GREY MEDIA: THE AGE GAP - They’re rich and available, but publishers don’t yet know how to reach the over-50s, Lucy Hone writes

Publishers are forever on the look-out for an untapped market. In the 80s it was women’s monthlies, in the 90s it was the men’s turn as IPC’s Loaded launched the lads’ mag phenomenon. And now, as we enter the 21st century, it’s the oldies’ turn. Not convinced? Well, it appears you’re not alone. The demand is clearly there: the over-50s comprise over a quarter of the population and, even more crucially, hold the purse strings to three quarters of the country’s personal wealth. But somehow the statistics have yet to prompt a spate of glossy magazines targeting the lucrative grey pound.

Publishers are forever on the look-out for an untapped market. In

the 80s it was women’s monthlies, in the 90s it was the men’s turn as

IPC’s Loaded launched the lads’ mag phenomenon. And now, as we enter the

21st century, it’s the oldies’ turn. Not convinced? Well, it appears

you’re not alone. The demand is clearly there: the over-50s comprise

over a quarter of the population and, even more crucially, hold the

purse strings to three quarters of the country’s personal wealth. But

somehow the statistics have yet to prompt a spate of glossy magazines

targeting the lucrative grey pound.



However, there have been forays into the market. One of the latest being

the launch, at the end of last year, of a glossy magazine for women over

55 called New Directions by Wise Information. It bullishly positioned

itself as a totally new kind of magazine - a Marie Claire for the

over-50s - bright, glossy, and targeting all would-be Helen Mirrens. The

launch team was adamant that a title providing the ageing Baby Boom

generation with an upbeat mix of fashion, beauty and lifestyle

editorial, was long overdue.



They are obviously not alone in this realisation. Saga, the

biggest-selling magazine in the 50-plus market with a circulation

approaching one million, has also taken its editorial in a similar

direction over recent years. So much so that its editor, Paul Bach, is

adamant that we define Saga as a general interest, rather than ’grey’

publication. ’Our breadth of editorial coverage makes us stand apart

from the so-called grey titles: we’ve got the widest range of editorial

content among all UK general interest magazines. If we’re close to any

one product then it’s Reader’s Digest, but I don’t see us as competing

in the grey market at all,’ Bach comments.



Saga has scaled down the proportion of ’care’ ads and introduced sexier

front covers featuring the likes of Twiggy and Kevin Keegan. In last

autumn’s redesign even the name Saga was reduced to secondary

significance on the front cover. Bach explains: ’We found that, among

younger women in particular, just the name Saga made them pick the

magazine up gingerly between thumb and forefinger and drop it straight

in the bin. Our median age is still well over 60 but it’s coming down,

and we want to reflect that by producing a magazine that appeals to

people in their 50s, as well as those in their 80s.’



Saga’s circulation may be impressive but relative to the potential

audience of 19 million, it has hardly scratched the surface.

Furthermore, out of the big guns in the glossy magazine world, only Emap

- joint publisher of Choice and Yours - seems to regard this market as a

worthwhile publishing opportunity.



So why are publishers of the big women’s glossies so backward about

coming forward in this burgeoning market? And why do they continually

strive to reinvent faltering titles such as Woman’s Journal, Good

Housekeeping and the now closed Options, by making them younger?



Simon Kippin, publishing director of Good Housekeeping at the National

Magazine Company, denies that he is trying to make the title

younger.



Despite the lack of a dedicated grey title, Kippin insists that NatMags

does not overlook women over 50, and through Good Housekeeping

understands and caters for this sector. ’We do recognise the value of

this market, and I do not want to make Good Housekeeping younger, but we

believe that grannies don’t feel like grannies any longer, and it would

be a big mistake to ghettoise this sector. If you call a magazine grey,

people aren’t going to want it,’ he comments. The figures back this up:

33 per cent of Good Housekeeping’s readers are over 55 years old, and

well over half are over 45 years old.



But Carolyn Morgan, publishing director at Emap Active, believes there’s

a great deal to gain from targeting mature women with a dedicated

publication.



’Our last two TV campaigns have enabled us to recruit ex-Woman’s Realm

and Woman’s Weekly readers, as those titles start to focus more on the

mid-40s. We’re getting to the point where advertisers who used to use

the women’s weeklies will start to use Choice and Yours to target women

in their sixties instead.’



There’s also a definite perception problem among advertisers. All the

publications serving the sector - Saga, Choice, Yours, Good Times

Magazine, Active Life and Mature Tymes - have had to struggle hard to

win over blue-chip accounts. Industry pundits attribute this to two

quintessential problems: the fact that agencies and marketing

departments are manned by people in their 20s and 30s, and a reluctance

among marketers to have their brands associated with anything old.



Helen Hodge, managing editor of Active Life, explains: ’When Marcelle

D’Argy Smith stepped down from Woman’s Journal, one of the problems she

cited was trying to convince advertisers to talk to women over 38. For

us, this is a fact of life. A great number of people are still

unconvinced that this is a market to go for, preferring to see it as all

zimmer frames and downmarket.’



Even when advertisers do try to target the lucrative grey market, they

still often miss the mark. ’The problem is,’ Hodge says, ’few of the

standard stereotypes apply. When we do persuade a new client to

advertise in the magazine, their creative treatments have been so

patronising we’ve been horrified.’



By the 2030s, the over-55s will account for around 43 per cent of the

adult population in Britain. They’ll be living longer, with more money

to spend. So isn’t it about time that publishers and advertisers buried

their ageist attitude and found the right magazine, with the right tone

for this market? Surely, we don’t have to wait until James Brown, the

creator of Loaded, reaches 50 to realise retired people aren’t

necessarily ’old’ any more.



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