No its not me, but its an easy mistake to make

I’ve just read a great article in The Marketer about the make up of Britain’s population, and the demographic breakdown, especially as it applies to age. Did you know:

There are more people aged 65+ in the UK than aged under 16?

Those aged 65+ hold 80% of the national wealth?

Amazing. And even more amazing is the fact that marketers are largely ignoring this enormous, affluent market place in favour of time poor and resource poor younger people. It makes sense doesnt it. People in their twenties are paying off University loans or can’t get an appropriate job, or even worse, can’t get a job at all. People in their 30’s are getting themselves sorted with families and schools and homes and everything else. Whereas those older citizens have nothing to do other than spend all that lovely index linked pension money and cash in on the property they’ve paid the mortgage off on! (OK generalisation, but you get the picture!)

Here’s a quote directly from the article ‘In the UK, a significant shift is occurring whereby the living standards of many people aged 70 now exceeds that of many people in their 20s. UK pensioners benefit from a number of non-means tested and inflation-linked benefits, while younger people face increased university tuition fees, cuts in working tax credits and rising property prices’

The reason for this ignorance at least as far as The Marketer is concerned, is that marketing departments are made up predominantly of younger people, and the fact our population is getting older is a problem, a little like global warming, that some one else will have to deal with!

I suspect the first reason is a very powerful one. It is really difficult to imagine anyone other than yourself and your immediate peer group. In the same way that an older man may have no idea of what ‘floats the boat’ of young women these days – the reverse is also true. If you are young free and single how can you relate to the lifestyle and choices someone 50+ who has been married for years, whose kids have left university and who’s main worry is that the ache in the knees getting worse than the one in the back!

The other issue is that we still have a massively inaccurate idea of what it is to age. And therefore what older people ‘look like’. Not everyone ends up in slippers smoking a pipe. Check out those 50+ movie superstars Brad Pitt and George Clooney for a start.

The article also bemoans the typical marketers unsophisticated approach when it comes to targeting the older demo, and suggests three tactics that should be considered.

1. Simplicity: The article argues that many brands over complicate things, especially to the older end of the older end of the market. Why have 20 options when 5 would do? And why is packaging information made so small as to be impossible to read without a magnifying glass?

2. Niche ageing: Instead of lazy stereotyping and easy segmenting Marketers need to take a lead from an article in Time magazine which reported people heading to retirement homes based on their interests rather than their ages

3. Added value: Young people tend to consume products and older people services. Marketers need to consider therefore, how to wrap services around products to offer a new slant for an older target.

I think it’s a great article, and well worth a read. How many times have you been guilty of assuming everyone in the world is the same as you? Has the same interests and tastes and are  broadly even the same sort of age, with everyone outside your current range either too young to matter or too old to count?

Check it out on The Marketer website and let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or tweet me here on @radiojaja 

  1. Mike Bersin
    Mike Bersin says:

    Great stuff again Tony. What’s interesting is the political clout older people have. Many younger people who choose not to vote, in my experience, have not yet made the connection between their votes and politicians losing their jobs; politicians tend to pay attention to the opinions of people who vote rather than those who don’t. End result is pensioners, as voters, are more likely to get preferential treatment (ie the money, tax breaks etc) than the younger, who don’t, who will of course be the ones paying. As I get older I find my desire for everyone to become politically engaged conflicting with my less honourable desire to have a clear field for my political influence!

  2. davidhain
    davidhain says:

    I know this is about marketing, about which I am rather immature in my development. But I find the age thing is totally misunderstood in the field of learning too, one in which I’m a bit more mature, (I hope…!). So often people fool themselves with phrases like “I’ve got 25 years experience…” when I often think, and sometimes say …”or do you have 1 year’s experience repeated 25 times?” It’s sometimes about attitude, isn’t it? I don’t know if a 60 year old surfer would be impressed if someone brought out a board with pictures of OAPs on it or advertised surfing holidays for older people.

    There’s going to be a lot of ‘old’ people about in the next decades – I’m very close to being one. And yet I’d also admit to being much more engaged with life than in (some) decades past – ‘do not go gently’ seems a great maxim for living in fulfilment. Maybe we need to get old people and young people together, just like I think leadership development in the future will involve ‘diagonal slices’ rather than the typical gradist programme we are more used to. I don’t know if marketers are getting focus groups together around interests and motivation rather than age, sex, etc. Probably they are, if not maybe they should be. Blogging and social media are great examples where in most cases age, hierarchical status and other ‘isms’ are pretty irrelevant.

    I need to ponder more on this ramble but as ever you have made me think. Thanks Tony!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Great comment David – And I will remember that 25 x 1 years experience. What a great way to look at things. Just because People amass a number of years in an industry doesn’t necessarily mean they have gained the equivalent knowledge. Like that very much, thanks very much.

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Opportunity for you to open up an oldies format or nostalgic…

    Very thought provoking… I kind of side with Mike’s argument…the reality is that change will not come until we all drop dead… or we could go to Greece and retire at 50. Nice spotting, age trends are certainly fascinating…i have always said to advertising mates, the target market is where the politicians research and poll that is for sure.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Mike. I think the oncoming demographic explosion will be one of the biggest challenge facing Europe, much less the UK. Thanks for your comment

  4. Lorraine Pocklington (@atomicmutton)
    Lorraine Pocklington (@atomicmutton) says:

    Funnily enough as an aspiring – ahem – mature student who’s looking forward to doing a masters in internet related stuff (business and otherwise) at Aberystwyth next year (fingers crossed), I decided a while back that my future fortune will lie in addressing the neglected needs of my peer group of “oldies” in some way. Assuming that most of my fellow students will be the more usual age group then I foresee lots of interesting discussions next year…
    Hoping to blog about my life as a silver student (well, OK, bottle blonde), so will pop back with my blog address soon.
    Thanks for all the thought provoking sales & marketing blogs, Tony!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Hi Lorriane! Thanks for the kind words. And good luck with your Masters! I dont think their is much finer than the pursuit of knowledge, in whatever from it takes. I really look forward to reading your blog

  5. Dave Hague
    Dave Hague says:


    An interesting one that I would like your thoughts on. You discussed the fixation on youth inherent in advertisers but what about employers? I am 40 this year and feel very conscious of it working in commercial radio which is incredibly young. Can ‘mature’ people fit into young organisations? Are they prejudiced against or should we just ignore it and enjoy what we do? Who gives a damn if a peer is 15 years younger.

    What do you think?

  6. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Hi Dave! Great to hear from you. I think you’re bang on there. Ignore it and do what you do. More and more its the case that authenticity is the way forward and being yourself the prime focus.
    I think age is more than ever a state of mind, and I know for a fact you’ve always been a particularly young looking and thinking individual!
    It is certainly an issue though, as this data would indicate.
    Happy Birthday too!