Wake up and smell the formaldehyde

Jackie Harris

Brightspark Marketing

Cruise shipDemographically speaking, it seems that I’ve been pushed into a new tick box.

How do I know? Because of the terrifying catalogues that have started landing on my doormat. Gargantuan pants that could sail an Americas Cup yacht, gardening implements that I frankly don’t understand, and nice comfy granny shoes.

I share my new ‘box’ with women like Nigella Lawson, Madonna and Mary Portas. Do you seriously believe that any of those women (or me for those of you that know me) are ready to buy a McCarthy & Stone retirement home? Can you imagine Madonna snuggling down ‘of an evening’ with a nice mug or Horlicks with her tootsies encased in a Big Slipper? Or maybe a Saga holiday?

Not on your f***ing life! She’s still rocking it in her pointy Jean Paul Gaultier bras and behaving disgracefully with toy boys young enough to be her grandson (biologically speaking).

We’re talking about the Over 50s market. And from my point of view I can tell you, marketing people are getting this horribly wrong.

Let’s start with a few cheeky stats…

  • There are around 18.3 million over 50s in the UK.
  • We make up roughly one in three of the population.
  • 80% of the UK’s wealth is held by people over 50.
  • 65% of all new cars are bought by over 50s.
  • Half of all cosmetics sold are bought by over 50s.
  • 45-50 year olds have the highest household ownership of digital equipment.
  • Over 50s contribute £300 billion to the UK economy and our spending power is high than any other age group.
  • On Twitter the 55-64 year age bracket is the fastest growing demographic with 79% growth rate since 2012.
  • The fastest growing demographic on Facebook’s and Google+’s networks are the 45 to 54 year age bracket at 46% and 56% respectively.
  • Since the economic crash, women over 50 are finding new careers and starting their own businesses.

So what’s with the leaf blowers and enormous pants?

Twiggy collection at Marks & SpencerSo with all this power, wealth and digital know-how, why are people in this age group suddenly targeted with marketing bumph for retirement homes, enormous pants, thermal vests, leaf blowers (why?) and Saga holidays as soon as they hit the magical 50?

According to Marks & Spencer, my role model should be 66 year old Twiggy who appears in ads, grinning in M&S ‘smart but casual’ elastane-rich slacks, ballet pumps and a tailored blazer. I wouldn’t be seen dead in anything from that range. If this is who Marks & Spencer thinks women of 50 are, it’s little wonder their fashion revenues are going down the pan.

Stop marketing to me like I’m a little old lady

I meet a lot of businesses in my job. A key question I always ask business owners is ‘who’s your target market?’ And when they say ‘over 50s’, my heart sinks, because their creative approach, the tone of voice, the language is not aimed at me, or any women I know who are also in my ‘box’.

It feels like, everyone from 50 onwards is just one group – so if you’re 51 or 91, the marketing is all the same

As far as I can see, over 50s marketing is mostly aimed at people in their 70s. So if companies want to capture some of my cash, and the people in my demographic box, you need to wake up and smell the formaldehyde.

This is a powerful demographic group with money to spend and serious clout. Stop treating us like little old ladies and you know where you can shove your thermal vest catalogue.


15th February 2016

Jenny Catton

Great article. I’ve just entered a new box too so will be interested to see how the marketing I receive changes. My mother is 65 and more likely to be drinking prosecco and heading up mountains than staying at home drinking cocoa. Marketers really are missing a trick if they fail to communicate properly with this huge group.

15th February 2016

John Espirian

Nice post, Jackie. You’d think by now that marketers would know to follow the money.

15th February 2016

Allison Hill

I completely agree! One other thing that really irritates me is IT manuals for ‘Seniors’ and ‘The Over 50’s’. Why does someone in their 50’s need special instruction – are we completely stupid? I am 60 this year, I run my own business and I have been using email, websites and all other IT tools since they began. Yes I need to keep to keep up to date, but I am perfectly capable of reading the same manuals that 30 and 40 years olds read.

Thanks for raising this. Have a great week.

15th February 2016

Charlote Fleming

I’m now in the “over 60” box, and it gets even worse! I’ve just finished building a house, with my own fair hands and those of my 58-year-old partner, I go scuba diving and hill-walking, and I’d much rather drink a decent bottle of wine than a cup of Horlicks. I am soooo not ready for retirement (or leaf-blowers).

15th February 2016

Jacqui Pulford

You are so right! The moment I turned 50 I started getting ads for funeral plans, Saga and other ‘old people’ bumf. Frankly, it was insulting and they totally missed the mark. Some of my friends may be grandparents now, but I don’t think even they feel ready for retirement homes.

15th February 2016

Carol Waterkeyn

Well said, Jackie. There is a huge difference between being 50 and over 70 and yet advertisers don’t seem to realise that.

15th February 2016

Tom Albrighton

Great post. Bob Hoffman of Ad Contrarian has a lot to say on this topic – not just lumping all ‘old people’ in together, but also chasing after young people as customers even though they’ve got less money and are far less likely to buy:

22nd February 2016

Penny Neu

Couldn’t agree more. There are huge opportunities going begging because agencies don’t understand the markets they need to communicate with. I’ve blogged about this a lot since I too hit the magic new box and started being treated as though I’m knocking on death’s door. It matters hugely – not just because we’re being sold the ‘wrong’ things, but also because this view of the over-50s limits the workplace opportunities we might be offered.

24th February 2016

Jackie Harris

Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment. I think any brand who wakes up to this will be onto a winner! It’s a topic that we should be talking about more I think.

25th February 2016

Kevin Sheeran

Great article including some very useful statistics. But don’t get me started on this subject.

I’ve been a copy and content writer for 30 plus years – 21 as a freelancer. And when I pushed past the big 5-O my door mat, in box and social media feeds went ballistic with promotional stuff from all the usual suspects.

The most excruciating of which was, by far, for the male incontinence pants.

I’m 57 and was out last night steaming around a freezing cold school field enduring a circuit training class run by a couple of ex Royal Marines. And I held my own with men and women well under half my age.

Two positives to report:
1) I am treated with much ‘older statesman-style’ respect by the youngsters in many of the agencies I work in. And when those agencies want a bit of gravitas added to the pitch team, I’m usually (though not literally) wheeled in.

2) I have the pleasure of saying to my growing-up daughters, ‘Yeah, but the original was better.’

Anyway, time for my daily Sanatogen.

3rd March 2016

Elaine Swift

Fabulous article. It’s so true. I just don’t identify with the grey-haired people grinning at me from the marketing stuff I get these days.
I find it pretty insulting. In fact, I return most of this type of direct marketing with a note on the back to let them know how insulted I am and that they need to take a good hard look at their marketing strategy.

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