The Myths Surrounding Over-50's
And why your business may not be booming
Advertisers are alienating the people they want to attract, declares Australian Financial Review journalist, Natasha Gillezeau:
Marketers miss the mark on what over-50s want.
(Natasha Gillezeau AFR. 28 October 2019)
And it's bad commercially because this age group has cash to burn.
Research by the "creative transformation company", WPP AUZ, reveals that 90 percent of people over 50 years of age dislike the way brands and marketers communicate with them.
The WPP AUNZ study, Secrets and Lies: Ageless and Booming is the result of interviews with a diverse range of 2500 Australians and 1500 New Zealanders aged 50 to 79 years.
Rose Herceg, Chief Strategy Officer and Futurist with The WPP AUNZ maintains:
Rather than slowing down, over 50s are entering "Life 2.0"
The lives of over-50s' are "actually often far sexier and more interesting than people's lives who are 25 or 30". They are "out there dating", discerning about their fashion choices, enrol in university courses to "study new stuff", have disposable incomes and often gained their power through growing up with the Australian real estate boom. Over-50s are "living far bigger and richer lives than young people." (Herceg 2019)
Yet advertisers often speak to over-50s in a patronising manner and stereotype this group, resulting in "ageist and even potentially offensive campaigns".
Marketers focus almost entirely on their misguided perceptions of what it means to be over-50 with campaigns involving sedate river cruises; mobility and incontinence aids; nursing homes; aged care facilities and funeral plans.
Ageism is bad for business
Certainly reflecting on the inevitability of death is confronting and requires some contemplation of retirement plans, financial services and aged care and health services.
However, Herceg maintains that too much focus on marketing the above-mentioned products and services leads to ignoring some of the core activities and interests of the growing and wealthy over-50s market.
Advertising agencies are "stacked with younger staff and they do not understand the lived experience of older generations and resort to lazy stereotypes":
This ageism results in an obsession with youth…and fallacies that over-50s are "not cool"; "can't do tech"; and "are frail, dull and sick".
(AFR. 28 October 2019)
Businesses, marketers and advertising agencies have a poor understanding of over-50s to the point where they often ignore them. The perception is that they've "retired from work and shut the door on a meaningful life…have no aspirations [and] are boring, unattractive and irrelevant." None of this is true. (Herceg 2019)
WPP AUNZ statistics reveal:
- 27% of the Australian population is over-50
- 50% of Australian private wealth is in the hands of over-50s
- 46% of disposable income in Australia is in the hands of over-50s
- Less than 5% of marketing briefs target over-50s
The 4,000 participants aged 50-79 years in the WPP AUNZ study also divulged the following information:
- 69% say that age has never been less relevant
- 78% feel much younger than their age
- 61% claim they are living the best years of their lives
- 94% don't like the way organisations and marketers communicate with them
Also the fastest growing segment on social-media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and all social channels is the over-50s group.
Over-50s purchase 50% of all alcohol in Australia, 55% of all travel and 64% of all cars.
"Being over the Hill" is only a state of mind
The fight against 'ageism' is not new. One of the founders of the Feminist movement and author of The Fountain of Age, Betty Friedan (1921-2006), wrote:
Ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. Betty Friedan
Nobel Prize winning physicist and mathematician, Albert Einstein (1879-1955), humorously noted:
I have reached an age when, if someone tells me I must wear socks, I don't have to. Albert Einstein
In the 1940s, Einstein (in his 60s) joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Princeton, where he campaigned for the civil rights of African Americans. He considered racism America's "worst disease, seeing it as "handed down from one generation to the next".
The revered American writer, publisher, humorist and traveller, Mark Twain (1835-1910), maintained: that
Age is a case of mind over matter; if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. Mark Twain
Twain's most famous story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, arguably one of the greatest American novels, was published in 1884 on the eve of his 50th birthday.
Significant over-50s achievements
Gladys Burrill earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest female to complete a marathon. At age 92, she finished the race in Honolulu in 9 hours 53 minutes and 16 seconds. It was her fifth Honolulu finish in seven years.
In 1987, Teiichi Igarashi, a former lumberjack who had been climbing Mt. Fuji every year since he was 89 years old, became the first centenarian to climb Japan's tallest mountain. Igarashi attributed his accomplishment to eating raw eggs and all the encouragement he received from his supporters.
The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, made history again when, at the age of 77, he became the oldest person to travel in space. He rode in the space shuttle Discovery and over the course of nine days the shuttle orbited Earth 134 times. Glenn served as a payload specialist, participating in various experiments to test how his 77-year-old body responded to the weightless environment.
