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Work & Wellbeing Diversity & Inclusion Ageism

88% of over-55s are unhappy about the way advertising represents them


By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

April 26, 2022 | 6 min read

A study by MullenLowe Group UK in partnership with Kantar has found the vast majority of over-55s are unhappy at the way brands represent them. And with a £6tn spending power, advertisers will be remiss not to make drastic changes.

Tena Ageless

When people aged over 55 do appear in advertising, they are routinely misrepresented / Image via Tena

Nearly half (47%) of UK adults are in their 50s and above (24.6 million). The over-55 age bracket controls £6tn of assets, representing 69.7% of all UK household wealth. They are fast becoming the biggest spenders in every single category. Yet as an audience they are routinely overlooked by businesses.

According to MullenLowe Group UK’s research, which covered 7,373 adults aged 55+, weighted to a national population of 20.1 million, 71% of those surveyed said they were more likely to buy a product from a brand that represents them.

But only 12% of UK adverts currently feature someone over 50 in a leading role, according to Channel 4’s Mirror on the Industry Report from last year. This is a trend repeated across all sectors, with 87% feeling underrepresented in technology, 79% in entertainment and 76% in cosmetics.

When people aged over 55 do appear in advertising, they are routinely misrepresented and caricatured as one singular demographic, in need of pity and help. MullenLowe Group UK’s research showed that 88% of people aged over 55 felt unhappy about the way advertising treats them, while 7% felt angry and 15% depressed or disheartened.

Ayesha Walawalkar, chief strategy officer at MullenLowe Group UK, says ageism continues to be rife in adland and people over a certain age are still too routinely stereotyped, based on outdated ideas.

“I hope that this serves as a wake-up call for advertising. The industry’s aim has always been to elicit emotional responses and create work that people can relate to, and if it is unable to do that then we all need to rethink the ways we go about our work.”

In response, the agency has launched the ‘Invisible Powerhouse’ project, which highlights the stereotypes attributed to people aged over 55, and reveals seven attitudinal segments defined by interests, not age, that can help brands to be more effective with their future messaging.

“This new approach represents a step in the right direction for the advertising industry, especially given that in a post-pandemic world, it is more important than ever for brands to reflect their customers’ values as consumers continually reassess their spending priorities,” says Walawalkar.

See below a summary of the seven groups Mullenlowe has identified in its research.

What are the seven groups?

  • Caring Conformists: 15% of UK adults. They believe in fair play, family and community, and sticking to the rules. They are a little worried about their health and have check-ups even when they feel fine. A ‘Caring Conformist’ likes advertising that tells a story and is relevant to their life, and is price-conscious about what to buy, often preferring to choose low prices over expensive brands

  • Security Seekers: 14% of UK adults. They worry about themselves and the world around them. They trust their own knowledge rather than the ‘powers that be,’ intimidated by the pace of change and new technology. A ‘Security Seeker’ watches a lot of television, and values ads that amuse them, but are rarely tempted to buy new products or technologies

  • Savvy Spenders: 18% of UK adults. They are pleasure-loving impulse buyers but know how to spend on a budget, often using discount codes and cash to budget more effectively. A ‘Savvy Spender’ uses adverts to inform their buying decisions, and will remember an entertaining ad

  • Carefree Hedonists: 12% of UK adults. They are spontaneous and impulsive, an optimistic lot who don’t worry about much. They find advertising an annoying encroachment in their entertainment and hate being overtly ‘sold to.’ A ‘Carefree Hedonist’ spends without thinking on brands that they know and trust, and are the group most comfortable on their current income

  • Experience Lovers: 13% of UK adults. They always want more from life – more from their careers, adventures, food and culture. They are careful, conscious spenders who plan their purchases and rarely buy on impulse. An ‘Experience Lover’ feels that advertising should entertain them and inspire them to make a purchase

  • Accountable Citizens: 13% of UK adults. They work hard, live responsibly and do their bit for good causes. Passionate about nature and the environment, you’ll often find them outdoors. They believe advertising should be informative or groundbreaking if it is going to get in the way of their entertainment. An ‘Accountable Citizen’ is concerned by the virtue of the things they buy, and, though careful with money, will pay extra for organic products

  • Social Progressives: 14% of UK adults. They believe in change, are passionate about equality and the environment, and are arts and culture enthusiasts. They resist consumerism and corporate greenwashing, but will respond to ads that are genuine, informative and enjoyable. A ‘Social Progressive’ considers the provenance and politics of the things they buy, typically buying free range and Fairtrade produce

Work & Wellbeing Diversity & Inclusion Ageism

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