Dam Digital’s Nadia Turan: why it’s time to breathe some life into marketing to over 50s

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BBC Breakfast literally stopped me in my tracks one morning last week. You would be forgiven for thinking that it was a breaking news story that caused me to spin around and stare at the screen, but no – the broadcaster was running a segment on the menopause – at breakfast time.

A floor manager was filmed having a hot flush on live TV and further digging revealed that presenter Louise Minchin had discussed her own experiences of going through ‘the change’ earlier on in the week-long ‘Wake Up to the Menopause’ campaign.

As a woman in her early fifties, I thought it was an attention-grabbing piece of marketing for the BBC to target an older female audience in that time slot. I’ve always felt that most brands don’t represent enough people over the age of 35 in their campaigns, but it’s now become apparent that the unhealthy obsession with appealing to millennials means many are not even trying to reach the over 50 demographic. And whilst I admire the BBC’s efforts, the campaign somewhat exemplifies why brands are failing in their marketing efforts to over 50s. The current approach seems to be that only awareness campaigns around health, pensions etc. (supposedly age appropriate topics for over 50s) are accorded the level of creative flair that other campaigns receive.

There also continues to be numerous misconceptions about how the older generation spend their money. My business partner and I are both over 50 but we run, cycle, do yoga and own Apple watches. In fact we’re more active than our much younger employees. They don’t see us as fossils and often ask us for tips on the best restaurants, great weekends away and art exhibitions. We share thoughts on gigs and box sets alike. I don’t know any 50-somethings who aren’t craving the latest holidays, food, fashion and gizmos but I do know a lot of 50 something year-olds who have to look bloody hard to find them, and that’s the problem. In this era where nearly every other stereotype is being blended into an advertising campaign, it’s alarming that age is still not being viewed similarly.

When brands try to speak to the over 50s, we often end up with uninspiring creative campaigns that are plagued with the same old stereotypes. Adidas tried with ‘Break Free,’ which had the right sentiment but was let down somewhat by the fact that the stars of the ad were shown in a care home with dementia. We don’t all end up infirm, in a home and senile, and certainly not as soon as we hit 50.

There appears to be little understanding of the fact that the older generation is a multi-faceted group of individuals with different desires and aspirations – much like any other age group. The phrase “grey pound” is no longer widely referenced in marketing circles but it is still readily accessible to smart brands that acknowledge it as a lucrative source of business revenue.

So what constitutes (to borrow a phrase from this very site) an ideal ‘Desert Island Ad’ for inclusivity? For me, it has to be the Levis ‘Circles’ commercial simply because it does a great job of inclusive marketing. Old and young from differing cultures all dancing to the same beat – “Men, Women, Old, Young, Rich, Poor, Gay, and Straight. Let’s live how we dance” – I love this ad. This is the only ad I’ve seen that truly embraced an ageless strategy.

A more recent example from the world of fashion and beauty, which often leads the charge on perception change campaigns is the partnership between British Vogue and L’Oréal on ‘The Non Issue’ campaign for the May issue of the style bible. It was described as a ‘direct response to a youth obsessed culture where women over 50 still feel invisible.’ Actress Jane Fonda was the cover star and other L’Oréal Paris ambassadors like Helen Mirren and Isabelle Adjani were also featured within the pages. The campaign received mainly positive reviews, and L’Oréal must be applauded for injecting a dose of originality into their over 50s marketing efforts.

Cosmos Tours and Cruises and Avalon, two partner brands that are traditionally associated with older consumers are actively looking to re-set the expectations and operate differently. During their brand transformation last year, there was a significant shift to show the active side of the holidays to reflect how customers viewed themselves. A large proportion of the customer base who are 60+ and still noticeably fitter than some of their younger holiday companions, were keen to ensure they weren’t represented visually as one of a crowd of silver haired ‘older’ looking holiday goers.

The new visual style represented the view from their customer’s perspective and focused on the breath-taking scenery, the journeys and the overall experience. It’s been a hit with customers and the business and could easily be replicated by other brands.

I remember working on the first sports car launch that was aimed at women: the Audi TT. It was a huge step in the right direction but it was also very radical at the time. This was also around the time when soap adverts only had women dancing around a washing machine. It’s been great to watch how people’s perceptions have changed to the point that it’s now rainbow families on screen and almost (mainly positive) gay stereotyping in many advertising campaigns.

That’s where the industry needs to get to with showing different ages in advertising. We need some rule-breaking brands to show up and put older people in their material. If we don’t, brands will continue to fail to reflect the society in which we exist, which can only hinder the emotional connections we’re all seeking to build.

Size might not matter, but age certainly does when it comes to marketing.

Nadia Turan is executive creative director of Dam Digital.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.