SHADES OF GREY: How do you target the over-50s? It's all about knowing the difference between your seniors and your elders. Helen Jones investigates

It's official. There are now more pensioners than teenagers in the UK. And marketing to them is easy. You simply target them when they have settled down to watch Countdown with a cup of tea and a copy of Saga or Yours magazine.

At least that's the theory. It's true that older people are the heaviest consumers of TV programmes. Research from the Independent Television Commission reveals that the over-65s spend, on average, five hours and 14 minutes in front of the box everyday. They also have more time on their hands and so, it would seem logical to assume, more time to read newspapers, magazines and direct mail.

But the "grey market" is an all-encompassing term for anyone over the age of 55 and includes the likes of Mick Jagger (60) and Jimmy Young (81).

Kevin Lavery, a director of the mature marketing specialist Millennium, says: "It's a mistake to think that older consumers are all the same. There are thousands of different shades of grey."

The 2002 census indicates that 21 per cent of the population is over 50. Millennium divides them into three groups: Thrivers - 50- to 59-year-olds, the baby boomers who grew up in the 60s; Seniors - 60- to 69-year-olds; and Elders - 70 and over who grew up between the wars.

"They don't necessarily read the same things or watch the same TV programmes. Thrivers, for example, don't watch daytime TV because they are all out at work," Lavery says.

When Glaxo SmithKline launched Macleans 40+ - the first dental product designed specifically for mature consumers - it used a combination of mainstream and grey-specific media for maximum impact.

"We had to get people to change their attitude to toothpaste. This is a completely new product category. It's aimed at the 50-plus market but if it was called 50+ no-one in their fifties would buy it. It's called 40+ to attract 50-year-olds. People don't like to think of themselves as old," David Trovell, an associate director at MediaCom, says.

The agency bought space during daytime programming such as This Morning and during peak programmes, such as Coronation Street. It also used magazines aimed at the more mature woman such as Prima, as well as The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times supplements.

Thomson Intermedia recently published a study into the effectiveness of brands that specifically target the grey market. It found that TV and direct marketing are the most successful ways to target older consumers.

Charles Ilsley, the author of the report, says that trust, confidence, quality, reliability and service are key brand values when targeting the grey market. "Relationship marketing is often key to marketing strategies targeting the over-50s, aiming to create a sense of community and build brand loyalty," he says.

The research indicates that direct mail is a favoured way of reaching the grey market. For example, more than 80 per cent of Cornhill Direct's direct mail is sent to those over 50. But not all direct mail hits the target. Steve Martyn of the communications consultancy Seriously Bright and a founder of the now-defunct agency Prime, which focused on mature consumers, says: "These people have been targeted to death by marketers who think the only way to reach them is through a letter and they are very cynical. So much of it is just junk mail."

Bupa, which received high advertising recall figures among grey consumers questioned by Thomson Intermedia, uses a range of media to reach them.

"We do targeted door-drops, use Classic FM because it has a good fit and use inserts in titles such as BBC Gardener's World, BBC Homes & Antiques and some of the weekend supplements," Jill Thomas, the Bupa account director at Media Vision, says.

L'Oreal, which also scored highly in Thomson Intermedia's survey, advertises its grey-specific brands such as Age Perfect and Plenitude in mainstream media. "TV is a key part of the schedule and very cost effective," Trudi Baker, a media account director at Universal McCann, says. "We use quality peak TV dramas and documentaries as well as some daytime. We also use grey-specific titles such as Saga magazine and Woman & Home."

Saga also uses a lot of grey-specific media. Andy Martin, the deputy managing director of Mediaedge:cia, says: "Saga is made up of two accounts - motor and home insurance, and holidays. We use a lot of daytime TV, mainly Channel 4 but also ITV and Five and some satellite channels." This is topped up with ads in broadsheets and the mid-market titles. "We use The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Express because, whether they like it or not, a fairly significant proportion of their readers are 50-plus," he says.

Surprisingly few are using new media to target the over-55s. Martyn says: "We have all heard of silver surfers - they have time, money and contacts. There couldn't be a more perfect tool for communicating with older people."

Reaching older consumers will become increasingly important. The over-45s currently control more than 70 per cent of the UK's wealth, have the highest disposable income, and spend £145 billion a year. Their numbers are growing and set to double by 2030.

Ilsley says: "If you reach the affluent grey market effectively you will reap the rewards. They are extremely reactive to advertising and have the money to spend. Brands such as Bupa, L'Oreal and Saga Holidays are leading the way."

- People over 50 represent 140 million Europeans, nearly one-third of Europe's population

- Two-thirds of people who have ever been 65 in the history of the world are alive today

- There were 300 centenarians in the UK in 1951. By 2031, there will be 34,000

- One-third of girls born in 2002 will reach the age of 100

- 95 per cent of Europe's ad campaigns in 2001 were aimed at the under-50s

Source: Senioragency.

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