Older, loaded and misunderstood

Last night we went to the Jazz Cafe in Camden to see a bunch of musicians who have been around since the ’60’s. Rod Argent on keyboards (Hold your head up, God gave you rock&roll) was outstanding and full of energy. Back at home I checked him out on-line and I was quite shocked to see he is 67. He looked, sounded and behaved like a man at least 20 years younger.

The audience was a mix of all ages, and I would guess, backgrounds. The most striking point was the amount of people who were at least 50+; quite a lot of grey hair twinkling in the lighting, me included.

Next week there’s a Haymarket conference “Older, Richer, Wiser?” all about the 50+ market. According the Office of National Statistics 80% of the UK’s wealth is held by 21 million people aged 50+; that’s about 1/3 of the population. I had a quick look at the speakers and guessing they all appear to not be in that age group.

Reflecting on the marketing and advertising world I think it is fair to assert that much of the background thinking is based on personal experience. I’ve sat in numerous meetings where the discussion revolves around how our experiences, i.e. the past and present, influence our decisions. Clearly in any good client or agency this will be backed up by appropriate due diligence.

What is far more difficult is speculating about future issues, things we have not experienced. It is very challenging for a 25 year old to speculate what a 55 year old thinks, I would say almost impossible. That 30 year gap will involve major life experiences such as buying property, getting married, having children, educating them, caring for elderly parents, etc. It has been said many times ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’.

For many people getting older means more disposable income and that in turn can lead to experiences younger people simply can’t relate to. I know I couldn’t when I was 25. In my case the step change from charter flights to Spain for a holiday to business class on long haul to Barbados was genuinely life changing from an experience perspective. Different places, different cultures, different people from the package holidays in Spain. Not implying better or superior, just different.

At most conferences there are speakers who reflect on their experiences but at the Haymarket conference it has speakers talking about other, older people. I’m sure they have bags of good information but they can’t speak with authority on what it is like to be 55 and minted. Research helps but it isn’t a substitute for being in the zone. Hanging out with a group of silver surfers for a week has its ups and downs depending on the people in the group but insights emerge that would rarely be expressed in a formal focus group.

We have friends in their 50’s and 60’s who are very youthful in their outlook and pastimes, fit and healthy, comfortably off to wealthy and the conversations are mostly private, not broadcast to the world at large. I know for certain much of what might be discussed would never emerge in a focus group.

I wonder if anyone involved in marketing to the over 50’s ever goes to events such as the one at the Jazz Cafe last night. A few hours there would get you thinking. On a superficial level you would spot some expensive goodies such as Rolex and Cartier watches and on a deeper level people who seem at ease with themselves, happy, talkative, relaxed in the company of strangers. A sort of unspoken understanding of life’s experiences shared by everyone there. Those nodding acknowledgements when someone says ‘thank God the school fees have now stopped, time to enjoy ourselves’.

I obviously realise not all over 50’s are loaded and have just seen their offspring finish at Eton but this group does account for 80% of the UK’s wealth. There is a great deal of cash swilling around and many of this group are a bit like Rod Argent, act and look much younger than the image of a 67 year old.

I would be interested to see examples of advertising at the Haymarket conference next week because anything I see obviously targeted at the 50+ age group is usually pretty dire. The copywriters and art directors working on these brands all seem to have the same reference material that is riddled with cliches. Interestingly most luxury goods brands neatly avoid the trap of including people in their advertising thereby side stepping the accusation of ‘that’s not me’. However ads for cruises for example always feature a mature couple smiling at each other on the deck of a white ship. That’s not for me.

As a final thought for all of you yet to hit the big 50 birthday watch out for the Saga mailing on the birthday. When mine arrived my heart sank, I felt as though I had just left my youth behind me and joined an old persons club. I didn’t want to feel like that, yet the Saga letter was depressing.  It went in the bin, out of sight, out of mind. Saga must have mailed me many times since then but the moment I spot the logo on the envelope it goes straight in to the bin. Given the population is living longer, but acting younger I think Saga should re-brand for the 50 to 70 age group and only use the Saga brand for the 70+ age group. Apologies to anyone reading who is 70 or over, in particular Sir Tom Jones who has just turned 72 and remains a great voice.

Maybe Haymarket should have persuaded Sir Tom to guest at their conference next week, a representative of the 50+ group plus he could have provided the after conference entertainment.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcrojas/306050651



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