What kind of ads would you expect to appear in magazines aimed
exclusively at the over-50s? Tacky line-drawings touting a selection of
hernia trusses, denture cream and knitting patterns? Far from it. In
fact, you’re more likely to find glossy full-colour advertisements for
holidays, financial services, fine wines, motor cars and furniture -
with the odd stairlift thrown in for good measure. Pages and pages of
Launched in the mid-80s, Saga is the most successful of a clutch of
magazines that target the so-called ’grey’ - or more politely, ’mature’
- market. Back then, market analysts were making quite a song and dance
about a demographic shift that was set to bring about the ’rise of the
wrinklies’. Now - perhaps slightly later than anticipated - their time
appears to have arrived.
Martin Smith, the advertising and promotions manager of Saga magazine,
reports ’an exceptional past three years. The magazine is full until the
June issue and we are increasing pagination with each issue. Growth is
It’s also surprising to learn that with a circulation of 738,371 (ABC
January-July 1996) and a readership of 1,389,000, Saga is the second
largest monthly magazine in the country - pipped to the post by the
mighty Reader’s Digest. Competitors such as Active Life from Aspen
Specialist Media - the number two magazine in the market (with a 300,000
monthly circulation), Emap’s Yours (with a 220,000 monthly circulation),
and Goldlife from Affinity Publishing (with a 50,000 bi-monthly
circulation) are also doing well. These figures put the media frenzy
over the success of lads’ magazines such as Loaded and FHM into
Many of the subscription-only grey market titles offer affinity
Saga magazine functions as a shopfront for Saga Holidays, Saga Services
(car and travel insurance) and Saga Investment Direct (stocks, shares
and Peps) - and there’s even a Saga Visa card.
Goldlife is owned by 50-Forward, an organisation that offers its members
travel deals, insurance, regular prize draws - even a Mastercard.
Others, such as Yours and Choice, have a cover price and no specific
affiliations, though Choice does run its own travel club.
Active Life provides a customer service to Post Office counters as it is
available by subscription and through post offices.
The original template for these titles came, not surprisingly, from the
US, where the more prominent retirement magazines can command
advertising rates of USdollars 400,000 a page. ’We usually lag behind
the US a little,’ Saga’s Smith admits. ’The US is at the stage where it
has self-contained retirement villages with their own police forces. It
has marketing to the over 50s down to a tee - it’s part of the culture.
They are recognised as key consumers.’
We may be a little off the US pace, but grey power is gathering momentum
in the UK. The market accounts for around 19 million people, who are
believed to hold the purse strings to three-quarters of the UK’s
It’s easy to see why. Many are enjoying what marketers describe as ’the
third age’ - their kids have left home, they’ve paid off their mortgages
and have rounded off successful careers. Most will be able to look
forward to 20 years of a healthy and active life. And now the time is
ripe to cut loose and spend some of that hard-earned cash.
’The image of the sad grey pensioner shuffling along to the Post Office
of an afternoon is outdated,’ Stephen Skinner, the managing director of
Affinity Publishing, says. ’Many of them have large disposable incomes,
and are reaping the benefits of investing in private pension
Andrew Sivell, the publisher of Active Life magazine agrees: ’The thing
about the grey market is that it isn’t just a homogeneous mass, and
advertisers and publishers will become unstuck if they target just one
group. It’s best to think about grey markets in the plural. We stick to
targeting the 60- to 70-year-old sector of the markets. These people
remember wartime rationing and it has had a huge effect on them. It’s a
receptive market for financial products. They are security conscious and
they don’t believe in credit. Everything is paid for in cash and they
never take risks. This is at complete odds with the latest generation of
over-50s - the rock ’n’ roll group.
And it doesn’t stop there. The market is expected to balloon over the
next few years as the post-war, baby-boom generation hits the
half-century mark - over the next 30 years, a quarter of the UK’s
population will be aged between 50 and 70. More significantly, these
baby-boomers are bound to trigger a shift in attitudes in the market.
’They are different in outlook from the generation who went through the
war,’ Skinner says. ’They are accomplished spenders and consumers - the
kind of people who are used to having Gold cards. They are the ’Me’
generation who bring with them the legacy of sex and drugs and rock ’n’
roll from the 60s. They will still be wearing jeans when they
Come to think of it, David Bowie turned 50 earlier in the year. The
Rolling Stones and the remaining Beatles are well into their 50s. And
yet somehow, you can’t quite imagine any of them subscribing to any of
the current crop of grey market magazines, or signing up for one of the
’There has to be a niche for a magazine that caters for the oldest
swinger in town syndrome,’ Chris Forrest, a planning consultant with the
brand communication specialists, Red Spider, says. ’The kind of person
who has two alimony payments to keep up but still can’t keep himself
away from Stringfellows. You could call it ’menoporsche’.’
Affinity’s Skinner believes change is inevitable and new titles catering
for the next generation of over-50s will gradually start to appear.
’There’s a real gap in the market for a men’s magazine for 40-year-olds
and upwards,’ he argues. ’Psychologically, people think of themselves as
being several years younger than they actually are.’ Thus a
fortysomething magazine would appeal to readers in their early 50s. ’It
would be too great a risk for the established grey titles to reposition
themselves - they’d end up falling between two stools. I can’t imagine
any 60-year-old wanting to read about psychedelia,’ Skinner adds.
Paul Bach, the editor of Saga, believes the key to consolidating his
readership is to ’avoid creating a ghetto of age-related subjects - we
simply need to be a forum for good journalism and photography’.
Contributors to Saga include Michael Parkinson, Keith Waterhouse and
Clement Freud. ’I always like to throw something unexpected in there,’
he continues. ’Just because you are of a certain age doesn’t mean you
only want to see your contemporaries in a magazine.’ And advertisers?
’They are still suffering from a bit of a blind spot,’ Bach adds. ’But
we’re doing our best to educate them.’ It’s only a matter of time.