Ignore Helen Mirren – she’s just old, right?
I went to a conference recently where the head of BBC Radio 2 announced that ‘middle age is the new youth’. I’d add that it’s the new power too.
A survey this month suggested the age of 60 should be the new marker for middle age because average life expectancy is well into the 80s and each generation is outdoing the previous one in terms of physical and mental strength.
But brands, and the media-savants who serve them, are worryingly slow to adapt to this trend. These are the people who were the teenage rule-breakers and boundary-definers of the late 60s, the eager young Turks of the 70s, the tastemakers of the 80s and the moneymakers of the 90s. With the dawn of a new millennium they passed the baton on to a fresh generation who proceeded, quite understandably, to ignore them, thus presenting them a decade later with the perfect excuse to retake centre stage.
They possess a two-fingered joie de vivre that was alien to their parents who saw merit in quietly settling down into a comfortably safe ‘middle-age’ where boring was a badge of honour and unpredictability a dangerous quality – think Wendy Craig in Butterflies, a freak in the 1970s, a heroine for today.
They’re the ones with the money. Property-owning, good pensions, disposable income, achieving professional nirvana and thus willing to work way past 60. According to a recent report by Enders Analysis and polling gurus YouGov, the over-50s now spend £100billion annually and, by next year, the 40-plus age group will outnumber those younger than them.
That’s not the only startling figure. For instance, in 2013 according to the Office of National Statistics, over 50s accounted for 47% of household expenditure. More than 35% of the UK is over 50 and they hold 80% of the wealth.
And what of the digital market? A statistic from Kantar Media is astonishing: 80% of 55-64 year-olds have internet access but only 4% of those think brands meet their needs on the web. And the three that they feel do ‘reach out’ to them are Amazon, Skype and Google.
Forget fickle ‘digital natives’, there’s an enormous and ignored ‘digital active’ audience out there, time-rich and cash-rich, waiting to be entertained and sold to. So why is there such a dearth of interesting targeted material?
In the past few weeks, I’ve sat with five of the biggest PR and media agencies in Britain. Those I met with all bemoaned the fact that, in the middle of one of the biggest transformations in brand advocacy in decades, they were surrounded by extremely youthful, though talented, staff who found it difficult to identify with the core audience their clients most craved.
When people talk of an ageing population, images of Stannah stairlifts, Saga cruises and greying hair spring to mind. Instead, it should be fancy new sports cars, adventure holidays in South America and endless aspiration.
If middle age is indeed the new youth, then the middle-aged should be the ones steering the conversations – not just making the radio and TV programmes but creating the messages, storylines and agendas.
After all, grey isn’t dull anymore. Although perhaps grey is the wrong shade. After all, if you type ‘Pink Pound’ into Wikipedia, you’re directed to a page with the expected plethora of subsections looking at the nifty phrase’s meaning, history and cultural impact, along with plenty of other links to articles written by both gay and non-gay commentators on the importance of this consumer sub-section.
Now type in ‘Grey Pound’. That entry has two utterly pointless sentences. And one of those is about the ‘Pink Pound’.
As much as anything, that reveals just how little importance we attach to probably the biggest, richest, most adventurous and influential single consumer group we have today. People over 50 should be an advertiser’s nirvana. Yet they are ignored in our lust for youth.
The most listened to radio station in the UK is Radio 2. The resurgence of ITV is partly due to the strength of mature original drama serials like Broadchurch, Downton Abbey and Vera. Books about the First and Second World Wars (and Hitler) top the charts. The most important paper in Britain is the Daily Mail.
So what do we call these poor neglected souls? New-Youthers, Second-Lifers, Seniors, Mature, Wise, Older, Grey, Experienced, 50-Plus, Mirrenesque, Clarksonians. What an appalling list of words. Perhaps that’s why no one has cracked it yet – we can’t figure out a catchy phrase or moniker to describe them.
Maybe instead of trying to describe them, we should describe the elongated ‘moment’. You’ve got the time to spend, the time to enjoy, the time to relax, the time to indulge and the time to change direction if you want. It’s the best time. Welcome to the Big Time…