Prevailing misconceptions of older generations mean some brand marketers are missing out on a vibrant and lucrative consumer base, argues Crispin Reed”Over 50? Puzzled by computers?”
This was the headline of a poster that greeted me in the window of a shop in my local High Street.
Now, I’ve no doubt that there will be ‘over 50s’ in my neighbourhood who are in need of IT help. But I’m sure there will be equal numbers – particularly those in their early 50s who were 30-somethings at the advent of the desktop PC, email and Microsoft Office – who won’t give it a second glance because their answer to that question is a resounding “no”.
The stereotype threat
It’s not just the humble one-man IT fixer who falls foul of this blunt target audience definition. Brands around the world are being caught out by what is known in academic circles as the ‘stereotype threat’.
Studies from respected institutions such as Harvard University show stereotypes about age are stronger and more resistant to change than those about race or gender.
In fact, age prejudice is socially condoned. For example, greetings cards brands don’t help by producing birthday messages bemoaning the ageing process! All in all, getting older is thought to be bad.
Why is it that in the UK, laws to protect against sexual, race and disability discrimination were passed in 1975, 1976 and 1995 respectively, yet the Age Discrimination Act was passed as recently as 2006?
Time for brands to get serious
There is a very important reason why older generations should be taken more seriously by brands – they are a great source of business; and they are a great source of wisdom.
In terms of a source of business, the UK Office for National Statistics data shows that 55-64 year olds on average have £634,000 in total assets. It’s true that some of these assets may be tied up in houses and pensions but compare this with 25-34 year olds who have, on average, £120,900 in total assets.
In the UK people over 50 account for no less than 40% of all consumer expenditure. They buy 80% of all top-of-the-range cars, 50% of all face-care cosmetics and 50% of mineral water – while US statistics show 80% of all luxury travel is purchased by over-50s.
And yet 90% of all marketing and advertising spend in Europe is dedicated to those under 50, according to the BBC.
However, there are brands out there who are embracing the opportunity.
Nintendo has done an admirable job in its marketing and advertising, featuring three generations enjoying the Wii – a product which is in fact actively recommended for sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease.
A rugged looking 64-year old Jeff Bridges is currently the face of fashion brand Marco Polo, while Joanna Lumley (67) extols the virtues of Sky+ in the TV spot.
From hot food to holidays
In terms of wisdom – in our line of work at fusion learning, we’re finding older generations are some of the most enthusiastic participants in co-creation innovation workshops, for example.
They have accumulated decades of experience, both professional and personal, that they are more than willing to share. They also seem to have less to prove and are arguably more open, honest and outspoken.
Insights from older generations helped us develop new ideas for ready meals that celebrated the busy lives they lead. This was in contrast to the stereotypical view that they were ‘sad and lonely’.
And, when it comes to travel, we found ’empty nesters’ had more in common with gap-year backpackers than family holidaymakers. They embrace their new found freedom and continued good health to explore the world.
The torture test
Many brands claim older people are cynical and harder to influence than younger generations, but I would argue the opposite is true.
It’s simply that strategies have been developed by marketers who succumb to the stereotypes. Older generations provide a fantastic torture test. Adopt the right, empathetic approach and they will open their minds, wallets and purses.
I’ll leave the last word to American journalist Dorothy Fuldheim, who once said “youth is a disease from which we all recover”.
This article first appeared on The Guardian Media Network