Get to grips with a grey area

Why does branding target youth, at the expense of a growing older demographic with a greater disposable income, asks Nicole Wiener.

By 2020, half of all adults in the UK will be over 50. Average life expectancy is increasing all the time and it is expected to reach 120 years of age by the end of this century. The pattern is the same across Europe, the US and Japan. In fact, the number of centenarians in the world is predicted to grow from 135 000 in 2000 to 2.2 million by 2050. Add to this the fact that the over-50s own 75 per cent of all financial assets and account for half of all discretionary spending power in developed countries, and the opportunity for designers and brands is clear.

In spite of this trend, brand owners are missing out. With a few exceptions, older consumers are largely ignored, patronised or marginalised by brands. Look at daytime TV – it’s littered with a trail of dull, patronising ads for life insurance and stair lifts, as if these are the only products anyone over 60 will be interested in.

Today’s ‘new seniors’ are certainly not slipping into old age. Attitude over age is their motto and, although their senses may not be as alert as they used to be, inside they still feel 25. They are more likely to be starting businesses than retiring, as new seniors are responsible for 15 per cent of all business start-ups in the UK, a 50 per cent increase over the past ten years. The older generation is healthier, wealthier and happier than their parents. Think about it. They have benefited from the heyday of the welfare state and advances in medicine, and they are more knowledgeable about health-related issues. Their kids may have recently left home, so they have the freedom to spend money on themselves. They are also smart when it comes to purchasing decisions. They are Web-savvy and are not taken in by brands spinning them a line. Some say they are the luckiest generation alive. Things might not be so good for us, and younger people are just as likely to envy their parents, as feel alienated by their aging lifestyles.

So what are they spending their money on? Travelling is certainly high on their agenda, but it’s an adventure holiday in Malaysia rather than a coach trip to Blackpool, and that BMW that they’ve always coveted instead of extra life insurance. Many are also interested in world cruises, second homes abroad, designer clothes, eating out and home interiors – many of the products and services that we, as younger consumers, also aspire to buy or own. Research shows that 50- and 60-year-olds want to indulge in similar activities as they did in their youth – but at the same time they have modest tastes and needs, and want to spend their money wisely. That BMW is more about comfort and performance than the conspicuous ‘look at me’ cachet, that is so coveted by younger drivers.

So why is the majority of advertising skewed towards youth? And when it is targeted at the over-50s, why is it so misguided? Youth and fashion are still the basis of today’s marketing and design services – which are dominated by the young, who inevitably design for themselves, based on what they know and who they relate to. Just four out of ten marketing directors are under 35; only one in ten is over 50.

The over-50s encompasses a large group of people – a more heterogeneous demographic than other consumer segments. It’s also not as simple as segmenting according to age anymore, as people age at different rates. We need to think of aging as a continuous, natural process – a psychological and physiological journey that we all find ourselves involved in.

We need to talk to older consumers as if we were talking to our future selves, responding to our own needs and wants as we get older. We need to develop a new way of thinking about older people to gain a deeper, more intuitive understanding of their lives. Consider how your relationship with your surroundings, and the brands you buy, changes as you get older. Ask yourself how your needs have changed over the past ten years. How different will they be when you are over 60?

Nicole Wiener is associate planning director at Fitch

What does an aging population mean for brand design?

• Don’t approach this segment of consumers with pre-conceived ideas about their lifestyles

• Don’t think of the over-50s as one homogeneous group

• Understand the influences that have shaped their lives – their likes, needs, wants, role models and peers

• Try to understand how it feels to experience the effects of aging

• There is a gap between how old we feel and our capabilities

• Yes, older people need age-friendly, functional products and services, but not at the expense of style

• A 55-year-old will generally understand modern marketing and brand communications

• They don’t rely on brands for their identity, but will instead look for a genuine reason to buy

• Their approach to brands is more experienced and pragmatic

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