The average age across IPA member agencies is just over 33, just 5.3% of us are over 50. It’s a longstanding joke that over forties rarely exist in agencies outside of the board room. Where do they go? No one seems to know.
The issues with the relatively homogeneous agency world have been documented many times, notably in this case when Thinkbox revealed the difference between what advertising people think is normal media consumption, compared to what it actually is. For an industry which literally earns its keep on understanding such things, it was worryingly wide of the mark.
I’m 29, which by agency standards is positively middle aged. Based on the target audience from a significant proportion of the briefs I’ve received in my career so far, I’m also a prime consumer, smack bang in the oft desired 16-34 sweet spot. I work in a white collar office job in London, which makes me both “urban” (though I’ve never listened to 1Xtra) and ABC1. Two more boxes ticked.
But I’m also part of a generation famous for being financially screwed by a combination of a lacklustre post-financial crisis jobs market, rising student debt, Brexit stagnation, and particularly in London and the south, ballooning housing costs. This is a generation living at home until their late 20’s, who now buy their first house at 31 after needing to save £33,000 for their deposit – or for Londoners, an eye watering £112,604.
So why is it that marketers are so keen to fight tooth and nail for a poor, busy, and alarmingly cynical minority of the population?
When the first state pension was introduced in 1880, only 1% of adults were still around to collect it by the time they became eligible at the age of 70. Today 43% of men and 62% of women will still be alive and kicking at 80. One study suggests that if you’re 25 and live in an affluent country, you have nearly a 50% chance of reaching 100. The (presumably) King will be busy writing those letters.
Advances in medical technology and healthier lifestyles are not just helping us to die later, but to live longer. We’re seeing people in their late fifties taking cycling holidays; over sixties travelling the world as their kids finally move out, having paid off the mortgage years ago.
Empty nesters find themselves at a point where their available disposable income has increased significantly, over three quarters say they can “afford to splash out on luxuries sometimes”. In real terms pension income has tripled since 1977, while working incomes have only doubled in that time.
A survey of 2,000 people by OnePoll on behalf of student accommodation brand Unite, parents whose children had recently gone to university claimed to be fitter and richer, with improved social lives. They felt on average “ten years younger”, were able to socialise three times a week and had taken up new hobbies.
As well as being a useful consumer target, they are a significantly easier audience to reach with advertising. While Millennial and Gen Z consumers are tricky to pin down for more than a few seconds at a time as they flick between digital platforms, watch Netflix and pay for premium Spotify – over fifties are more likely to spend time with TV and newspapers, channels which tend to command greater attention, and where advertising is more accepted as part of the product.
For brands willing to throw out tired stereotypes of river cruises and electric armchairs, there is a powerful opportunity in embracing a more positive view of our later years. Simply choosing to speak to an easy to reach audience who are cash rich and time richer would do many businesses a world of good. But beyond the media planning implications, we’ve all seen the kudos generated by campaigns which readdress cliché audience representations, from Harry’s and Lynx challenging macho men, This Girl Can putting a real face on exercise, and the wonderful Fearless Girl facing down corporate sexism. Is the next frontier the brand who, rather than having to target an older audience, choose to?
Tim Whatley │ Planning Account Director