Close-Up: Is the industry ignoring old people?

Despite them having the money, advertisers are still disregarding the baby boomers.

According to some observers, so snail-like has been the ad industry's progress at communicating with the country's over-50s that Paul Kitcatt's "must do better" verdict would have been just as valid ten years ago as it was when he delivered it in last week's Campaign.

In fact, those adlanders who have been watching with alarm the growing disconnect between advertisers and their agencies on one side and a vast and growing grey market on the other, fear that the analysis of the Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw creative partner would be no different were he to review it ten years hence.

As one senior creative closely involved in the over-50s market puts it: "Every year, there's another conference on the subject and every year, clients turn up to say what terrific opportunities this market represents. Then they just carry on doing what they've always been doing."

Kitcatt, 52, argues that this is because advertising is obsessed by its own youthfulness, creating work for those who share that youthfulness while patronising or ignoring those that don't. He suggests that car-makers are particularly culpable, even though 61 per cent of their total sales are to the over-50s.

In theory, no demographic should be more important to advertisers than the over-50s - more than 21 million of them - who currently control around 40 per cent of consumer spending and 80 per cent of the country's wealth.

In practice, the story is very different, with both agencies and clients, apart from those in financial services, accused of a perpetual failure to reach mature consumers.

Last year, for instance, a survey by YouGov and Senioragency, the over-50s marketing specialist, found that among 1,500 mature consumers, 45 per cent believed ads showed how older people looked rather than how they felt.

In fact, Reg Starkey, a former senior creative at Leo Burnett and Young & Rubicam who has specialised in the over-50s market, suggests those consumers are becoming such voracious users of the internet because conventional advertising fails to give them the information they want.

What's more, sporadic attempts by the industry to exploit this market have invariably failed because of client disinterest. Senioragency is now aligned with its third UK agency - Doner Cardwell Hawkins - after less-than successful tie-ups with Grey London and the former Mitchell Patterson Grime Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Long Trousers, with which the veteran creative Andrew Cracknell planned to plug a gap in the market, never got off the ground. Only Millennium, the West Yorkshire-based agency set up 14 years ago to target the grey market, has survived and prospered.

The average age of those within the marketing communications business is mostly blamed for its failure to connect with the over-50s. According to the latest IPA census, 45.2 per cent of agency staff are under 30. Just 5.2 per cent are over 50. An estimated four out of 10 marketing directors are under 35.

"A 20-year-old can't think like a 50-year-old because they haven't been there," Kevin Lavery, Millennium's managing director and president of the International Mature Marketing Network, says.

Nevertheless, he sees signs of the divide being closed. "Corporate cultures are changing as clients recognise how important and influential the baby-boomer generation has become," he says. "Hardly surprising when so many chief executives are now of that generation."

CLIENT - Ian Armstrong, head of customer communications, Honda

"I think car advertising in general is quite traditional. There's been so many commercials showing cars roaring down mountainsides because it's the way it's always been done and nobody thinks you can do anything different.

"The aim is to create ads that will appeal to people irrespective of their age. After all, age is a state of mind and the age at which we consider ourselves to be old gets older all the time.

"Our ads are all about our philosophy that we hope people will embrace. I hope we'll never produce ads that target particular age groups."

AGENCY HEAD - Andrew Hawkins, managing director, Doner Cardwell Hawkins

"The situation isn't improving because not enough agencies and advertisers are treating mature consumers with empathy and understanding. This market isn't a homogeneous mass in which one size fits all. A 50-year-old has more in common with a 25-year-old than with somebody in their nineties.

"Advertising is all about aspiration but there's a false assumption that you can't be aspirational unless you're young. Also, nobody wants to be seen launching products at mature audiences.

"Digital-led communication holds the key to change because it's there that mature consumers can interact with brands in their own time and space."

SPECIALIST - Kevin Lavery, managing director, Millennium

"When the baby boomers were 18, they were regarded as the most important generation as far as marketers were concerned. That generation has moved on. But the marketers have not moved on with it.

"The need isn't for campaigns that specifically target older people. The greatest ads have always been those that are the most inclusive.

"The media could help. I bet if you asked The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express how many older readers they have, they wouldn't be able to tell you. But you can be sure they know how many 18- to 24-year-olds they're attracting."

AGENCY HEAD - Moray MacLennan, worldwide chief executive, M&C Saatchi

"Most clients are pretty sophisticated when it comes to targeting. They know where the money is and the media is available to enable them to go after it. What's more, agencies have the technology and the professionalism to make them better at it.

"Having said that, I'm not sure whether the mature market has been exploited as well as it could be. The fact is that pursuing older customers doesn't generate the same excitement as going after young ones. Yet it's the baby boomers who have the money and the power, particularly in the media."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com.

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