You get a mixed reaction when you ask people about Saga. A lot of
people say, ’bus-trips for old people’, while others repeat schoolyard
jokes playing on the Saga name such as ’send a granny abroad’ or the
more saucy, ’sex and games for the aged’, which conjures up images of
swingers’ trips to Brighton.
But whatever reaction it gets, one thing’s for sure - it’s a household
name. Saga is a phenomenon and its interests now stretch well beyond bus
trips. When it launched 49 years ago, its core offering was holidays for
retired people. It has since evolved into a corporation that offers
everything to the older generation, from its original holidays to
cut-price electrical goods.
As the realisation of the power it commands starts to dawn, Saga has
also realised that people still think Saga means holidays. So, in a bid
to change its image, it appointed Ogilvy & Mather after a five-way pitch
in June last year. O&M’s brief is to change the public’s perception of
Saga from being the ’tea dance and bowls for pensioners’ holiday company
to a global and influential corporation. Saga still does holidays, only
now it has a more international flavour - pensioners are able to opt for
trips to the Far East as well as considering a bus tour around the
Saga Holidays’ UK turnover was pounds 170 million, more than half the
Saga Group’s pounds 255 million sales turnover for 1998. It’s an
impressive figure that commands even more respect when you take into
consideration that all its products are sold exclusively by direct mail,
so they lose out on passing trade in travel agents.
Saga reacted to the increasing demands of its market when it opened Saga
International in Boston in 1979. It almost doubled its potential market
in the UK when it brought its qualifying age limit down to 50 in 1994,
increasing it audience from 11 million to 19 million people. The group
even purchased a cruise ship, the Saga Rose, in 1997.
Saga began offering financial services in the mid-80s - realising many
of the major financial institutions were ignoring the potentially huge
grey market - and now offers health insurance, home and motor insurance,
pet insurance, travel insurance and investments. It is one of the
largest providers of private medical insurance in the UK. A Saga Visa
card was launched three years ago and, following the deregulation of the
gas and electricity services last year, it now has its own energy
division. The company is also expanding into retailing. It offers
cut-price electrical goods through direct mail and its website, which is
due to be upgraded.
With a readership of more than one million, Saga Magazine has been in
print since 1984 when the company’s free newsletter was ditched in
favour of a feature-led title.
Run on a ’try it free before you buy’ basis, the magazine’s popularity
is such that Kevin Keegan gave the title his very first interview after
being installed as England coach. The title has also won awards from the
Periodical Publishers Association.
The Saga Group is also pushing plans to launch a commercial radio
station and, although it has so far failed to get a licence, it has a
Saga Radio division.
However, the company is stuck in a rut. People still perceive it as
being for old people and although its advertising is positioning Saga
for ’younger old people’, how is it going to move its image into the
Angela Horsman, marketing director of Saga Holidays, believes the task
is more about changing people’s perceptions of old age than changing the
image of the company. ’We want to reposition the company as a dynamic,
varied organisation that offers so much more than holidays,’ she
’When we lowered the age limit to 50, it was in reaction to what people
were doing then. People feel ten to 15 years younger at 60 than they’re
given credit for. The older person’s image is set in these terrible
stereotypes of never going anywhere, whereas there’s a huge array of
pensioners who are retiring at 50 because they want to live a little.
The over-50s make up 32 per cent of the population and they have an
approximate income of pounds 160 billion.’ Horsman is sure Saga will
succeed in its rejuvenation process. ’It’s not about appealing to
younger people,’ she insists. ’Saga isn’t about chronological age but
about attitude to life. Our customers are young-minded individuals who
want to grasp all the opportunities life throws at them. I want them to
be proud of the Saga brand.’