In 2013, on her fifth attempt and at age 64, Diana Nyad was confirmed as the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. The journey was 110 miles (177 kilometres) long and took her 53 hours.
Colonel Sanders was 65 years old when he received his first Social Security check for $99. He then made a decision that he needed to change his life. He took action and travelled the nation with his chicken recipe until he found someone who took a chance on him and Kentucky Fried Chicken was born.
Peter Roget (1779-1869) began keeping lists of words as a young man, but didn't publish the thesaurus until he was 73. His collection of synonyms and antonyms was not the first to appear but his was far more detailed and organised than previous efforts by others.
Charles Darwin was 50 years old before he published On the Origin of the Species in 1859, the book that espoused his theory of evolution.
At 55, Pablo Picasso completed his masterpiece, "Guernica" and at 62, J.R.R. Tolkien published the ﬁrst volume of his fantasy series, "Lord of the Rings."
Artist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was 56 years old when Ambroise Vollard gave him his first one-man show at Vollard's gallery in Paris. Although the exhibition met with some scepticism, Cézanne's reputation as a great artist grew quickly.
Ian Fairweather was born in Scotland in 1891 and died in Brisbane in 1974, having lived his final 20 years in the grass-hut he had constructed on Bribie Island, Queensland. This was where he painted his greatest artworks under the light of a kerosene lamp. 'The Pool', one of Ian Fairweather's masterpieces, was painted when he was 68 years old. "It has clear references to Cézanne, revealing Fairweather's deep admiration for his work, with linear patterning derived from a fascination with Chinese calligraphy." (Art Gallery NSW)
Prior to Christopher Plummer's Academy Award victory, the oldest person to win an Oscar was Jessica Tandy, who won for Driving Miss Daisy at the age of 80. But Plummer took the title in 2010, aged 82, when he won the Best Supporting Actor award for his work opposite Ewan McGregor in the film Beginners.
Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1993, serving one term in office. He was the first non-white head of state in South Africa's history, as well as the first to take office following the dismantling of apartheid and the introduction of multiracial democracy. He was also the oldest head of state in South Africa's history, taking office at the age of 75.
Aging entertainers have a not-so-final word
The signs of a healthy attitude towards aging can often be found in the self-deprecating humour of people from the particular group that has been misunderstood. Have a laugh with these 'over-50s' while reading their witty observations of themselves and their peers:
"You know you've reached middle age when you're told to slow down by your doctor, instead of by the police." Joan Rivers in The Telegraph
"It's good to be here… but at 98, it's good to be anywhere." George Burns
"As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people sure don't." Carrie Fisher in a 2014 Twitter post
"You know you're getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you're down there." George Burns in Prepare to Defend Yourself: How to Age Gracefully and Escape with Your Dignity
"Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home." Phyllis Diller in The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America's Future
"I told my Doctor I wanna stop aging; He gave me a gun." Rodney Dangerfield in Return to the '80s
Perhaps businesses, marketers and agencies can benefit from tapping into the wit and humour that abounds in over-50s when pitching for or devising advertising campaigns, especially if trying to capture the attention of the most cashed up segment of Australian society.
Something about the Author
I was inspired to research, compile, compose and write this piece on 'over-50s' after reading the insightful AFR news-print article by Natasha Gillezeau, while also noting the revealing statistics and results published in the Secrets and Lies: Ageless and Booming study. As an 'over-50', I identified with much of the content from both sources.
At the age of 52, I enrolled in a Doctor of Philosophy course at Griffith University - Gold Coast and graduated with a PhD (Humanities and Social Sciences) in 2011 at age 57. As a part of my examination on the topic, The Praxis of the Solo Performer, I also performed a one-person show, Fairweather Island, lasting 84 minutes and based on the remarkable life, travels and art of Ian Fairweather (mentioned above).
The Author as Ian Fairweather Courtesy - Sam McGowan
During this period of concentrated cerebral and writing activity, I was not surfing as regularly as I had previously managed (4-5 times per week) due to the study and research demands of the PhD. I was invited by a neighbour, Sensei George, to join his newly formed karate dojo. At first, I was reluctant and asked him what he would want with a 55 year old in his class. He impressed upon me that it would be good role modelling for younger students to see someone over 50 years of age training in martial arts. To cut to the chase, many 'twenty-something' students came and went in the dojo, some achieving brown belt status but not going on to their black belts.
I just kept turning up to training twice a week and trained at home in my spare time between study and work commitments. Eventually, I became the first student in Sensei George's dojo to pass a First Dan (black belt) grading. I was 61 years old. The 6 hour non-stop examination thoroughly tested my physical and mental endurance and resilience and yet I succeeded in obtaining my black belt. Reportedly, only one person in every 10,000 in the community of any age will achieve a First Dan in Karate.
