GREY MEDIA: GREY MEDIA GROWS UP - The rock and rollers of the 60s have come of age, and with them the market for mature readers’ magazines. Jim Davies investigates

By JIM DAVIES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 April 1997 12:00AM

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 them.

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

them.



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

quite staggering.’



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

perspective.



Many of the subscription-only grey market titles offer affinity

services.



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

personal wealth.



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

schemes.’



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

retire.’



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

holiday clubs.



’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.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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