The Unstoppables

25 Jun 2013|Lee Manning Craik

‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Greys’, ‘Silver Surfers’… Whatever their label, the over fifty audience will soon reach a staggering 2 billion people globally. For the first time it’s the fastest growing demographic, and not one to be ignored.

Having been hot news at the turn of the century, the focus has dwindled as technology has made younger, more tech savvy audiences a bigger priority. But adults born between 1946 and 1964 presently make up half of the population of the U.S., and that number is growing at a rate almost three times that of the 18-49 demographic. It’s not surprising then that their spending power makes them, according to a mid-2012 Nielsen report, the “most valuable generation” in the United states.

The pattern is similar elsewhere. In the UK, they make up 35% of the population and have the highest disposable income of any age group, and all EU-27 countries have seen this part of the population grow between 1985 and 2010.

They are a very attractive audience. so attractive in fact, that brands like Mac, Jimmy Choo, Lanvin, Céline and Delvaux have all recently featured campaigns with 50+ models, even the film and cinema industry is realising the potential of the ‘grey’ dollar with numerous movies targeting them due to launch in 2013. And the likes of Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Aegon have even formed the Global Coalition on Aging to help handle the age boom.

However, a recent global deep dive into the 50+ audience reveals this sector of the population to be far from a homogenous whole. They are a multi-faceted audience with many different needs, motivations and desires, which drive how they engage with brands and, consequently, how brands need to engage with them.

What is consistent though, is that almost no-one feels their true age. For the first time, many are now liberated from their family and social obligations, creating economic freedom and time to explore new hobbies and interests. Playtex has capitalised on this sense of optimism and vitality in their recent campaign, designed to recognise ‘just how fabulous, positive, stylish, confident and amazing this Ageless Generation can be’. It’s a fantastically upbeat and positive approach to an audience many brands talk to in a less than vital way.

The notion of being ‘old’ now happens much later than it used to. Just twenty years ago the traditional retirement age was fifty and as such you were considered to be ‘old’. While this remains true for some countries like Brazil, it’s changing as people entering their 50’s are still active in the workplace with plans to be so for many years to come. It’s critical that these people stay mentally active and socially engaged.

B&Q, the UK DIY store has been focusing on this audience for some years and has served them well. Quick to realise the commercial potential of the dramatic increase in DIY behaviour when people retire, they’ve responded with relevant product innovation, whilst simultaneously recruiting people in their fifties to advise customers their own age, and those who are younger, with less home maintenance experience.

But while the ‘retirement’ years can be a time of freedom, they aren’t without their stresses. Changes in mobility, a lack of medical support and in some cities, a dramatic change to urban architecture is fracturing the traditional support network. In addition, the quantitative easing which has helped to buoy up some economies is having a severe impact on the disposable income of retired people, many of whom have under-estimated how long they will live for. It can be a time of anxiety, as older parents try not to burden their adult children with their evolving needs.

Psychological studies (such as Novak & Mather 2007, Jahn, Gaus & Kiessling 2012) highlight how well older consumers reward brands that meet these needs, with loyalty and word of mouth approbation. Once this bond of trust is established, not only is it very hard to dislodge, but it in fact deepens over time.

The opportunity to build strong relationships with this older audience is huge.

Brands that understand how nuanced this audience is, and respond to both functional and emotional needs by creating empathy which reflects their values and beliefs will have enormous potential for growth.


MAC full


MAC makeup teamed up with fashion icon Iris Apfel.


By Lee Manning-Craik

Picture source: The Guardian

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