We’ve seen some advancement in how adland handles menopause, but nowhere near enough
From Tena discussing the reality of menopause to more agencies than ever putting policies in place, the change has never been more front of mind. But the reality, writes former Boots CMO Helen Normoyle, is that women over 50 are a rarity in advertising, with representation still a far-flung dream.
Tena's ad features a mother and daughter navigating menopause together
For all the discussion about improving representation in advertising, older women remain largely invisible. It is still the case that when women over 50 show up in ads, they tend to be selling dentures and funeral plans. They’re depicted either gazing into the distance contemplating their impending death or merrily supporting the younger people in their lives.
‘Magical grandmother’ is one of seven female stereotypes recently identified by Shequal, the gender equality initiative. The magical grandmother is the benign older woman, often in the kitchen, playing the supporting role to the younger characters who, by contrast, are given agency and personality.
That’s not to say all brands get it wrong. Tena’s ‘Last Lonely Menopause‘ campaign featuring a mother sharing the realities of menopause with her daughter opens up the conversation in a thoughtful way. Meanwhile, Tesco’s ‘Food Love Stories‘ ad centering on a group of older women swimming together in the sea spotlighted the importance of friendship and community for middle-aged women. Sadly, these campaigns are in the minority.
Just 12% of UK ads feature someone over 50 in a leading role, according to a Channel 4 report last year. Of course, this lack of representation is significantly worse for women – a Geena Davis Institute study in 2020 found just 7% of ads entered at Cannes included a character aged 60+, while 70% of those characters were male.
One reason for this is the lack of women in executive roles in advertising. How can a brand or ad agency purport to be able to communicate with a vast section of society when they don’t have people from that group in positions of significance in their company?
Companies lose female employees once they hit menopause because the support required by women at that stage in their lives just isn’t there. I’ve heard from a senior woman in advertising who felt she’d been forced out of her job because of her menopause symptoms. Another woman in the industry told me recently that the ‘support’ she received at work amounted to a fan on her desk – which, naturally, made spotting the menopausal women in the office considerably easier for everyone.
Menopause policies are a good start, but they need to be acted upon. It is outcomes that matter. Too many talented women in their 40s and 50s are either pushed out of their roles or are quitting because they no longer feel supported, represented, welcome or heard.
For all the progress that has been made on gender equality, we still live in a misogynistic society because it has, historically, been built by men for men. Men wrote its laws and its religious, historical and medical texts. The unfortunate outcome of that for everyone in society is that women’s voices are not respected or even heard in the same way that men’s are. We see this evidenced everywhere, from the gender and pension pay gap to women doing more childcare than men. The misogyny is so ingrained that, most of the time, we can’t even see it.
We still equate youth with creativity, progress and fresh thinking, and while older men are seen as wise, their female counterparts are viewed as past it. The aging process – especially in the beauty industry – is denigrated rather than celebrated.
But women are working and living full, healthy lives for much longer than previous generations. Today’s women are not accepting the boundaries that have been imposed upon them. So, to connect with them, the ad industry needs to urgently rethink what it means to be a woman over 50.
Here are some questions every marketing professional should be asking themselves:
Do you understand the needs of women over 50? If the answer is yes, how robust is the data that you’re basing your insights on?
Are any of your team members, colleagues or collaborators representative of menopausal women?
Does your marketing actively challenge and avoid female stereotypes?
Does your campaign work celebrate the aging process or vilify it with anti-aging marketing and branding?
Do older women take a central role in your marketing content or are they only ever supporting characters?
Historically, women have been robbed of the chance to be storytellers, which has compounded their subjugation and inequality in our society. Women have been cast aside for generations. Elizabeth Lesser puts this into sharp relief in her book Cassandra Speaks, which calls out the stories through history that have held women back for millennia. It should be recommended reading for everyone in the industry.
Maria St Louis, Channel 4’s inclusion and equity lead, says: “Menopausal women are sidelined in society, the workplace and the media. Women need support and representation, and brands and media owners should be using their influence and platforms to deliver for them.”
We’ve seen some advancement for women, which has been encouraging, but it’s nowhere near where we should be. It’s not only foolish for the advertising industry to continue to ignore older women (the demographic with the highest spending power), it is also demonstrably harmful to women and wider society.
Helen Normoyle is the former chief marketing officer of Boots and DFS and the co-founder of My Menopause Centre.