“Gold not old”: Marketing to older women is a missed opportunity

Jul 2, 2018 | BLOG

By: Amna Riaz, Research Assistant, ILC

Older people, women in particular, are a valuable market, however currently feel like they are being ignored and misrepresented. This blog explores why marketing and advertising should reflect the diversity of the over 55 category, and not rely on stereotypes to target this group.  

Contemporary consumer culture is reflecting changing identities and behaviour of older people. This has been facilitated by changes in working lives and lifestyles, so that people express their identities in the form of what they consume. One does not just buy the ‘product’ but also a certain ‘lifestyle’. Contrary to assumptions about age, older people have been reshaping their identities in later ages, and even reforming the concept of ‘‘old’ itself. They are travelling, starting businesses, even getting tattoos for the first time. Furthermore, the over 55s are increasingly a complex group; they could be single, or still have young children, and thus are far from being a single block.

Despite this, many older people feel they have not been well catered for in how marketing and advertisers speak to them. Marketing and advertisers often prioritise younger people over older people, and when they do specifically target older people, they often treat them as homogenous. With a growing population of over 55s who have a diverse set of needs, marketers need to reflect their diversity when targeting them.

A survey by Gransnet and Mumsnet finds that 85% of users over 55 years old think that advertising aimed at older people still rely on stereotypes, and a further 79% believe it is patronising. Additionally, 55% find the use of the terms ’older’, ‘silver’, ‘mature’ and ‘senior’ as “jarring”.

Research in the US finds that older women are a “growing misunderstood market”. One study found that women felt health advertising was often ‘preachy’; instead they preferred one that was conversational in style. The cosmetics and TV industries in particular have been criticised. One study found that people of all ages and genders noted that middle aged women were often invisible on TV. Another report found advertisers for beauty products often used younger models, perhaps assuming that older women were no longer interested in beauty once they reached older ages. The mismatch of targeting, and subsequent alienation has also been felt in other industries such as the financial services and the automotive industry. Research finds that women want to be included amongst women of other ages rather than being targeted as a separate category.

Recently some progress has been made to normalise seeing older women in TV advertising. For example, the M&S “Leading ladies” campaign in 2014 featured a range of women, including older women. Likewise, L’Oréal, has ran its ‘gold not old’ campaign supported by Helen Mirren. A small number of niche consultancies have cropped up in the US that market to older people. However, that is not enough.

The over 55s outspent younger people by £376bn in 2016 in the UK. Furthermore, women have “heightened” purchasing power compared to generations of women before. In fact research by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2015 predicted that women could provide an extra $12 trillion in annual gross global GDP by 2025 if the gender pay gap is narrowed, showing the potential size of this market.

This is why it is important to include older women within marketing and advertising, and target their diverse needs without using existing stereotypes. With a growing ageing population, marketing and advertisers will continue to do a great disservice to the diversity that is the over 55 consumer group, if they continue to use conventional messaging. Better marketing could increase economic activity amongst this group and thereby benefit wider society as well.

Amna Riaz

Research Assistant, ILC

Amna joined ILC-UK in April 2017 as a Research and Policy Intern. Her research interests vary and cover class and identity politics, feminism and LGBTQ activism. She is also interested in young people and activism online, as well as looking at regional politics with a particular focus on Yorkshire. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to research and is demonstrated in her analysis.