The over-55s are not a homogenous group and marketers should not treat them as such
The over-55s are not a homogenous group and marketers should not treat them as such
A view from Rebekah Yock

Meet the 'young olds', or YOLDs, revolutionising marketing to mature consumers

It is time brands stopped representing older people in a stereotypical and outdated way, writes Rebekah Yock, director at insight and strategy agency Firefish.

"There are many tricks being missed by marketers where older people are concerned."

These were the thoughts of one of the panellists who took part in our live discussion at Marketing’s Older, Richer, Wiser conference, aimed at helping brands and marketers better understand over-55s. With more time and money to spend than most, the over-55s are a desirable market – so why are brands still missing the mark when targeting this group?

Another panellist summed up the reason: "Sometimes I feel quite angry that the whole of the older generation is lumped into being over-55." Put simply, the ‘over-55s’ are not a homogenous group and marketers, advertisers and researchers should not treat them as such.

Sometimes I feel quite angry that the whole of the older generation is lumped into being over-55.

As you would expect, our panellists aged 58 to 71 encompassed a wide range of interests, attitudes, experiences and life-stages. The one thing this diverse group had in common was an overwhelming belief that they are not "old".

As we live longer, it is time brands stopped representing older people in a stereotypical and outdated way. The goalposts have shifted. Older people might no longer wear twinsets and pearls, yet they can still be positioned as such (think Wonga and Werthers Originals). Stop writing them off as such.

We have started our mission by coining a new term, "YOLD" or the new "young old people".  They are a hugely diverse group – just like every other demographic group. They enjoy the same things as everyone else: they date online, run marathons, watch sport, volunteer, write books, play in bands, travel the world and more.

Here are five things brands need to know about ‘YOLD’s:

You don’t always need to play it safe

It is easy to think that over-55s are conservative in their outlook. After all, you would not want to offend your grandmother. But if you think about it, this generation has lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s. They have more life experience than a 20 year-old. They have seen it all, and probably done it too, so what are marketers afraid of?

They’re discerning customers and they won’t settle for second best

The older customer may have been with a brand for years, but that does not mean they are complacent. They expect quality and are not afraid to switch or look for a better deal. They value service and quality and have seen what good service looks like, and how that has changed over the years. They will not settle and they have got the time to compare and seek out better deals.

Retirement is about reinvention and rediscovery

Retirement can give people more time to explore old interests, find new ones and, while retirement can be a scary idea at first, it is also an exciting time for them, so should be pitched that way. The way brands talk about retirement and the tonality of any imagery needs to reflect this. Think retiring, not expiring! Recent Warner Holiday advertising attempted this by using humour to attack the stereotype that all retirees and older people stay in, curtain twitch, watch telly and resist change.

There’s a greater need for functionality, but not at the expense of style

As we age, we do get less mobile or potentially have other physical issues, but why would that mean we want to be any less stylish? It is important that brands reflect the physical reality of ageing.

Our panellists favoured Samsung and Mini, and identified M&S’ clothes as getting better at balancing the need for style, with realistic clothing for women who no longer want to wear mini-skirts, but also do not want to dress like their grandmothers. 

Others talked about brands like Hotter Shoes, whose vision is to marry the need for comfort with the desire for style. As one female panellist said, "Women never stop wanting to look and feel good, whatever their age."

They’re not elderly and they're not eccentric

There was a sense from the panel that there are two images of the post-55s and, sadly, both are caricatures.

There is the kindly granny in floral, and then there is a bit of zeitgeist currently around a youthful vitality in older people. Sadly, the latter often translates into some form of eccentricity of style, or an older person desperately wanting to be seen as young.  Our YOLDs cited the recent Advanced Style movie – it is great to see these Manhattan fashionistas embracing style, but it is an extreme version of style to the point of fancy dress. Where are the older people who are just being their YOLDer selves? 

Let us not confuse a desire for a youthful vitality with a desire to be young again. The over-55s have spent a lifetime creating an identity and establishing tastes and preferences. It is patronising for us to assume people want to go back to being young again. Marketers need to meet them somewhere in the middle – and talk to them.