The Unstoppables: How brands can engage with the over-50s
A view from Lee Manning-Craig

The Unstoppables: How brands can engage with the over-50s

Worldwide there will soon be more than two billion people aged over 50, writes Lee Manning-Craig, director at Added Value.

Adults born between 1946 and 1964 make up half of the population of the US, and that number is growing at a rate almost three times that of the 18-49 demographic. It’s not surprising then that their spending power makes them, according to a mid-2012 Nielsen report, the "most valuable generation" in the United States.

The pattern is similar in the UK, where over-50s make up 35% of the population and have the highest disposable income of any age group. All EU-27 countries have seen this part of the population grow between 1985 and 2010.

The influence of this cohort is so significant that Mac, Jimmy Choo, Lanvin, Céline and Delvaux have all recently featured campaigns with 70+ models.

However, two recent studies by Added Value reveal this sector of the population to be a multi-faceted audience with many different needs, motivations and desires, which drive how they engage with brands and, consequently, how brands need to engage with them.

It’s clear that the opportunity for brands to build strong relationships with this older audience is huge. Brands that understand how nuanced this audience is and respond to their functional and emotional needs by creating empathy which shares their values and beliefs will see enormous growth potential.

Here are some key things to remember:

Connecting early can reap longer-term rewards

Much has been written about how older people are willing to shop around. In the UK, they’re well incentivised to do that. But equally several studies (Novak & Mather 2007, Jahn, Gaus & Kiessling 2012) show how well older consumers reward brands that meet their needs and how these bonds of trust deepen over time. For brands in less developed markets this is even more likely to be the case.

Those bigger brands with an extensive portfolio are better placed to satisfy the need for exploration under one roof, while also delivering both freshness through choice and trust through association with the core brand.

This suggests that brands focusing on the over-50s should not only think hard about how they connect, but also consider when. Can relationships be built earlier and last that much longer as the population lives for longer? We think so.

Older doesn’t mean different

As many people entering their 50s are still active in the workplace and plan to be so for years to come, the idea of being ‘old’ happens much later than it used to. In fact, only 8% of people in the UK regard people of 50-60 as being old, while only 5% of those over 65 feel their age.

Only 8% of people in the UK regard people of 50-60 as being old, while only 5% of those over 65 feel their age.

Rather than thinking about the over-50s as a separate cohort which requires a different brand solution, there is a clear opportunity for brands to think about how they extend their relevance across age bands.

This will be a particularly interesting challenge for technology brands; according to the Office of National Statistics over 80% of 55-64 year olds in the UK have internet access and yet only 4% of people in that age range agree that technology brands meet the needs of older people very well. Amazon tops the list (at 19%) with Skype and Google not far behind (at 13 and 10% respectively).

But brands like Twitter and Instagram barely feature (0.5%) and even electronics brands fail to make a dramatic impact, which is surprising given the broad range of relevant products that could be more directly targeted at this group with higher disposable incomes and more time spent at home.

This is a time of positivity

Added Value’s recent research shows by far the most admired people are those who make older age look fun and stimulating. Helen Mirren topped the list, followed by Bruce Forsyth, Judi Dench, the Queen and Sean Connery.

Historically, brands have been slow to reflect the vitality, optimism and youthfulness felt by these people in their communication strategies. When asked what types of older people they admire, people who are embracing getting older naturally (35%); who ignore their age and focus on their skills (32%); and who make older age look fun and stimulating (27%), were considered much more admirable than those who’ve used a variety of ways to hold the years back and don’t look their age (4%).

It’s a missed opportunity, but one that Playtex is capitalising on with its new Ageless Generation campaign, which shows "just how fabulous, positive, stylish, confident and amazing this Ageless Generation can be" (Playtex blog, March 2013).

It’s a fantastically upbeat and positive approach to an audience that many brands talk to in a less than vital way.

But it’s not without stress

Changes in physical mobility, a lack of medical support and in some cities and a dramatic change to urban architecture is fracturing the traditional support network. In addition, the quantitative easing which has helped to buoy up some economies is having a severe impact on the disposable income of retired people, many of whom have under-estimated how long they will live for. So it can be a time of anxiety too.

There is a clear role that brands can play in offering reassurance through tailored products, services and in particular, experiences which are seen as useful but don’t patronise. Financial institutions in particular could be doing a significantly better job of meeting the needs of these older people.

Businesses like B&Q have been quick to realise the commercial potential of the dramatic increase in DIY behaviour when people retire and have responded with relevant product innovations and a comforting in-store experience recruiting sales staff in their fifties to advise customers.

The growth potential for brands that move quickly, empathise and engage with this audience is great. Liberated for the first time from their obligations, turning their attention to new hobbies and interests is why we refer to them as ‘The Unstoppables’. And it’s why companies should sit up and take notice of their needs. It’s a win-win. And not one to be ignored.


Kantar company, TNS Omnibus, interviewed 1187 GB adults between 27/06/2013 - 01/07/2013. All interviews were conducted as online self-completion. The data is weighted to match population totals for age, sex, social grade, working status, presence of children, 2010 voting patterns and region.