Brands Should Celebrate Older Consumers

Saying a product promotes “anti-ageing” is no longer acceptable.

In the battle against ageism this is something of a landmark victory. Age UK says that ageism, or age discrimination can impact on someone’s confidence, job prospects, financial situation and quality of life. They also claim the way older people are represented in the media can have a wider impact on the public’s attitudes.

As a marketer I have always thought it counterproductive that brands invest very little in targeting older consumers. This has much to do with the youthfulness of the industry; advertising agency personnel tend to be younger than the population as a whole. Clients are also very sensitive about positioning their brands too far from the proverbial youth market. In basic terms youth equals hip, whereas old is tired, and potentially (they fear) a one way trip to the brand knackers yard in the sky.

To be fair there is also evidence to prove that younger consumers are far more likely to try new brands than over 55s. But maybe that has a lot to do with poor communication. Why should older adults engage with brands when they feel no affinity?

I wrote about this subject for the Huffington Post at the beginning of 2015. This coincided with Age UK research revealing that 67% of older adults believed that advertising portrayed them negatively, with 75% not relating to advertising at all.

Bright old things

Ironically my article was inspired by a November 2014 cover feature in The Times Magazine entitled “Do You Want to Live Forever”, which predicted that “the global anti-aging market will hit £216 billion by 2018”. Looking for any signs of change I was delighted to visit ‘Bright Old Things’ at Selfridges, which offered a fresh twist on the store’s Bright Young Things series profiling the newest and most exciting creative talents in fashion.

I asked Selfridges’ Creative Director Linda Hewson to explain her strategy: “As a centenary-old department store which has been successfully reinventing itself over and over again, it made so much sense for us to shine a light on the wealth of talent and experience harnessed by bright, older creatives. These people can definitely teach us all a thing or two about growing old whilst staying young at heart and relevant.”

Bright Old Things launched December 2014 to great critical and public acclaim, which possibly inspired other department stores along with fashion and beauty brands to recalibrate their own marketing strategies to better account for the needs and desires of an ageing population.

Last year industry bible Marketing Week joined the movement with a leader article headlined “Over-50’s marketing should stop focusing on age”.

It began: “Over a third of the UK population is aged over 50 yet representation of this demographic in advertising is lacking and tends to be stereotypical. Just as the term ‘millennial’ should not be used as a catch-all for younger people, lumping mature consumers into a ‘50-plus’ demographic is lazy and off-putting for consumers.”

The article revealed that the Helen Mirren campaign for L’Oréal’s Age Perfectly Golden Age day cream was born out of consumer research that helped the brand recognise a need to ensure women of that age are “not invisible” and give them the “presence and confidence to stand shoulder to shoulder in any room”.

According to Hugh Pile, CMO at L’Oréal: “Brands should celebrate (older consumers) because from a strict marketing perspective they are a highly valuable audience. They are loyal, cash-rich and quite frankly there is so much to celebrate from their lives and experiences. That was why Helen was such a strong fit for us because she is a bold, confident and sassy individual who reflects those values.”

Anti-ageing is out

Fast forward to August 2017 and The Sunday Times headline reads: “How dare you say I’m ageing, my face cream is a youth liberator.”

The basic premise of the News feature is cosmetic companies and magazines have been ditching the term ‘anti-ageing’ in their quest to lure the older woman.

According to The Sunday Times the American fashion magazine Allure is at the forefront of the movement, after the magazine banned the word “anti-ageing” and is recruiting celebrities to its cause led by, you guessed it, Helen Mirren.

As reported in the September (17) edition of the magazine Dame Helen said that when L’Oréal originally reached out she made the same point: “I said, this word ‘anti-ageing’ - we know we’re getting older, you just want to look and feel as great as you can on a daily basis.”

Speaking at an industry event in the South of France earlier this month the Oscar wining actress was happy to expand: “I’m an eternal optimist - I know that when I put my moisturiser on it probably does fuck all, but it just makes me feel better. I’ve always said to L'Oréal as well that I will only do what makes me feel better. I’m not setting standards for others. All I can do is be who I am.” she said, according to The Telegraph. 

Allure magazine's editor in chief, Michelle Lee, said that 'anti-ageing' was “subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle...Growing older is a wonderful thing. I’m not going to lie and say that everything about ageing is great. We’re not the same at 18 as we are at 80. But we need to stop looking at our life as a hill that we start rolling uncontrollably down past 35.”

The Sunday Times points out that the cosmetics industry sells nearly £350bn worth of products globally each year. Consequently it is extremely sensitive to the feelings of its customers and is quick to identify trends - especially when its older customers are often the wealthiest.

Kristof Neiryneck, vice president and global category director skincare at the Walgreens Boots Alliance, told the Sunday Times: “It’s important to have the best possible skin for your age. We are not ‘anti’ growing older and we use positive language in our product names to reinforce this. We are inspired by the modern women around the world who defy the conventions of age”.

Coming of age

It looks like the fashion and beauty industry is finally coming of age and I predict that other sectors won’t be too far behind, especially digital health and assisted living - or agile ageing as I prefer to brand it - which is expected to become a trillion-dollar industry in its own right. More about that next time.

It would be wildly optimistic to suggest that ageism is dead and buried, and you can read more about the subject in this excellent blog by Nicola Palmarini (IBM Global manager solutions for ageing populations), however I do believe the tide is slowly but surely turning.

Image used with permission: Copyright