The Consumer Is Not A Moron – She's Still Your Mum

It’s not just their wealth that makes older consumers an obvious target for advertisers. Laurence Green, Executive Partner at MullenLowe London, shares his thoughts on this demographic as part of his column for Campaign. Originally posted on Campaign in June 2021.

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A birthday looms. It’s the one where pension providers write to you, explaining your options.  And it means I’ll be shuffling even further beyond most advertisers’ line of vision.

Personally, I’m reconciled to my promotion to the 55- to 64-year-old TGI cohort. Like Eric Cantona, I was born in a great year for English football, and the maths is irrefutable.

But professionally, I’m increasingly bemused at our industry’s lack of attention to, er, people like me.  

Not our under-representation on the inside, albeit that the IPA’s most recent Census reveals there are only 187 over-60s in the entire agency business: that’s another column.

Not our under-representation on screen, though that’s a thing too, and one at odds with the march of culture more generally. Best actress at this year’s Oscars: the magnificent, 63-year-old Frances McDormand. Best actor: Sir Anthony Hopkins, 20 years her senior.

No, my bemusement is that – with the exception of a handful of categories, and tactical opportunities like overseas travel this summer – the over-55s don’t actually feature at all in the vast majority of marketing strategies, creative briefs and media plans.

It’s a breathtaking omission.

Nielsen has described the over-50s as “the most valuable generation in the history of marketing”, accounting for around 70% of net wealth in the US but attracting only 5% of advertising dollars.  

The story is the same in the UK, with a twist. Here, our skewed wealth base has been driven in large part by our dubious commitment to residential property inflation as the engine of our consumer economy, tilting the table further against the young.

But it’s not just their wealth that makes them (us) an obvious target for advertisers: over-50s account for the majority of buyers in many packaged goods sectors also.

A surprise? It really shouldn’t be: their numbers have swollen with serene predictability. It’s no secret that we’re living longer than previous generations and that the boomer cohort is, well, booming because the post-war birth bulge – aka “the pig in the python” – is passing through.

Over the years I’ve heard various explanations for this bizarre state of affairs. Brand loyalty won early will last a lifetime. Everyone aspires to be young. The over-50s are heavy TV viewers, so any plan picks them up anyway. Strategic banalities all of them.  

The new cohort in town are the "geriatric millennials": Harry, Meghan, William, Kate, dishy Rishi et al. That new label alone says much about our crush on youth and our uneasy relationship with others.  

Fish 10 years older and you’ll find folk who agree they "get a lot of pleasure from their garden" but who also buy things, run marathons and start businesses. They like Elton John, the Pet Shop Boys and even Years & Years. They are the cast of Friends.

Like the "old old" ahead of them, the young old are moonwalking unnoticed through our industry while it pays attention elsewhere.  The average car buyer is 53, the average media executive 35. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, the consumer is not a moron, she’s your mum.

MullenLowe Group UK

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