Advertising people don’t want to know about old age because it is a
reminder of their own mortality, Jean-Paul Treguer claims.
As a result, the over-50s have become the spectre at advertising’s
feast, he believes. And because the ad industry fears what they
represent, the elderly are humiliated and patronised regularly.
Although still a relatively youthful 44, Treguer is already a long-time
evangelist on the issue of advertising to the over-50s. For 11 years he
has run Senioragency, which claims to be the first European shop devoted
to the mature market and which is about to establish itself in London as
part of a joint venture with Grey.
Treguer argues that the treatment of the over-50s by advertisers is a
reflection of widespread ageism within society.
After more than a decade spent researching the market and writing two
books on the subject, he is convinced that by failing to overcome its
inhibitions, the industry is missing a huge trick. And his argument
would appear to be vindicated by a client list that already includes
Renault, Estee Lauder, Barclays and Danone.
’We don’t want to know about old age because we’re terrified of it,’ he
says. ’We see it as the ante-chamber of death. The worst thing you can
tell a creative is that he must work on a campaign for the
At least one major UK agency chief acknowledges a problem. ’Because most
staffers are under 30, they don’t spend as much time looking at the
over-50s market as they should,’ he admits.
Treguer sees a direct link between this and what he claims is the fact
that mature consumers seem to be marked out as the target of regular
abuse by advertisers.
He applauds ads such as the Age Concern poster starring Pearl Read, aged
56, in a Wonderbra, which carries the caption: ’The first thing some
people notice is her age.’ But he suggests they are rare oases in a
creative desert when it comes to ads which either feature over-50s or
are directed at them.
He contrasts such celebrations of age with other insensitive and
repulsive executions such as an old man depicted as a grotesque in an ad
for the Louis clothing range with the words: ’You’re old enough to dress
Such crassness appals Steve Blamer, Grey’s chief executive, who declares
himself sold on Treguer’s argument. Why, he asks, is such insulting
imagery deemed OK for the over-50s, when it would provoke outrage if
directed at black audiences?
In Treguer’s view, this is a manifestation of a market that is
over-preoccupied with staying young.
’Advertisers waste millions of pounds on customers who won’t be buying
their products for another 20 years,’ he warns. ’But they won’t spend a
penny on those buying their products now.’
He can certainly bolster his case with some impressive statistics about
the formidable spending power of Europe’s 130 million over-50s. They are
estimated to account for 45 per cent of all new car purchasers and eight
out of ten top-of-the-range sales.
They, rather than the twenty-somethings, are driving the phenomenal
growth of the internet. In the UK alone they control 40 per cent of
consumer spending worth pounds 145 billion a year.
Moreover, Treguer predicts that Europe’s over-50s will prove a better
prospect than their US counterparts who remain burdened with healthcare
On the face of it, he has found a massive untapped vein of gold to
He clearly believes so, having already extended Senior-agency out of
France into Belgium and Holland and laid plans to set up in Germany and
All of this, though, begs a fundamental question: if the over-50s market
is so potentially lucrative and neglected by advertisers, how come
Treguer remains a still small voice and why is Grey alone among the
major networks to try exploiting it?
After all, the economic strength of the post-war baby boomers is no new
phenomenon. ’This isn’t brain surgery,’ Paul Simons, the Ogilvy
chairman, comments. ’It’s part of our responsibility to clients to
ensure we know about this.’
Other agency chiefs argue that setting up a specialist offshoot merely
perpetuates its niche status. ’I wouldn’t do it,’ Andrew Robertson, the
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chief executive, declares. ’There’s nothing
about the grey market that distinguishes it from any other.’
Chris Powell, chairman of BMP DDB, says: ’The fact is that the over-50s
don’t want to be seen as such - we all aspire to a median age somewhere
between late teens and 30. The danger with any ads that try to target
older people is that they become patronising.’
Others dispute that communicating with over-50s presents special
Richard Hytner, the Publicis chief executive, says: ’Any agency dealing
in advertising should be able to reach any target audience.’
John Banks, the Banks Hoggins O’Shea/FCB chairman, agrees. ’Setting up
an operation pre-supposes that people change when they hit 50. While
that might have been true once, it isn’t any more.’
Treguer’s reaction? ’Bullshit! I’m not in the business of ghetto
advertising. The over-50s are a complicated group of consumers who won’t
be seduced by creatives interested only in producing Cannes award