The UK’s older generation is an obvious key target group for marketers. By 2020 it is estimated that over half of the British population will be over 50, which for marketers increases the value of the ‘grey pound’ even further.

The over fifties have the highest disposable income of any age group, with gross income for the average pensioner rising by around 50% in real terms between 1995 and 2011. This is partly down to the post-war baby boom generation, who are now over the age of 50 and are thought to hold around half of Britain’s wealth.

It’s clear that marketers can’t afford to ignore a generation with such strong buying power, but across a range of product categories brands are struggling to engage older consumers. At the same time those aged 50 and over often feel ignored by brands and misrepresented in marketing campaigns.

So what are the hurdles that brands have to marketing to the older population and how can these be overcome?

One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is viewing ageing as a ‘condition’, rather than speaking to the individual. Individuals don’t define themselves as ‘old’ and they don’t surrender their values, personality, habits or idiosyncrasies to become an ‘older consumer’, so they don’t always register that a brand is trying to engage with them or their message. This trend is evident in all sorts of product areas – for instance in the dairy category where businesses work hard to fine-tune insights and concepts that will convert post-menopausal women from buying semi-skimmed to products that contain calcium, iron and vitamin enriched milks to keep them healthier as they age. As many women in their 50s and 60s feel good about themselves, are fit and active, and see themselves as anything but old, persuading them that bones loss is imminent doesn’t fit their self-perception. This tendency to market to the condition of ageing means that marketers overlook that older people – just like all other consumers – need to be engaged personally and emotionally.

Another misconception about the older generation is they want to be younger, when in actual fact many are more satisfied with their age and lives than they have ever been. This is particularly relevant to the beauty and anti-ageing market where older women – rather than wanting to look younger – actually just want to look good for their age. They respond to messages that talk to luminosity and radiance – such as L’Oréal’s Lumi Magique foundation and primer range that promises to “infuse your skin with light” – rather than a promise of younger looks.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable and there are a number of ways that brands can better engage the older consumer:

Bring your audience with you
Marketing campaigns that successfully reach the older generation feature characters that they can relate to. At the age of 68, Charlotte Rampling is the new face of Nars, a genuine choice by the brand that leverages her achievements and personal style rather than just adding a token ‘older’ face. The face and brand message have an authentic fit as Charlotte Rampling’s style and elegance is timeless, which suggests the brand can be too. Boots are also including older women in their current Ta Dah campaign, which features real women rather than models.

Walk the talk
Engaging the older generation often means actively involving them in your business. For a long time B&Q has employed the over 50s to respond to the rise in retired or semi-retired DIY-ers, upgrading their homes as new empty-nesters. Their strategy is to leverage the voice of experience and create a stronger relationship via lifestage, empathy, and sympathy. More than a recruitment policy, B&Q has carried this through to their marketing strategy and advertising to build comfort levels among this growing target audience.

Add a touch of fun
In this recent ad for Spec Savers, an older couple accidentally take a ride on a roller coaster and blame it on their cheese sandwich. The warm-hearted approach of this ad – which is one of a series featuring people of different ages in different scenarios – says more about the couple’s choice of spectacles than their age. By adding a touch of humour, the brand makes the message more about the individual than the age group.

The common threads running through these campaigns are that they speak to the individual rather than the age, create empathy, and work best when there is a genuine fit with the brand. In each of these examples the person – rather than the situation – is the hero, and whether it is their beauty, wisdom, or silliness we form an emotional connection with them, which is the key to communicating with the older generation. If brands can begin to reach out to older people as individuals with values, opinions, and personalities, rather than addressing a general condition of old age, they can continue to capitalise on the increasing value of the grey pound.

Caroline HeadshotCaroline Noon
Caroline is a founding partner of Vivid Research, specialising in conducting strategic qualitative research. Caroline has 25 years’ experience in research – in the UK and internationally. She has specialised in understanding customer experience in order to develop compelling consumer insights as a foundation for innovation and communications development.

Caroline is a full member of the MRS and is on the board of the AQR.

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