More than 40 per cent of the US population is over 50. Within the next two years, for the first time in human history, there will be more people worldwide over 65 than under five. This is also the first time that a person of 50 can rationally believe that they have another 30, 40 or even 50 years of life in front of them — a “Life 2.0” Not only are we living longer but we are also living better: our functional life spans have increased, with an ever-larger segment of the population not wanting to retire at 65.
Those in this new group (which includes me, a 59-year-old) are not pulling back as perhaps their parents did at this age. Instead they are pushing forward, feeling at the peak of their powers. We are witnessing the emergence of the most sophisticated consumer the world has ever seen. Because they grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, they are suspicious of brand messaging in a way that younger consumers are not. Yet they are also the most financially powerful, controlling about €12.5tn in global consumer spending. So why are companies so often so far off the mark when speaking to them?
Besides a few notable Swiss banking ads, there is almost no credible messaging directed towards this group. Why are the majority of initiatives aimed at this group infantilizing and medicalizing? Where are the aspirational models? Why is that brand talk aimed at 20-somethings is full of sexiness and style but it’s the exact opposite when it comes to over-50s? Perhaps it boils down to the fact that only 6 per cent of people working in the advertising and marketing industries are over 50.
At AGEIST, over the past three years, we have done thousands of hours of interviews around the world with people ranging from the late forties to their late seventies and have discovered that this new phenomenon of Life 2.0 is global and not confined to select urban creative classes. In fact, we’re talking about everyone from Egypt to Turkey, Argentina to Singapore. Additionally, about 25 per cent of our subscribers are under the age of 30. These younger people are seeing the profiles we publish as role models that they can aspire to be when they reach our age. Despite so many viewing the increasing amount of people over 50 as a problem in need of a solution, when framed properly, our age group can aspirational.
How does one move forward in the face of an onslaught of images and messaging that are so disconnected from the way people are living now? Firstly, recognize that we are smart, capable and self-empowered. Understand that we can discern a good product from a bad one and that brand loyalty means as much to us as it does to a millennial. Stop pitching “old people” stuff to us — we don’t feel old. A tip: if you have a special needs product speak of it as a performance enhancer — the same way you would to a younger person — rather than as a liability reducer.
So, to all the agencies out there: understand that you don’t have to show people our age in all your ads. All you need to do is signal that you see us. Be subtle; we will pick it up. Remember that cool is ageless and style counts. Look for value-based commonalities rather than aged-based ones. Believe me, we’re ready to listen. We have managed as a group to accomplish a tremendous amount: the personal computer, skateboarding, punk rock to name a few — and we are very much not done yet. Be our champion and we will reward you.
Stewart is the founder of AGEIST www.weareageist.com. an organization reinventing how life is lived, experienced and understood for over-50s. He was a guest speaker at Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference in Zurich, this past 28 to 30 June.
This article originally appeared in MONOCLE.