In the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, Dominic Mills asserted
that ’one reason why few ads are aimed at oldies is that, by they time
they get to 50, consumers are settled in their purchasing habits and it
is very hard to persuade them to switch their brand of toothpaste or
This reflects conventional wisdom among mainstream thirtysomethings in
the ad industry. But it doesn’t reflect the truth. According to Age
Wave, the self-styled ’leading authority’ on the subject in the US,
people of 50 and over are ’far more open to new messages and products
that increase their sense of control and security. They will switch
brands when they feel it serves them.’
Age Wave cites J. D. Power and Nielsen to substantiate its assertion
that ’mature buyers are more likely to try new things than any other age
OK, you say, but Americans are different. And, of course, you’re
But isn’t it significant that just about every major consumer trend you
can think of - convenience and health consciousness to name but two -
started in the US then took root and flourished over here?
If you feel more comfortable with UK-based data, a Gallup survey
conducted in this country on behalf of Reader’s Digest as long ago as
1989, which compared the brand loyalty of two groups, one aged 16-39 and
one 40-64, concluded that brand switching ’would seem to be the norm for
both young and older groups’.
Durables enjoy greater levels of loyalty, as you would expect. But, as
you might not, the survey found levels of brand disloyalty to be ’very
high’ for most products in both groups.
According to the Henley Centre, the 45-59 age group has more income than
any other sector of the population (more than pounds 90 billion a year)
and, according to TGI, the total 45-plus market has well over pounds 175
billion a year to spend.
The other frequently quoted figure is that people aged over 50 account
for more than 80 per cent of the private (and, therefore, disposable)
asset wealth of this country. Is it their only crime that they’ve grown
older and physically less attractive than a more nubile group? It would
be politically incorrect to admit as much, so the marketing department
rationalisation is that ’young people are the future of the brand’.
Like many soundbites, this ringing declaration will not stand up to
intense scrutiny, particularly if advertising investment is related to
sales by age group. A reverse pareto principle of 80:20 (80 per cent of
the budget delivering 20 per cent of the sales) is hard to justify to an
accountant or a numerate shareholder.
The Gallup figures from 1989 show consumers both under and over 40 have
an almost equal propensity to switch brands. If we look at the bulge
moving through the population, we see the 45-plus sector growing by more
than 50,000 every month on average. If we look at male unemployment, we
find the highest concentration between the ages of 20 and 30, with the
figures halving and declining from 45 onwards.
To cite Mills’s examples, anyone who has teeth will need toothpaste,
whether they are working or otherwise. Similarly, anyone who has money
will need a bank. At 45 plus, most people still possess most of their
teeth and have significantly more money than those under 45.
People continue to consume products (and media) until the day they
They often have more time, almost always possess more confidence and, in
most cases, have more money. Their priorities may change from ’image’ to
’results’ but, by any reasonable standard, older people deserve not to
be patronised by journalists, caricatured by creative people and
routinely ignored by mainstream advertisers.