GREY MEDIA: THE CONTINUING SAGA - Saga has moved with the times and wants a vibrant new image

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.

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

Scottish Highlands.



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

21st century?



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

says.



’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.’



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