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Get old, get ignored by brands.


Oct 9, 2023


Ian Styles

In this industry, we get to work on some interesting and exciting stuff, but sometimes it’s the unexpected ones that take you by surprise. Lately, we’ve had some projects that have been incredibly interesting and rewarding for the over-50s age group. As they represent opportunities to do something different and help this age group tackle some of the problems, irritations, and frustrations, that other generations unsuspectingly create for them.

Let’s start with the stereotype.

We have all seen the adverts, a member of the older generation on a yacht/cruise/motorbike, kicking back, enjoying life, comfortable in their retirement. Champagne in hand, sun shining, laying in a hammock in an exotic location. Well, we can tell you now this is as much a lazy stereotype as it is to label Millennials and Gen-Z all ’snowflakes’.

A big part of our agency‘s philosophy is to make sure we properly understand who we are targeting when we create brands. We want to know how to connect with them and we do this by discovering what drives them emotionally.

So why are brands getting this wrong?

For starters, people aged 50+ are a gigantic audience (over 25% of the world’s population) and the difference between a 50-year-old and a 90-year-old is over a generation. What is important to a 50-year-old is not necessarily what’s important to a 90-year-old; differing health concerns, older family, and the prospect of care are all very real differences.

We suspect that the average age in advertising agencies (at just over 30) also has a role to play. A 30-year-old’s view of middle age and their aspirations seems to be what is projected as a desirable lifestyle rather than the reality of what this age group wants.

So what is the reality?

In short, the answer is the opposite of the stereotype. It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous. It is the simple ordinary things in life that they hold dear. Time with the grandchildren, a cup of tea with friends, a game of cards on a Saturday night. These ’ordinary’ moments bind this audience together and cross the generational differences within it.

What do design agencies need to think about?

Understanding this audience deeply is where you can make a difference, driving trust and loyalty. Often they aspire to feel young but are happy to live this youthfulness through their children and grandchildren. Brands for this audience need positivity and energy but please don’t paint a false picture of what you think this audience aspires to. Of course, accessibility in design is paramount, and the visual aspect of this is much documented; the ability to change font sizes according to need, the importance of colour contrast, and how larger button sizes drive conversion on touchscreens.

Much less is written about cognitive accessibility; the power of using video to explain and illustrate where you are in the process of a long action, and reassuring against fraud, are all things that came up that we hadn‘t foreseen.

Test. Test. Test!

Don’t be afraid to test your answers. You will be delighted and surprised by this audience, they will be your biggest advocate if you get it right, and your most vocal critic if you get it wrong. We found we had permission to push, and we got the most satisfaction from our audience’s reaction when they could see how we had listened to and helped them.

The future.

Whilst the world obsesses with chasing Gen Z, we say be obsessed with chasing this older audience where you will find fierce loyalty, all the spending power, and a constantly expanding market. Our work as designers can actually make life better for this age group (how often do we get to say that), and after all, we will all be older one day, so let’s design the world we all want to live in.

With thanks to Yuri for the illustration. Yuri is currently on placement at S+P, and you can see more of her work here.