I am now Second Dan and instruct students and contribute to the development of the dojo curriculum. My services have been put to use teaching anti-bullying techniques to primary and post-primary students and women's self defence to migrant and refugee women through municipal councils. I am constantly purchasing exercise equipment and gear that is pertinent to fitness and karate training and self defence techniques.
The Author at Karate Training Courtesy - Shoto Karate Australia
This complimentary pursuit of research and physical activities also feeds my creative output. At age 49, my children's play, Chutney, having toured Australia and internationally, was published; at age 54, I co-wrote and published an actor training-manual and text book for schools, Commedia Oz; and as a 63 year old, I captured elements of growing up in Melbourne's west in an anthology of memoirs published under the title, How the West was One. I use computers, software, printers and social media etc on a daily basis.
I am currently writing the biography of a 76 year-old Queensland man who spent over 20 years in Australian youth detention and adult penal institutions after being plucked from his family by the Catholic Church at age 8. My illustrator for the book is a 22 year old female contemporary artist who clearly is not 'ageist'.
I recently purchased a new surfboard from one of my favourite surf shops on the Gold Coast, Stuart Surf Design, at Mermaid Beach. It's a short-board but at 7'2" in length with some volume in the rounded nose, it is also a bit wider and thicker than my previous boards. This allows me to paddle into the waves a little earlier when 'competing' for my share against some of my younger surf buddies who are only in their mid-fifties and early 60s. A group of us are planning another international surf trip to Indonesia in 2020.
One of my mates, who surfs a world class break on the Gold Coast most mornings at dawn, recently purchased a personal watercraft (aka jet-ski), so he can access the break in any conditions and (sometimes) beat the crowd. It also means he can get back more swiftly to his successful business (based at his home office) following his early morning surf. To compliment his surfing activities, this 59 year old attends yoga classes on the Gold Coast several times a week.
The Marketing Blindspot
Let's just take a moment to review the statistics:
- Over-50s spend about $40 billion more than millennials and Generation X each year on consumer goods purchased online
- They spend an average of 27 hours online each week; two hours longer than Millennials and Generation X
- 77% regularly research and buy products online
- 89% are open to trying new brands
- 79% have moved on from brands that are no longer fulfilling or meaningful
- They also purchase a huge 64% of all cars, 55% of all travel, 50% of all alcohol and more than half of new clothing, household items and furnishings
(MPP AUNZ 2019)
Some Sage Advice
"To help brands forge relationships and better connect with the over 50s, WPP AUNZ has identified a six-point action plan for marketers which include the following recommendations…"
- Get forensic and make sure you understand the data around this powerful demographic; their consumer behaviour, purchasing habits and intentions. There's a significant new market to explore
- Invent new ways, new models, new products and new brand positions to connect with this audience
- Ensure you are reflecting the vibrancy and optimism of the over 50s; they're gearing up, not down
- Recognise the change and evaluate what role your brand or organisation can play for an audience that's changing their lives
- Differentiate between 50 and 80. The over 50s are not a homogenous group. Investigate their various sub-segments and target them accordingly.
- Model diversity. Ensure your organisation values the skills, expertise and voices of the over 50s
(MPP AUNZ 2019)
Riding off into the sunset
I've said enough now. The sun will soon set and it's time for my 20 kilometre mountain-bike ride. My regular cycling adventures include one of my favourite locations next to the Pacific Ocean - the track through the Federation Walk Coastal Reserve on the Southport Spit, Gold Coast, Queensland.
The Author - Self Portrait
So the next time you are advertising, pitching or attempting to sell products or services, don't ignore us over-50s and don't assume we are "shutting the door on meaningful life" or withdrawing from enjoyable pursuits. If you do ignore us, misunderstand us or misrepresent us, it will be to the deep detriment of your business.
I am 65 years old and have no intention of retiring. Maybe I'll see you supporting Australia's young people at the next Climate Change Action Rally. Come and say hello when you spot me at the rally, I'll be wearing some really schmick running shoes, cool board-shorts and a "Save Our Spit" T-shirt.
PS. I'll let you and the marketers research what the 'Save Our Spit' campaign is all about.
Researched, Compiled, Composed and Written by Dr Steven Gration (BEd. PhD) - November 2019
Sources and References
Ageless and Booming. Secrets and Lies. Chapter 3 - Uncovering the truth about aging in Australia. WPP AUNZ. 28 October 2019.
Marketers miss mark on what over 50s want. Natasha Gillezeau. Australian Financial Review. 28 October 2019.