer as people stay in work longer. Many more people choose to live alone/unpartnered and many women over 40 are both single and childless.

The relentless fascination with marketing to 18-34 year olds is completely out of sync with where growth and value lies. And falling back onto the usual social mores just doesn’t hit home anymore.

An advert positioning a new mum in her 20s misses the massive swathe of working mums in their 30s and 40s. Assuming a 50+ woman is an empty nester ignores the many with younger children. And single women of an older age are arguably not targeted with anything much at all – even though they are the ones with income and time to spare.

Part of this being seen and marketed to also demands new products and services. Perimenopausal and menopausal women hit this stage on average at about the half-way point in life. Their reconfigured biology offers decades ahead that can be the absolute best but are more likely to be so with products and services addressing their symptoms and needs. 

These insights are not being translated into what this audience wants. 87% of menopausal women feel overlooked by brands and 97% feel brands should work harder for them. 73% hate the way their generation is patronized when it comes to technology and 86% believe style is not defined by age. The over 65s are the fastest growing Instagrammers and GenX spend more time online than GenZ.

Who knew? And how do we make effective change?

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The lack of value around older women in particular contributes to gendered ageism and less women making it to c-suite level. With less women in senior marketing roles and leadership dominated by millennial males, brands lack understanding of this pivotal consumer. Brands need to have lived experience to lean on to drive accurate representation in the consumer space.

Marketers have to dig deeper. There has to be a far clearer understanding of consumer psychology than traditional perceptions based on age provide. Brands must rely on insight not instinct. And making connections that go further than age will be more meaningful.

Eg GenX and GenZ show parallels that advertising doesn’t necessarily speak to. Both value meaning and purpose above status and money. Both are interested in mental health and wellbeing. Both crave work/life balance and fulfilling time away from work. They share interests and values even whilst being different ages. And inter-generational connections provide fertile breeding ground for insight and innovation too.

But these too are generalisations. And brands today can’t afford to generalise.

What I will generalise on, is this. That raising the status of age is good for everyone. Stretching out the lifespan in terms of milestones, goals and aspirations helps millennials see that they don’t have to cram in marriage, babies and career – and burn out – before they fall off their perch at 50. Helping GenZ breathe into their expansiveness and see that they have a 100 year life to fill, with no glass ceiling of health, work or life to stop them, will surely reduce the pressure on their mental health (GenZ mental health being 40% worse than older generations) giving them more chance of developing their full potential and the change the world needs.

Brands need to see all of life. And at the moment, that means pivoting the focus away from youth and onto age.

Age, where we all want to get to. Which brands owe it to us to make the longest and best destination ever. (And John Lewis, we’re hopeful for a Christmas ad that cracks it!)

To talk to Claire about insights or opportunities for your brand, please connect and message via LinkedIn or Instagram.