Advertisers need to get wiser as population gets older

Bette Davis once said: "Old age is not for sissies." Well, whether it is tough or not, there are now more older people than ever before.

The Office for National Statistics has issued figures showing that for the first time in the United Kingdom there are more pensioners than children - more than 13 million of them in fact.

A spokesman for Help the Aged said last week that "an ageing society is a fact of life which should be welcomed and embraced, not treated with concern".

But I am not at all sure it is being welcomed in most marketing, advertising and media departments.

I have yet to see the brief for a brand that has an active, youthful 50-year-old as a bullseye focus for the target market.

In the few campaigns that don't target 18 to 44-year-olds in some shape or form, the over-50s are usually treated as decrepit or stereotyped grandads.

Just as there are few campaigns that reflect the realities of life for the over-50s, many media owners are ambivalent about enjoying a strong profile in that demographic.

Television, which might delight in the relationship it has enduringly with them in the future, has downplayed it where possible so far.

In commercial radio, there are few stations that have an audience of older people, and not many magazines succeed in sustaining a bond with them.

Part of the problem is the lack of humour too often involved when considering this demographic.

Campaigns are often serious and worthy, when of course it is obvious your sense of humour doesn't disappear on your 50th, 60th or 70th birthday.

There is a view that this audience can be cynical and set in its ways. Well, there is plenty of evidence that the over-50s are likely to change brands and try new things. But they may certainly be cynical - after all, they've seen it all before.

Actually, it strikes me as wasteful that we try out leading-edge communications on the young. After all, they haven't seen it all before. The kids are alright with more conventional forms of advertising - they like them and they act on them.

It is the older consumer that we need to try harder with. First, we have to fully understand their value. Second, we have to try to persuade them to change. They are an important group in today's climate, and advertisers that continue to treat them like wastage or with cliches will lose out.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom

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