Close-Up: Live Issue/Advertising To Over-50s - Grey targets the over-50s but rival shops remain sceptical/Grey is creating a shop for the mature market, but is it necessary, John Tylee asks

Advertising people don’t want to know about old age because it is a reminder of their own mortality, Jean-Paul Treguer claims.

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



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