Why brands and marketers are missing out on the older generation


Older consumers have more energy, more money and more time and influence than many other age groups, but all too often they are often shunned by brands and marketing pros. 

Ageism, seems to be the last remaining ‘ism’ that is somehow still acceptable among brands and marketing firms, but as lifelong media fan and PR professional, Val Bodden, explains, they ignore the older generation at their peril…


I’m 70 and like many people my age – and dare I say, home workers of all ages sneaking a look over their laptops – I watch a fair bit of daytime TV.

I love Programmes like Loose Women and Lorraine, with its forthright presenters of all ages who aren’t afraid to say what they think, on a host of topics and important news stories of the day.

Yet in the ad breaks, I’m bombarded by ads for cremation plans, equity release, mobility furniture, coach trips for doddery sorts or those implying I’m about to have a stroke.

There’s the presumption from these relentless representations on ads that us older folk are all white-haired codgers with declining health, stuck in all day staring at the telly because we’re incapable of doing anything else.

What advertisers don’t seem to realise is, like many people of my vintage, I’m only watching daytime TV in the gaps during my busy schedule.

My days are filled with volunteering for a charity care provider, an over 50s lunch club, book clubs, zumba, watching the ups and downs of Everton and Wigan Athletic football clubs and still doing freelance consulting work.

I do line dancing classes every week too, and I’m the youngest there – someone had their 90th birthday the other day.

I enjoy camping trips to Cropredy Music Festival – Nile Rodgers and Chic are headlining this year and I can’t wait – and I have a friend who goes to Glastonbury annually too, when he can get a ticket.

Showtime: Over 50s enjoy spending on big live events.

Still active

Like many folk my age, I don’t see myself as elderly, or even an older person, and my brain is still as active as it ever was, despite the advancing years.

Research has found we feel almost 15 years younger than we actually are too and we’re living longer and we’re healthier than we were decades ago. But we don’t all have the same needs or likes just because of our age.

We’re enormously varied, whether it’s our ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, health, wealth, class, physical ability, whether we have families or not, or whether we’re still engaged in any way with the world of work or not. We’re diverse and complex.

Yet it seems that despite ASA regulations, stereotypes about older people still abound in the industry if the way we are marketed to is anything to go by.

Over 50s spending power

People over 50 have the highest spending power in the UK  – they are responsible for more than half (54%) of total household consumer spending in the UK at £319 billion a year.

Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay
Wealth and age: Over 50s have the highest spending power in the UK.

Meanwhile, data from Saga suggests 70% of the UK’s total wealth is held by those over 50.

In addition, the most recent research, admittedly before the start of the cost of living crisis, found spending by those aged 65 and over increased by 75% between 2001 to 2018, compared with a 16% fall in spending by those aged 50 and under.

The report predicted that by 2040, older people will be spending 63p in every pound across the UK economy.

Yet the way we are marketed to doesn’t reflect this.

It seems that more needs to be done to actually talk to us and discover that we’re as diverse as the rest of the nation. After all, there are almost 11 million people aged 65 and over in the UK, or around 19% of the UK population.

But it seems far too many brands and agencies are relying on the internet (or falling back on old stereotypes) when it comes to researching what we really want.

According to the most recent research from the ONS, internet use in the 65 to 74 age group increased from 52% in 2011 to 80% in 2018, and use by retired adults had increased by almost 25 percentage points since 2011, to 64% in 2018.

However, that still means a lot of us aren’t online, let alone on social media, where so much market research seems to be done.

Some brands get it right – the Saga ‘experience is everything’ ads hit just the right note and the What3Words ad is fun too, though it lets itself down by dressing up the woman in fogey clothes, barring her snazzy stolen trainers.

Workforce age gap

Brands and marketers don’t have older people in their workforces so to be truly representative in their comms, they should be out there, going out to sports clubs like those for golf, bowls, pickleball or walking football, dance clubs, book clubs, branches of U3A, festivals, football clubs, libraries, maybe even hitting the streets and talking to us.

They should be more research and good old-fashioned vox pops to get a true feel of what older people really want.

Maybe then, I’ll start getting something other than cremation plans marketed at me. That’s if I’m not out doing something more fun than watching daytime TV…