Holly Kielty: “Brands need to stop ignoring women over 50”

Design Bridge director of storytelling Holly Kielty says that women over 50 have become a “forgotten audience” who they can no longer afford to ignore.

Anyone watching JLo at the Superbowl Half Time Show this year will attest to the fact that the role of women over 50 has shifted. No longer willing to slink off into anonymity, women reaching this age are healthier, more knowledgeable and wealthier than they’ve ever been before. We know they are ready to spend as well given that they account for 27% of all consumer spending — that’s 3% more than men of that age. So isn’t it high time brands other than Olay or Viking Cruises sat up and took notice of this powerful demographic? So many marketers and agencies obsess over Gen Z, but it’s those turning their attention to the more mature woman who may well get the last laugh when it comes to profits. Here are 5 ways in which brands can really relate to this generation of provocateurs.

Design Bridge director of storytelling Holly Kielty

Change the conversation

When This Works changed the name of its holistic skincare range for older consumers from No Wrinkles to My Wrinkles, it showed competitors the way to the over 50s female’s heart, and wallet. Ageing is no longer something to be feared, but embraced. And just as areas of the beauty and fashion industries are diversifying and opening up conversations about “what is beauty?” — ageing has to be a part of this dialogue for all brands. Why exactly are wrinkles to be avoided like the plague in women, when they’re seen as a sign of experience in a man? What exactly is “anti-ageing” to a generation where to age is a beautiful thing? Why do women have to feel so negative about their bodies, and lives, evolving? Focus on the positives, be open and authentic about the facts, and you’ll speak a language that women everywhere are excited to hear.

Don’t Helen-Mirren Wash

Need a face for older beauty? Get Helen on speed dial. Or failing that, Jane Fonda. But representing an older consumer shouldn’t just be a box-ticking exercise. Just as it does for Gen Z, representation of over-50 comes in all forms. There are plenty of real women who can represent their generation in exciting and energising ways. So don’t default – be as imaginative in your casting for the over 50s as you would be for any younger generation, because doesn’t every consumer want to see more of themselves in the brands they buy from?

Engage and empower

Connecting with the over 50 woman isn’t just about making the right vitamin pill or fitness range (although that would help). It’s about understanding and being attentive to how they think, feel and want brands to speak to them, in any sector. Think about it; you’ve lived a life, possibly raised a family, maybe run a company – being patronised or polarised is not in your interest. When you’ve got financial freedom and confidence you want clarity, intelligence, freshness; a brand whose positivity about the future reflects yours. But you also may want things de-codifying and personalising, too – everything from pensions to cars. Addressing these things will make an impact where no generic pastel-colored wrinkle cream can.

Employ your audience

You wouldn’t try to target millennials without hiring one or two. The same applies here – get to know your audience by working (and playing) alongside them. Witness their daily routines; the happiness of an empty nest, dating beyond late divorce, the new attention to fitness and ageing well. If you aren’t having conversations with these women, how will you know what makes them tick? These are the women that forged a new equality, who fought for today’s societal freedoms. Believe me, they have opinions worth hearing and creativity worth harnessing – and you want their wisdom in your office.

De-stigmatize Menopause

Once taboo, “the change” is taking a stand. It’s a huge part of the landscape of a woman’s life, and so deserves to be explored and de-mystified with the right combination of expertise and empathy. There is a vast array of educative material and product out there for pregnant and nursing mothers, but when it comes to the Menopause, everything (excuse the terminology) dries up. Whether it’s supplements, lubrications, beauty products or simply practical information, brands need to step up and provide, if only to start conversations and remove the stigma. If half the population are going through this enormous hormonal shift at some point in their lives, brands and our creative industries need to change their perspectives accordingly. Women demand, and deserve, more.

Women over 50 are no longer willing to be unseen. From Michelle Obama to Arianna Huffington to Ginni Rometty, this demographic is more powerful and influential than it’s ever been, and yet still more invisible in our creative culture than it should be. Because women over 50 are, in many ways, the epicenter of so much of our commercial and social fabric they’re also wiser and more capable of forging change than they’ve ever been given credit for. Yet they’re largely ignored in advertising, design and the corporate world in favour of a youth culture that’s not nearly as affluent or decisive. It’s time for this forgotten audience to become more visible to designers and marketers because what benefits these women, will benefit society as a whole.

Banner image: Jennifer Lopez in New York, 2019 


Hide Comments (5)Show Comments (5)
  • Lavinia Culverhouse March 8, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Ironically the design industry is one of the biggest offenders – over 50 and female and you become totally invisible.

  • Kip March 8, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    What a refreshing insight – and the first time I have encountered such a level headed appraisal of the potential and power of this audience. Thank you! Kip, 57.

  • Julie Green March 9, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Didn’t feel invisible in my fifties, but definitely do in early sixties – still working with no intention of stopping – sadly however, in my experience, the worst offenders of being totally dismissive of any experience I might have garnered in my several, relatively successful, decades in the graphic design industry are women in their late twenties / early thirties. Looking back now, I fear I was exactly the same at this age – it’s a kind of inevitable smugness of youth…. I think we felt we knew it all – and would of course never get older ourselves! Not sure if it will or can ever be any different…

  • Caroline March 12, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Great article, but why oh why are women over 50 still categorised as empty nesters? There are those of us who will still be raising a family when we reach that milestone, as we started a family later. Again, it’s another example of pigeon-holing women when, as the article so correctly highlights, one size doesn’t fit all. We, men and women, are all individual and so brands that try to take the lazy way out by stereotyping, rather than confidently expressing their USPs, will be doomed to miss their mark.

  • mike wyatt March 17, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    I don’t think it just applies to woman over 50… Men as well of that age are often viewed as a sleepy, slow and steady…

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