The new business of growing old: multigen advertising

Why opportunities to excite older consumers have been missed by marketers who, instead of segmenting the group, choose to stick to stereotypes.
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‘A 72-year-old now shows behaviour that you would expect of a 52-year-old,’ according to Cynthia Cruver of 3rdThird Marketing, an agency for brands trying to target the older consumer. She founded the agency in 2015 after noticing the ageist messaging that was prevalent in advertising to over-55s. But, today’s older consumer knows who they are and what they want: Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy ‘wisdom school’ in Baja, Mexico, says they are ‘curious, wise, playful and audacious’.

Successful multigenerational advertising shifts the narrative away from the notion that aging is a problem to be solved towards an opportunity to build a more inclusive society. ‘Any kind of freedom messaging that allows older consumers to control their own destiny is what they value,’ says Cynthia. 

While this generation might still prefer to make certain purchases in bricks-and-mortar stores, the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the viability and accessibility of online shopping for them; research by Mintel found 43% of consumers over 65 have shopped online since the crisis began, in comparison to just 16% last year. 

‘Any kind of freedom messaging that allows older consumers to control their own destiny is what they value.’

After testing online communications with older consumers through focus groups, Cynthia has found they respond better to realistic imagery, rather than commercially shot, glossy photography, which demonstrates their awareness of responsible and ethical consumption.  Extending marketing communication to social media is a win, too. In the US, 16% of TikTok users are over the age of 55, and 12% of over-50s use Snapchat. 

While age segmentation is a cornerstone of traditional marketing, multigenerational advertising instead focuses on universal value, needs and wants. It grew as a trend after marketers realised that their unwavering focus on youth and millennials alienated a large proportion of the modern consumer base, and that proportion had substantial spending power and economic control.  

Ninety-nine-year-old influencer and businesswoman Iris Apfel became the face of Magnum in 2019, while 72-year old Maye Musk has been making waves in the commercial beauty industry. An Advil advert features 63-year-old skateboarder Neal Unger. And sticking with skateboarding, clothing brand Noah just ran a collaboration with Adidas featuring older models. Underwear brand Knix, meanwhile, recently featured older women in a video campaign that came with the punch: ‘We’re saying 50 is the new… who gives a f*ck! We’re done with women over 50 being treated like they’re invisible.’

With marketing and advertising agencies largely run by people in their 20s and 30s, there is always a risk that ageist and stereotypical messaging will seep into a brand’s communications. Yet when it comes to buying products, everybody – regardless of their age – is looking for lasting value, security, pragmatism and ease in their purchases. Capitalising on these age-agnostic requirements and desires demands building a stable brand identity that is able to speak to everybody across the breadth of the age spectrum. 

This is part of a larger feature on the new business of growing old.  

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