Editorial: Industry's missing a trick by not targeting over-50s

Logic suggests that, in launching a company specialising in marketing to the over-50s, Robert Campbell has hit upon an idea whose time has come.

Logic, however, has proved a poor guide to the subject of how to communicate with a section of the population that's not only growing rapidly, but has huge financial clout.

The over-50s ought to be a marketer's dream. So why is it that advertisers continue to fail them? Even those within the industry who spotted the huge demographic change going on a decade ago and tried to address it had to abandon their plans in the face of an overwhelming lack of interest.

A joint venture between Grey London and Senioragency, the over-50s marketing specialist, that launched in 1999 lasted barely two years. Neil Jenner, who ran it, found he couldn't get to enough senior clients willing to listen to him.

There may be several reasons for this. One is that marketers have little idea how to communicate with the "grey" market (only one in ten marketing directors are over 50 and almost half the agency workforce is under 30). Another is that advertisers are reluctant to "stigmatise" a brand by giving it a more mature appeal. However, the biggest is one that defies logic. Marcoms is an overwhelmingly youthful business that doesn't want to be reminded of its own mortality.

Time will tell whether Campbell and his partner Toby Constantine can overcome these hurdles. Interestingly, their initiative will place an emphasis on digital marketing. The specialist agencies that set up in the late 90s to target the mature market may have been ahead of their time. They launched against a background of cynicism among "baby boomers" that advertising ignored or patronised them.

The importance of baby boomers cannot be underestimated. They were the first ad-literate generation. If the marcoms industry can win them, they will bring the future generations through. Now the baby boomers have moved on to become the fastest-growing group of internet users. If Campbell and others can talk to these people in the right style and tone, they might strike gold.

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