Wealthy, green and chatty, why age is just (an unhelpful) number

Wealthy, green and chatty, why age is just (an unhelpful) number
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

Older audiences are often an overlooked growth segment, and we can no longer assume that they’ll simply overhear our advertising because of the way media ages up, writes Wavemaker’s strategy chief.

Last week The Media Leader wrote a great piece about why older audiences are not targeted by advertisers despite being on the surface an extraordinarily attractive target.

But that attractiveness isn’t limited to the most obvious things — their disposable income and the sheer volume of them with nearly 25% of the country over 65.

Older audiences can be surprisingly in tune with many of the things that advertisers are looking for — they are more likely to want companies to behave ethically than younger cohorts for example, they’re just as likely as 15-24s to make lifestyle sacrifices to benefit the environment and they are around 40% more likely to make active decisions to recycle than 18-34.  If you want to shift sustainability scores and you want an audience to take an active role in green thinking, then this is an audience you can’t ignore.

They’re also an audience who are open to change — our recent cost of living research had the surprising insight that older audiences are less likely to stick with brands they know. They have the time and resources to be experimental so risk aversion is reduced. Even better, they’re an audience who shares the new things they find — discussions amongst friends and family about products and services increases with age. More than three quarters of 65+ audiences discuss products with friends and family vs just over 50% of 15-24s. This is an audience who are open to discovery and will then act as social advocates for your brand.

Finally, they’re comparatively affordable to reach; the recent IPA Touchpoints release shows that the overlap in time spent with curated commercial media between 16-34s and 55+s  has moved from 58% in 2015 to just 7% now. Younger audiences are fragmented and highly demanded but older audiences are comparatively easy to find in cost-efficient broadcast channels. But when you focus on younger targets the old rules of ‘overheard’ won’t apply in the same way they did pre-Covid.

There’s lots of them, they’ve got cash, they’re green, they’re chatty and they’re affordable. This sounds like the perfect target, right?

We’ve not moved on from ‘Charles and Ozzy’

But this is an audience that we don’t focus on — more than 50% of the UK are over 45 but nothing like half the briefs we get as an industry even mention them. The obsession with youth means that we are more likely to get briefs targeting Gen Alpha. Around half of Gen Alpha still get pocket money. Something like 8-10% of them haven’t yet been conceived.

The problem is perfectly illustrated by the excellent Ad-Normal research by Ipsos and Thinkbox — there are nearly four times more 55+ nationally than in the ad industry. Our echo chamber is skewed towards young as well as London and middle class.

But this isn’t a rallying cry to simply stretch your audience age profiles north.

Twenty-odd years ago, when I started in the industry, one of the standard training things to show was Prince (then) Charles and Ozzy Osborne side by side to highlight the bluntness of age and socioeconomic profiling. It was a neat way of demonstrating that an attitudinal or psychographic profile was a more interesting and powerful way of thinking about audiences.

But fast forward 20 years and that behaviour is still prevalent. In 2023, with all the addressable audiences we have, with all the targeting capability and with a feast of data unlike any period in advertising history, we’re still rolling those segments up and using blunt age profiles. Cool, we’ve called them millennials or genZ so they feel new and modern, but they’re still generational profiling.

Generations are a useful shorthand for many things. There are undoubted similarities across generations. But an audience rooted in their relationship with the category, their relationship with the brand and their attitudes is a vastly more powerful way of thinking.

What does this mean for brands?

Advertisers must look hard at their audience profile. Not the group that you want to target but your current customer group. Where is the value coming from? Where could the next £ come from? If your current consumers follow gen pop customer distribution you’re probably underinvesting in older audiences.

And test. With the rise of retail media and more possible closed loop measurement you can test audiences and see where true incrementality is coming from. If older audiences look like growth audiences then consider taking that insight out into more scaled channels.

And finally, look at your creative. Is it inclusive from an age profile perspective as well as for other protected characteristics?

Older audiences are often an overlooked growth segment, and we can no longer assume that they’ll simply overhear our advertising because of the way media ages up.

In a world of fragmentation, inflation and slowing growth they are an opportunity more of us should take seriously.

Elliott Millard is chief strategy officer at Wavemaker UK

Strategy Leaders: The Media Leader‘s weekly bulletin with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated to excellence in commercial media strategy.
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