Ageism means brands are missing a trick (and tens of millions in revenue)

Ageism: brands should avoid categorising the over-55s as a singular entity (Getty Images/Peter Finch)
Ageism: brands should avoid categorising the over-55s as a singular entity (Getty Images/Peter Finch)

The UK's over-55s control £6tn in assets, hold nearly 70% of all UK household wealth and are fast becoming the biggest spenders in every category – yet many are being overlooked by or misrepresented by brands, according to research conducted by MullenLowe Group UK and Kantar.

The agency group has unveiled The Invisible Powerhouse, a study aimed at helping brands become more effective at reaching consumers that found 71% of people aged 55 and over were most likely to buy a product from a brand they felt represented them.

The report, which is being made available today as the agency hosts an event this morning (26 April), highlights the labels and stereotypes applied to over-55s and the age group's seven attitudinal segments pointedly defined by interests, and not age. The resounding insight is that many marketers' scattergun approach to reaching older consumers is undermining revenue potential.

MullenLowe's research found that 47% of UK adults are in their 50s and above and yet (according to Channel 4's Mirror on the Industry 2021 report) just 12% of UK ads feature someone from that age group in a leading role. This myopia among marketers and agencies spans multiple market sectors and is especially pronounced for technology brands – with 87% of 55-plus people feeling underrepresented – entertainment (79%) and cosmetics (76%).

But when the 55-and-overs do appear in advertising, brands are still missing a trick, with the group often depicted as a singular demographic, "in need of pity and help".

MullenLowe's research showed that 88% of over-55s felt unhappy with the way advertising treated them, 7% expressed anger and 15% were depressed or disheartened.

MullenLowe's analysis divides the over-55s into seven segments based on attitudes, behaviours and buying preferences, a methodology the agency said "works in contrast to traditional categorisation, based purely on age, that has long dominated opinion in adland".

MullenLowe said the the study would allow brands to run the analysis against "thousands of lifestyle and consumption filters assessing the relative appeal of rival brands in particular markets for specific 55-plus segments".

The seven segments are:

  • Caring conformists – "15% of UK adults. They believe in fair play, family, and community, and sticking to the rules. They are a little worried about their health and have check-ups even when they feel fine. A Caring Conformist likes advertising that tells a story and is relevant to their life and is price-conscious about what to buy, often preferring to choose low prices over expensive brands."
  • Security seekers – "14% of UK adults. Worry about themselves and the world around them. They trust their own knowledge rather than the 'powers that be', intimidated by the pace of change and new technology. A Security Seeker watches a lot of television, and values ads that amuse them but is rarely tempted to buy new products or technologies."
  • Savvy spenders – "18% of UK adults. They are pleasure-loving impulse buyers but know how to spend on a budget, often using discount codes and cash to budget more effectively. A Savvy Spender uses adverts to inform their buying decision and will remember an entertaining ad."
  • Carefree hedonists – "12% of UK adults. Live, laugh and love in the moment – they are spontaneous and impulsive, an optimistic lot who don't worry about much. They find advertising an annoying encroachment in their entertainment and hate being overtly 'sold to'. A Carefree Hedonist spends without thinking on brands that they know and trust, and are the group most comfortable on their current income."
  • Experience lovers – "13% of UK adults. Always want more from life – more from their careers, adventures, food and culture. They are careful, conscious spenders who plan their purchases and rarely buy on impulse. An Experience Lover feels that advertising should entertain them and inspire them to make a purchase."
  • Accountable citizens – "13% of UK adults. Work hard, live responsibly and do their bit for good causes. Passionate about nature and the environment, you'll often find them outdoors. They believe advertising should be informative or groundbreaking if it is going to get in the way of their entertainment. An Accountable Citizen is concerned by the virtue of the things they buy, and, though careful with money, will pay extra for organic products."
  • Social progressives – "14% of UK adults. Believe in change, passionate about equality, the environment and they are arts and culture enthusiasts. They resist consumerism and corporate greenwashing, but will respond to ads that are genuine, informative and enjoyable. A Social Progressive considers the provenance and politics of the things they buy, typically buying free-range and Fairtrade produce."

In putting together The Invisible PowerhouseMullenLowe Group UK worked with research group Kantar on a segmentation analysis based on the Target Group Index database. It covered 7,373 adults aged 55 and over, weighted to a national population of 20.1 million. The agency group also conducted 37 in-depth interviews across seven segments, via Zoom and in-person.

Ayesha Walawalkar, MullenLowe Group UK's group strategy officer, said: "Ageism is rife in adland and people over a certain age are still too routinely stereotyped, based on outdated ideas.

"This new approach represents a step in the right direction for the advertising industry, especially given that in a post-pandemic world, it is more important than ever for brands to reflect their customers' values as consumers continually reassess their spending priorities.

"Above all, I hope that this serves as a wake-up call for advertising. The industry's aim has always been to elicit emotional responses and create work that people can relate to, and if it is unable to do that, then we all need to rethink the ways we go about our work."

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