Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From Grey to Gold: shifting marketing’s focus to the Over-55 consumer base

By Andrew Goldsmith, Managing Director of Adelicious

 I recently read a brilliant article by Phil Rowley, Head of Futures at OMG, for WARC about age and how the marketing industry needs to grow up to keep apace with the aging demographic. As the reality is, that the UK’s over-55s are fast becoming the biggest spenders in every category. Today, they control £6tn in assets, hold nearly 70% of all UK household wealth and by 2040 older people will be responsible for spending 63p in every pound – essentially driving consumerism. To date we have dubbed spending by the older generations as the ‘Grey Pound’. As Rowley rightly points out in his article. This is increasingly becoming ‘the pound’. 

After reading Phil’s article I went looking for more on this topic and you really don’t have to look hard to find the evidence (there seems to be more published by the week!) that we, as an industry, are completely failing to understand and therefore talk in an appropriate way to the single most important demographic – the over 55s.

At the end of last year, Wavemaker teamed up with On Device Research on a piece of research called ‘Unmasking Ageism’. The key finding being that only 4% of research is ever done into different generations’ use of media and again disproportionately to younger demographics. Also, only 24% of TV ads feature people over 50 and only 5% of influencer advertising is targeted at over 50s (despite 23% of TikTok’s audience being over 50). There is clearly an age bias in advertising.

This research went on to reveal that, unsurprisingly and like all age-groups, the over 50s want to see content created by those from the same age group as themselves. They want it to feel authentic, relevant and age-relatable. And, get this: creator campaigns, something that sits at the heart of podcasting, is just as effective driving brand funnel gains amongst over 50s as they are for the younger generation. Gen X creators do deliver payback, especially for consideration, quality and identification metrics. And there’s more, Gen X audiences have higher viewer retention than their younger counterparts.

Sarah Robson, Global Head of Advertising Effectiveness at On Device Research, said: “Gen X is responsible for 27% of global spending but yet the advertising industry commonly overlooks this demographic. Our study demonstrated that 79% of the 18-34 age group currently see content from people the same age as them on social media – but this drops to 59% for Gen X. However, when it comes to what they actually want to see, it is clear there is a desire for more content representative of the Gen X market, with 80% agreeing they’d like to see content from people the same age as them.” 

The Invisible Powerhouse, a 2022 study from Mullen Lowe and Kantar aimed at helping brands become more effective at reaching consumers found ‘71% of people aged 55 and over were most likely to buy a product from a brand they felt represented them’. Yet, and this is the killer stat, MullenLowe’s research also showed that 88% of over-55s felt unhappy with the way advertising treated them, 7% expressed anger and 15% were depressed or disheartened. 

Martin Bojtos, Co-Founder of Podmasters who produce a number of high-profile, premium podcasts such as The Bunker, Oh God What Now? and Paper Cut, with audiences that often fall into the older demographic, said:

“The 60 year old of today is very different to that of 30 years ago; older people are fitter, healthier, more in touch with technology and media than ever before and have the benefit of disposable incomes and in many cases, financial freedom. Very few identify themselves as “old”; it’s a huge opportunity for advertisers who will serve their needs and aspirations”

So, what has gone wrong? 

Laying cards on the table, this disenchantment with the products these customers are being sold, starts way before they are served the ad. In fact, it starts with us. 

Yes, media briefs are evolving, the ones we see from brands coming in to advertise on our Adelicious hosted podcasts do often lean into a lifestyle, behaviour or interest. But then there is, I would say, more than three-quarters of the time, a line in the brief that then narrows the target audience range back down to under 45’s. We, as an industry collectively, need to be telling our brand clients that in 2024, they really still don’t need to put an age bracket in the vast majority of their briefs.

And if we all have the collective confidence to let go of the age grouping in our briefs, the money will follow.   A recent report from Spotify revealed an audience boom in podcast listeners in the “under-represented” 45+ age groups. In fact, over 45s showed the highest growth in audience demographics in 2023. Older people consume media. All kinds of media, even TikTok! Shock horror, who knew!?!

To put it bluntly, the over 50s are the most valuable generation in the history of marketing and yet they are ignored by almost all advertising. This audience is large, growing, becoming more vital and more important than they ever have been. The fact that so many brands are choosing to ignore them is, the more I learn about it, commercial suicide. 

But those brands that step into the opportunity will undoubtedly gain not just increased sales, but great long-term brand loyalty. Going after the 45+ audience now and you could be banking literally decades of customer support. 

But the problem also needs more thought than just dropping age ranges in briefs, it is affecting our workplaces too. As Phil Rowley’s article discusses in more detail: the Demographic Disruption is happening and it’s happening fast: birth rates are falling and life expectancy is increasing. In the UK, the birth rate is 1.58, below replacement level, with the ONS revealing record numbers of childless women. And with incredible advancements in health care, we are staying healthier and active longer.

Just look around where we work; advertising and marketing is an industry obsessed with progression and youth; I’m not saying that the focus on youth, millennials and Gen Z is wrong, it’s just disproportionate. Everyone is getting older and it’s been staring us in the face for years.

And to conclude, this is where I promote the industry I work in, podcasting, where there are now thousands of shows hosted by those in this age group. From the On Device Research/Wavemaker research,  this over 50 audience responded significantly better to content which featured influencers of their own age, exemplified by +73% higher relevance scores, +20% more likely to say the influencer was the “perfect fit” and +43% more likely to visit the test brand website. And the final point of their findings from this research was that, to gain trust and loyalty, brands must plan for the long term, with the evidence suggesting that long lasting brand ambassadors work better. Brands need to work with creators who reflect real lives, real interests and help audiences feel truly represented and I think podcasts are a great place to start.  

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