Most over 50s feel misrepresented in ads and media despite brands like L'Oréal making headway

18% of respondents said ads for beauty products least accurately portray older people

People aged 50 and above represent around two fifths of the UK population, however 68% of those who fall into the age bracket don’t believe that they are accurately reflected in advertising.

Despite big name brands like L'Oréal making a concerted push to appeal to this audience through campaigns like it's ‘Gold, not Old’ initiative fronted by Helen Mirren, fresh data from YouGov suggests that just one in five (21%) of those aged 50 and upwards believe brands’ representations of their age group are accurate.

Of the over 1000 people YouGov questioned, 12% said they were unsure if their peer group was fairly depicted by brands, with the cosmetics industry coming off as the worst offender.

18% of respondents said ads for beauty products least accurately portray older people, while 14% said the fashion industry was guilty of imprecision when it came to potrayals of the age group. Technology firms were the third-least inclusive, with 14% of older people agreeing so.

Commenting on the trend, L'Oréal Paris’ UK general manager Adrien Koskas told The Drum that all of the brand’s own research indicates that women over 55 in particular feel forgotten or “invisible” in advertising.

“This is exactly why we’ve been pushing to change this within the beauty industry for many years now. Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and of course our iconic Helen Mirren show the commitment from L’Oréal to help 55+ women feel represented and have a face and a voice in the advertising industry,” he said.

“Our campaigns aim to celebrate ageing instead of denigrating. You have still got it and you are still worth It, at any age.”

'Marketers aren't doing their homework'

13% of those aged 50 and over believed that the health industry was most likely to represent them in a way they related to while 12% said ads for financial products usually depicted their age group in a way they recognised.

Pete Markey, TSB’s recently-appointed marketing director, who has also held senior marketing roles at Aviva and the Post Office, said it was important for brands to reflect modern Britain in their advertising.

In his early career, he said, he saw some “awful” uses of stock photography and other imagery to appeal to the over 50s which totally missed the mark.

“Over 50s today rightly still feel very young and data would suggest that with more disposable income they are more adventurous and brand loyal,” he mused, arguing that brands and agencies aren’t doing their homework on their target audience.

He continued: “I am also a big fan of having diverse teams and having a wide range of backgrounds and age groups in a marketing team particularly if that reflects your target audience is critical. To better relate to and communicate to over 50s, marketers and their agencies need to do their homework well and look within the DNA of their own organisation to ensure that this reflects enough the rich diversity of the UK today.”

The 'Grey Pound'

YouGov's findings come amid a push from brands traditionally skewed towards an older demograhic, like M&S and John Lewis, looking to appeal to younger audiences. Where M&S, had previously built its strategy around 'Mrs M&S' – females aged 50 and above – it has since backed away from this approach saying marketing is about “attitude”, rather than age.

When it comes to overall media, like TV, radio and online, YouGov's research found that 79% of those questioned didn’t believe they were portrayed accurately. Over two-thirds (68%) said they felt unconnected to present day pop-culture.

According to loyalty analysis firm Coniq, over 50s spend accounts for over £320bn of UK spending – an effect also known as 'the grey pound'. One of its studies found that the segment was also more likely to use mobile loyalty scheme offers almost a third more (31%) than other consumers, encouraging their high spending behaviour.

Ben Glanville, head of data services at YouGov said that the fact that such a vast proportion of this key audience feels disconnected about how they are spoken to and about in ads and in the media, should make the industry pause for thought.

"This is clearly something that brands, broadcasters, and publishers should think about as the rewards of speaking more directly to this group could be significant," he asserted.

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

All by Rebecca