MARKETING TO MEN: THE REAL LOADED GENERATION - They’ve got the money, the time and the will to experiment. So why ignore over-50s? Report by Andrew Cracknell

A vulgar joke dragged up from boyhood days perfectly illustrates how some expansive thinking is going to make a fortune for those clients who can get their pride and prejudices out of the way and wake up to what’s really going to happen in the UK from now on.

A vulgar joke dragged up from boyhood days perfectly illustrates

how some expansive thinking is going to make a fortune for those clients

who can get their pride and prejudices out of the way and wake up to

what’s really going to happen in the UK from now on.



A trainee in a general store watches as his boss manages to sell a

screwdriver to a customer who came in only for some rawlplugs. Inspired,

the boy sells a garden shed, lawn mower and complete set of garden tools

to a man who came in only for a box of Tampax for his wife.



’How did you do it?’ gasps the boss. ’Simple’, smirks the boy. ’I told

him that since his weekend was ruined he might as well do some

gardening.’



The over-50s are standing there, money in their pockets, time on their

hands, a lifetime of stored-up experimentation, fun and hedonism, just

waiting to be sold to. But for three peculiarly perverse reasons,

they’re being allowed to walk out of the store with only the things they

came in for. Meanwhile the sales assistants fawn and flutter round the

customer standing behind them, a teenager who has only one tenth of

their money.



Received wisdom has it that advertising should be youthfully oriented

’because all older people really want to be young’. If this weren’t so

arrogant it would be comical. It’s a piece of intellectual laziness.

While it’s true that it would be fatal to create advertising that

bellows ’Hey you, old fart, we’re shouting at you’, the fact is no real

effort is being put into figuring out how this market should be

addressed because within agencies very few are interested in addressing

it.



Yes, older people see virtues and pleasures in being young, but that

doesn’t mean they want to be young. In fact many will compensate the

other way, terrified of appearing as mutton dressed as lamb. We can all

envy lifestyles we momentarily glimpse or experience but that doesn’t

make us bitter and twisted that we can’t live them all year round. Most

of us, for example, would probably like to be wealthy enough not to have

to work, but that doesn’t lead us into denial about who and what we

really are. And there’s a huge number of older people who feel more

comfortable at a life stage where they finally know who they are and

have given up the constant neurotic strain of trying to be something

they aren’t.



The second reason is that older people, allegedly, don’t switch brands,

which leads to the compounding folly, ’you’ve got to get ’em young’.

This is a strongly held view, which is equally strongly out of date. The

truth is that until now older people didn’t swap brands because they

never had the opportunity to get into the habit. They’d never been

choosers because there’d been almost no choices to make or the money

with which to exercise choice. My parents’ generation had the Depression

and then years of war and post-war rationing, followed by 50s austerity.

But the new generation of fiftysomethings have been promiscuous since

they first got money in their pockets - the mid-60s - when economic

freedom coincided with a product and brand explosion. And there’s every

indication that they’re going to carry on being so.



Another reason given for ’going for youth’ - because a market’s older

and keeps dying - is equally absurd. Most markets are dying in the sense

that the customer eventually disappears; the nappy market is constantly

losing its customers. But new entrants are continually replenishing

them.



So if you have a product for the 45-plus - a whisky, for example - why

advertise it to 25-year-olds just because your current crop of customers

will eventually die? Where is the sense in not talking to the very

people who are most likely to buy your product while spending on those

who probably won’t even like it?



The third misconception is that their horizons as consumers are limited

to ’old people’s products’. Grasp this point and there’s a fortune to be

made. They will buy anything. When St Paul wrote to the Corinthians ’Now

I am a man I have put away childish things’ he hadn’t heard of

Levi’s.



Or Adventure Holidays. Or Harley-Davidson. Before this boom generation,

all older people were expected to put away childish things and totter

into the proscribed life of pipe and slippers, crochet, the occasional

coach trip to a country garden and the armchair in the corner from which

they could shout the occasional embarrassing non sequitur.



But now they have the money, the inclination, the economic majority and

the time to choose and buy and enjoy all the toys and baubles they’ve

been enjoying all their lives, and they’re already doing it. They don’t

see themselves as old in the traditional sense of the word. Being 50 now

is utterly different from being 50 as recently as 30 years ago and

they’re infinitely more valuable to marketers.



As an example, who is most likely to buy an expensive camera - a

30-year-old with a middle-management salary, a mortgage, a child and

another on the way, or a recently retired bank manager, with kids all

gone, a pension and the freedom to enjoy a new hobby? And while you’re

about it, like the lawnmower salesman, sell him an entire dark room too

- he’s got all the time in the world to do his own developing and

printing.



The problem is, almost no one is thinking like that. But there’s only

one thing you can say with any certainty about what will happen if you

don’t ask people to buy things from you. They won’t.



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