Advertisers wake up to the nifty fifties

The over-50s market is highly lucrative. At last, agencies are tailoring their campaigns to a group that refuses to grow old gracefully.
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The Independent Online

Leading figures from all walks of life will take part in the Longevity Revolution - a symposium on the implications of an ageing population that takes place in London today. Meanwhile, research to be published tomorrow will show a fundamental shift in how the young and old view getting older and identifies six new, clearly defined over-50s "tribes". For policy-makers and researchers, age is the issue of the day. So why does advertising lag stubbornly so far behind?

Leading figures from all walks of life will take part in the Longevity Revolution - a symposium on the implications of an ageing population that takes place in London today. Meanwhile, research to be published tomorrow will show a fundamental shift in how the young and old view getting older and identifies six new, clearly defined over-50s "tribes". For policy-makers and researchers, age is the issue of the day. So why does advertising lag stubbornly so far behind?

"Although society is ageing, older groups in particular feel alienated by advertising - the obsession with youth culture despite the reality of the population make-up," says Melanie Howard, co-founder of the Future Foundation. "Older people feel excluded from the media and advertising mainstream." And no wonder. While brands such as Honda and Toyota are more popular among older consumers because of their reliability, their advertising daren't admit it. It's a similar story with many brands. Although now widely bought by a broader cross-section of consumers than ever before, companies such as Pepsi and Nike are eager to maintain their youth credentials.

"Over-55s tend to be more loyal to brands than younger people. Why would a sensible marketing person target an older housewife with an ad campaign if that person is least likely to defect from a rival brand?" says Clare Rossi, managing partner and executive planning director at advertising agency Grey.

Now, however, things are starting to change. We are living longer and staying healthier. And with this has come a fundamental shift in attitude towards the process of ageing. Once getting older was a simple process - over-50 meant over the hill. Not so now, with a boom in adventure holidays for 50- and 60-year-olds; the number of 65- to 74-year-olds regularly eating out, and the arrival of "silver surfers" - British grandparents now regularly correspond with their grandchildren over the Internet.

The traditional view has been that 50-plus consumers are a single, dull, homogenous mass. In an attempt to redress this, BDP this week publishes a survey on attitudes to ageing. The aim? "To encourage advertisers to communicate more effectively with the growing number of older consumers buying their products," explains Richard Shirley, director of London sales promotion company BDP. "For many years, we've been reluctant as a nation to admit we're getting older, but the balance of society is changing."

According to BDP's findings, ageing is now seen to be about greater freedom, wisdom and self-fulfilment. While many 50-year-olds are eager to keep up with change, they remain more conservative than younger groups. In an attempt to reconcile this apparent contradiction, BDP believes it has come up with a far more realistic picture of the so-called "grey market" - one made up of six, clearly defined tribes.

First are the Time Bandits - a happy, health-conscious group with a penchant for Ralph Lauren, jeans and linen shirts. Typically Audi drivers, he is likely to still be earning while she has grand plans for refurbishing the holiday home. With well-stocked pension funds, they are conspicuous consumers. Loud, proud and attempting to outdo the Time Bandits, however, are BDP's second tribe: the Saga Louts. Saga Louts are intent on ageing disgracefully: high spending, they may have financial troubles but don't seem too bothered - their kids will help them out. Then there's the self-controlled, self-contained Great Whites - a charismatic breed whose nice homes and respectable appearance can hide shaky finances. Passionate about the finer things in life, Great Whites are cautious spenders whose money is likely to be mostly tied up in their homes. Next come Classic Genarians - a breed of traditionalists who dress sensibly, enjoy homespun tastes and save. The Cardi Army - middle-aged, middle-minded, middle-Englanders live modestly and always have done. And finally, the Dreadnoughts - the oldest group, who take each day as it comes and aren't afraid to speak their minds.

Age is becoming less important than attitude and lifestyle, Shirley explains. "Whilst you can't ignore the impact of getting older, it is increasingly misleading to target consumers by age alone. As the balance of financial power shifts as the population gets older, advertising will have to respond. It can't afford not to."

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