Karen Fraser MBE: researcher, consultant and diversity expert
Karen Fraser MBE: researcher, consultant and diversity expert
A view from Karen Fraser

Bridging the confidence gap in marketing to older women

Research shows that older women feel comfortable in their own skin, so why to brands persist in ignoring them in their marketing communications?

There’s a lot of talk today about authenticity, yet older people are still under-represented in advertising, and older women especially tend not to be portrayed in positions of power and authority.

Yet there is enormous untapped potential for advertisers in representing older women. But how do these women want to be shown? In conjunction with UM and its ongoing UK by UM study into stereotyping, we carried out research to examine the issue.

Feeling good

We found that older women feel particularly good about themselves, as 96% of women over 50 had a "clear sense of their own identity" and a third described themselves as being "very confident in their own skin". This is despite 61% of the UK thinking society has a more forgiving attitude towards men aging compared to women.

When we asked middle-aged and older women to identify strong female role models, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Julie Walters dominated the answers. However, there was a notable lack of women under traditional retirement age. Julie – the youngest of the set – is 68. So, what’s going on? What’s happening to women between 45 and 60? We examined this "forgotten segment" to see why they are less prominent.

Becoming invisible

Sadly, more than half (55%) of all women we polled think that society expects them to vanish from public life as they get older.

However, advertisers who ignore and misrepresent these women risk missing commercial opportunities, because our data indicate many older women have renewed interest and spend more time and cash on exercise, health supplements, personal care, skincare, and travel as they age.

It is estimated that 60% of growth in cosmetics and beauty in the next 10 years will come from women aged 50 and over. Representing them in ads has huge commercial potential for brands operating in these categories.

A rising economic force

They are also the fastest growing group in terms of their economic contribution. The number of women aged 65+ who are economically active has increased 150% since 1992. And, crucially, TGI tells us that 85% of women over 55 are responsible for the bulk of shopping in their households and 62% are not dependent on others for making major spending decisions.

But currently, media campaigns rarely deliberately and systematically reach this huge and wealthy set of potential customers. The "over 45s" – 51.3% of the UK population – are all too often treated as one ill-defined mass, rather than many discrete and different groups.

Older women, in particular, are ready to be better represented and talked to on a public stage. There’s an ethical case for advertisers to consider here because 61% of women believe advertising plays a role in challenging stereotypes in society.

The communications industry is in a uniquely powerful position to embrace and create change. Campaigns with benefits that are both commercial and societal, and help women to feel better about themselves, must surely be worth pursuing.

Karen Fraser MBE is a researcher, consultant and diversity expert.

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