I guess now it’s time: The importance of age in 2023

By Rik Moore, Managing Partner – Strategy for Campaign Magazine UK

A valuable lesson a chief strategy officer I used to work with (Mark Sinnock at Havas) taught me earlier in my career was, “if you want to make someone feel young, play them the record that was number one when they were 16”.* That always stuck with me, as it gives a fascinating insight into how you think about people.

Take Baby Boomers for example, the generation born between 1946 and 1964. They are aged between 58 and 76 today, but their formative experience in their late teens will have been from circa 1962 to 1980, meaning it took in everything from The Beatles and the birth of Bond, through to the Stones, Hendrix, Bowie, Abba, disco and punk. Some of the most seismic moments in emergent pop culture, and they had a front row seat.

Yet we can often be guilty of treating older people the same as we did their grandparents’ generation – all flat caps, dentures and bus passes. Grouped together in data as “65+” audience, a homogenous mass of afterthought. An audience to be overlooked.

But the context we find ourselves in 2023 will destroy that perspective, accelerating the need for us to think bold and old. The older generation will provide ever-more fascinating opportunities for marketers, fuelled by the k-shaped economy we saw coming out of the coronavirus pandemic as we plunged headlong into the cost-of-living crisis. While everyone will feel the pinch to varying degrees, we face the basic story of the haves and the have nots.

The “haves”, those able to make good savings during the lockdown and without an inflation-busted mortgage to worry about, will want to make up for lost time, indulging passions and interests denied to them by Covid.

If your brand can connect with individuals who fall into this category, and be relevant in their lives, you can unlock new opportunities. Already, we are seeing bold and interesting work in this space, like BHF and Saatchi & Saatchi’s “The noisy generation”.

The “have nots” by contrast will have it desperately tough. Where relevant and authentic, we must ask how our brands can turn up to help ease the situation people find themselves in.

Asda’s £1 café meal deals for the over-60s show what can be done in this space, making a tangible difference, and showcasing values that can be appreciated by any generation, and building long-term brand relationships.

There will also be shifts in behaviour that open up new considerations. The move towards the so-called “Great unretirement” is really interesting. As the cost of living rises, we are seeing increased numbers of older people who had left the job market returning to work. As a result, new opportunities and need states will open up.

In our comms it means new audience segments with new needs. For our industry, it means the potential to tap into hitherto lost talent, who can re-enter adland and bring new perspectives and thinking.

2023 represents a watershed moment for brands to start rethinking older audiences. ONS data shows that today there are almost 11 million people aged 65 and over, representing 19% of the total population. In 10 years’, this is projected to increase to almost 13 million people or 22% of the population.

Getting this audience right now will pay benefits in the future. For the brands already making headway in this space, now is the time to double down on that differentiation and steal the advantage.

So, what can you do to move forward? Three thought starters:

  1. Seek out the good content on this topic that’s already out there and bring it into your planning. Two recommended starters would be the report from ITV and System 1 unlocking six lessons for marketing to older audiences, and the Centre For Better Ageing’s The State Of Ageing 2022 report. Also look for resources from representation bodies like the Silver Marketing Association. All great start points, but it just scratches the surface of the good content out there.
  2. Think about how you can provide authentic representation of older audiences in your marketing materials. How can you make them feel recognised, represented and understood by your brand in a credible way? I stress that this should be additive to, and not at the expense of, any of your other inclusion initiatives. As ever, the aim is reach as many relevant people as possible for your brand and leave no one behind. Also, remember, an ageing audience is not an isolated group. There is real power in unlocking generational relationships, by creating positive connections and sparking conversation and recommendation between young and old, and all points in between.
  3. Help create better data and insight and understanding of older audiences, either through your own sources or demanding more from the industry to better inform understanding, moving us beyond a homogenous audience grouping to allow more nuance. Considering how best to engage ageing audiences will pave the way to success, as the age make-up of the UK population evolves. To overlook this is to miss a valuable opportunity.

* For me, it’s Take That’s Back For Good – Gary’s finest hour, Robbie’s boyband swansong, and still a stone cold pop classic.