‘I keep finding myself using the word “integrity”, and think it might be something to do with getting older,’ muses Oval Books art director Vicki Towers, who has been ‘riding the buses for free for two years now’. Towers’ observation echoes a new report about branding aimed at capturing the grey pound. It declares that ‘older people have a powerful nose for manipulation and hype, and are looking for authenticity, not artificiality’.
AgeShift, published recently by ethical PR and marketing agency Forster, offers recommendations for designers and marketers wooing the over-50s – a lucrative market that Forster claims accounts for half of all discretionary spending in developed countries.
‘Speak plainly and truthfully,’ advocates the report, avoid sentimentality and don’t talk down to what can be ‘a sophisticated – sometimes cynical – audience’ that is looking for ‘information, logic and benefits’, rather than ‘brands, logos and image’.
To get the over-50s onside, the report recommends that designers and marketers use ‘the power of narrative, story and humour’ to hook in consumers. It also mentions that adopting a slower pace is helpful when communicating with the elderly.
Jeremy Myerson, director of the Royal College of Art’s inclusive design unit the Helen Hamlyn Centre, concurs that ‘a lot of older people are suspicious of branding, simply because they have lived through a lot of it’.
However, he warns against addressing all over-50s in the same manner.
‘Don’t lump all older people together as one homogenous group,’ advises Myerson. ‘Someone who is 51 is very different from someone who is 80, and older people are as diverse and multi-faceted as any other group.’
The report does state that marketers and designers should ‘imagine you are in a conversation with a unique person’, but in tackling graphic design offers detailed and specific advice.
It recommends type size of at least 10pt, using sans serif fonts, creating ‘clear numbering systems’, using diagrams and sidebars, and printing on glare-reducing heavyweight matt-finish paper.
Saga Magazine is aimed at men and women aged over 50. Its art director Paul Hayes-Watkins concurs that designing the magazine is ‘tricky’. ‘There are lots of things that I can’t do because of the age of our readers,’ he says. However, he agrees with Myerson that the category defies definition.
‘Our youngest readers are 50 and our oldest could be 100, so we are addressing an unusually broad audience for a monthly magazine,’ says Hayes-Watkins. ‘We try to address this problem by making the magazine look smart and non-threatening.’
While Myerson protests that there are issues around the physical effects of aging, such as loss of hearing, eyesight and strength, he says, ‘If I get everything in a Janet and John typeface I will feel stigmatised and patronised.
‘The idea that you can come up with a template standard for older people is nonsense.’
In some respects, says Hayes-Watkins, Saga Magazine readers are the most radical of all, because of their intolerance for Photoshop-ed images of [elderly] people.
‘We had to reject a shoot with Meryl Streep because she looked about 25. Our readers don’t want that – they’re very vocal, and so we can’t get away with it,’ he says.
Talking to the over-50s
Tips for branding and graphic design for the over-50s:
- Speak plainly and truthfully
- Don’t use wishy washy, bland style
- Imagine you are in a dialogue with a unique person
- Use plenty of white space
- Consider colour-coding for distinct sections
- Highlight ideas with headings, bullet points and fact boxes
- Use illustrations and diagrams
- Use type size of at least 10pt, and sans serif fonts