Age or Attitude - How Advertisers Ignore A Major Target At Their Peril, By Manfred Mareck, Research Marketing Ltd, London
Advertisers who focus mainly on the youth markets are playing a dangerous game: in most industrialised countries they are chasing a shrinking population segment. The reality is that a rapidly ageing population is leading an increasingly active and aspirational lifestyle and advertising should become age-neutral.
Looking at long-term trends of birth rates many forecasts warn of shrinking populations in Europe and parts of Asia: Germany will lose almost 20% of its current population over the next 40-50 years, Italy will shrink by 22%, Japan by 14% - in these three markets alone over 40m (mainly younger) consumers will disappear. Over the same period the proportion of older people will increase: today those 65 and older account for 18% of Germany’s total population, in 2050 it will be closer to 30%. The actual figures may differ but the projections are the same for many industrialised countries.
And yet, too many advertising campaigns still seem to be aimed at the shrinking market of younger population segments. Is it ignorance or lack of knowledge? Any advertising manager or media planner willing to look beyond basic demographics and age groups must be aware that the 50+ group has three key assets: many have considerable disposable income, they have time to spend and they have the right attitude to enjoy an active lifestyle. According to the Mature Marketing Group, part of J Walter Thompson in the US the over Fifties purchase more than 40% of all cars, own 75% of America’s financial assets and last year spent $7billion online alone. In the UK according to Age Concern’s LifeForce survey only 25% of over Fifties prefer saving to spending.
Attitudes vs. Life stages
Much has been made of life-stage segmentation as a more sophisticated way of describing specific age groups. Out went target groups such as ‘under 30s’ or ’50 plus’ to be replaced with ‘young, free and single’ or ‘empty nesters’ or similar labels. And more often then not that is all they were – new labels to cover a lack of vision. This is beginning to change. At a 2003 ESOMAR seminar on qualitative research EVO Research presented the findings of a study in the UK and Germany that suggested replacing traditional life-stage assumptions with new typologies that group individuals according to how they respond to brands. These typologies (self seekers, adapters, worth seekers etc) could be found across all age groups and provide a much richer picture of individual consumers than simple age segmentation. More recently, London media specialist OMD presented UFO2, the second release of their Understanding Fifties and Over study. The findings challenge the beliefs that this audience prefers more rational messages (and does not understand creative advertising); that the over 50s don’t want to try new ideas and brands or can’t be early adopters. How wrong - for them brands need to fulfil high expectations, which includes clever, witty and beautifully shot advertising. ‘Life Wires’, one of the seven UFO clusters for example have all the major electronic gadgets (8% own a PVR against 5% of the total UK population). They want convenience (such as online shopping) but always expect quality. They live a fast life, but without fast food.
Many still peddle the myth that new communication channels such as the Internet or text messaging are the exclusive domain of the under 30s. UFO2 found that 67% of respondents have home Internet access, spending as much as 90 minutes a day online.
What about traditional media? It is interesting that today some 30% of all major national readership surveys have an upper age limit for eligible respondents, some, such as Taiwan as low as 60 years (and before you ask, life expectancy in Taiwan is around 75). This is surprising as Print, especially newspapers has always been successful in attracting older demographics. According to the Pew Biannual News Consumption Survey 2004 only 23% of Americans under 30 had read a newspaper yesterday. The corresponding scores for the 50-64 age group is 52%, for those over 65 it is 60%. They are valuable readers, so why exclude them from the count?
Stuck in the Past
Attitudes of advertisers and their agencies are still stuck in the past – the question is why? Cynics may observe that the vast majority of agency staff are under 30 with little comprehension of anything beyond their own lifestyles. Those more charitably inclined may give marketers the benefit of doubt and blame a lack of reliable data and poor understanding of consumers. But consumer insight is exactly what the good citizens of adland are supposed to have. With studies like UFO2 and others there’s little excuse for the future – let’s hope attitudes will change.
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