Consumers over 50 eat burgers and drink Coke as much as the youth
market. Why, Cathy Torpey asks, do advertisers still ignore this large
and lucrative sector?
How happy I was to read about six leading ad industry figures who have
now hit 50 (Campaign, 8 September).
Does this mean agencies are finally opening their eyes to the fact that
just because you reach 50 doesn’t mean you have one foot in the grave?
It’s obvious the Campaign Six aren’t thinking of packing it all in to
curl up with their pipes and slippers.
The over-50s market is the most lucrative of all. These people account
for a third of all adults in the UK (14.1 million), they have a total
annual income of pounds 175 billion and they possess 80 per cent of the
country’s private wealth. The 50- to 59-year-old market is expected to
grow by 30 per cent between 1996 and 2001. They spend more per week than
the under-50s. They buy cars. They holiday. They shop. They party.
So why are they not being taken seriously by an industry that should
instead be positively falling over itself to attract these consumers?
BMRB’s recent TGI Gold research found that 52 per cent of consumers aged
between 50 and 75 feel that few ads are relevant to their age group.
Just 14 per cent actively disagree with the sentiment, which is a
telling indictment of an industry that concentrates a disproportionate
amount of its efforts on attracting young metropolitans.
The US divisions of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola realised long ago that just
because a person hits 50 doesn’t mean they stop eating burgers or
In France, one of the biggest-selling magazines is Notre Temps, aimed at
the 50-plus market. Advertisers there have been switched on enough to
realise that these people have more money and time to shop. So Notre
Temps is crammed with mainstream as well as specialist advertisers. And,
with a circulation of around a million, it’s a great success.
Admittedly, the 50-plus market is one of the hardest to understand. What
we know now won’t be relevant in another five years, such is the pace of
Retirement - the biggest lifestyle change next to starting school or
getting married - now happens anywhere between the ages of 50 and 70.
Traditionally at this time children leave home but, with more women
choosing to have children later in life, a 50-plus household isn’t now
necessarily an empty nest.
In trying to understand this group, attitude and behaviour patterns are
more important than outmoded age and demographic profiles.
Using TGI Gold, Choice Publications has identified seven different types
of consumer in the 50 to 75 age bracket. Yes, there are the Percy Sugden
types that know what they like and like what they know. But for every
one of them there’s a Cultural Adventurer, an Assured Fun-Lover and a
Prime Mover - confident, moneyed, looking for new experiences and
positive about their own future.
Of course, it’s difficult to empathise with an age group when you
haven’t experienced that age yourself.
The 50-plus market was alien territory to me too before I came to Choice
Publications and I had many of the same misconceptions. Four years on
I’m no longer terrified of reaching 50 (although it’s a fair way off
yet) because I know that reaching the half century doesn’t automatically
mean closing the blinds and switching off the light.
What is needed is for advertisers and agencies alike to take a more
thoughtful and informed look at this market, to develop a tone of voice
that’s neither ignorant nor patronising.
And with the Campaign Six leading the way, perhaps we’ll start to see
campaigns that actively recruit rather than ignore the largest and most
influential section of the population.