Marketing Agency Culture Agency Models

The marketing industry has a big age problem

By Simon Derungs | Client Services Director

The Maverick Group


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September 23, 2022 | 7 min read

Age is just a number. Or is it? Simon Derungs of The Maverick Group argues that marketing has an age problem it isn’t addressing. What does this mean for brands?

Old man reading newspaper

Marketers are missing untapped opportunities by neglecting their older audiences / Sergio Gonzalez via Unsplash

As Mark Twain said: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The trouble is that our industry does seem to mind – a lot. The IPA estimates that just 5.9% of people working in UK agencies are aged 50+. The average age is 33, and it has remained like this for the last decade.

I find this shocking, not just because I’m in that age bracket myself, but because I simply can’t understand why agencies place such little value on experience. I can tell you that it’s what clients value most.

A common gripe among marketers is that agencies are too quick to staff their business with inexperienced people. Clients appreciate the advantages of having a small number of highly experienced and effective agency partners who understand them, their business and their customers, and who have the expertise to deliver great solutions to their thorniest problems.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand how agencies thrive on the energy and creativity of youth. But in my experience, that energy and youthfulness doesn’t disappear as these people get older; indeed, their experience only makes them smarter and often more effective. In short, there’s a total imbalance – one that is not only unjust, but makes absolutely no business sense.

A lack of understanding

It suggests that agencies have little understanding of the audiences they should be talking to. In their obsession with millennials and generation Z, they largely fail to grasp the opportunities offered by boomers.

One of the biggest changes in recent years is the rising strength of the ‘silver pound’: the over-50s are growing at the fastest rate of any age group – they make up 35% of the UK population, but contribute 76% of the UK’s financial wealth and almost half of its consumer spending.

The over-50s now outspend every other age bracket on alcohol, recreation and culture, cars, food, health, recreation and culture, travel and household goods and services. Deloitte reports that smartphone penetration in the UK for the 55-77 age group doubled in the last six years, going up from 40% to 80%.

Representation matters

This doesn’t go unnoticed. Representation is critical to successful marketing – your target audiences are more likely to feel an affinity with your brand if they see your advertising as representative of them and their mindset. And yet, a recent YouGov report revealed that 80% of those aged 50 and upwards believe brands’ representations of their age group are not accurate.

In their obsession with the vibrancy and ‘appeal’ of youth, advertisers are making a terrible miscalculation. The over-50s are the most valuable generation in the history of marketing, yet are almost completely ignored by advertisers. According to Havas Group, only 5% of advertising is even aimed at people over 50, which can often appear inauthentic, patronizing and out of touch.

This has a direct impact on brand choice. A staggering 79% of over 50s claim they feel patronised by advertisers, while a more recent survey revealed almost half of over 50s said they actively avoid brands who ignore them, and 69% said that if advertising were more representative of those in their age group, they would be more receptive to them.

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It’s time for marketers to lead by example

So, what’s the answer? A great first step would be for agencies and marketing departments to ensure they are better represented themselves – at all age levels. Can a 60-year-old still be energetic and creative? Of course they can. Nick Cave, arguably the coolest and most creative man on the planet, is 64.

Agencies need to understand that the over-50s don’t spend all their time buying slippers and slacks with elasticated waists. Nor do they all sit dreamily on yachts arm-in-arm, smug in the knowledge that they chose the right pension.

Age doesn’t have to be an unsavory thing. Instead, agencies and marketers must open their minds to the untapped opportunities that older audiences offer. And with that, I’ll go and warm some milk for my Horlicks.

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The Maverick Group

WE HELP BRANDS UNLOCK THEIR MAVERICK POTENTIAL. In the battle for hearts and minds the Mavericks have the advantage. Those that know that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog. The challengers and agitators that stand out while others shut down. Those that know how to THINK MAVERICK.

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