People over 50 are marketing's biggest missed opportunity

People over 50 are marketing's biggest missed opportunity

A third of the UK are over 50 and they control two-thirds of the country's disposable income. So why are they still treated as a niche audience?

"Face it! Millennials are the only audience that matter." 

"How to unlock the true value of Gen Z."

"These personalised experiences will win over Gen Z."

I’ve never been a fan of labels that the marketing industry places on vast numbers of people that happen to be born in the same decade. But you can’t deny that we are overwhelmed with messages about targeting younger consumers. If you type "marketing to millennials" into Google, you’ll receive more than 51 million search results. 

What you rarely hear about is targeting over-fifties.

When was the last time a client asked for insight into how best to reach an over-fifties audience? In fact, when was the last time you saw someone in a TV ad who was over 50 and wasn’t selling you life insurance or anti-ageing cream (pictured, above)?  

According to a 2016 report from Saga, over-fifties controlled a huge 70% of the UK’s wealth. And this audience is not a niche segment; a third of the UK are over 50 and this proportion is set to grow each year as we live longer. This is a highly lucrative, growing audience with disposable cash to spend. 

Yet, just 5% of all adspend is targeted at them. Unless it’s knitting grannies selling cereal or kindly grandfathers selling boiled sweets, you won’t see many over-fifties being the face of brands.

Is it any wonder that, according to a study by Gransnet, 78% of the demographic said they felt their age group was "under-represented and misrepresented in advertising", while 79% felt "patronised by advertisers" and 89% believed brands were "not interested" in them?

Why is the industry walking past a sizeable set of consumers with money to spend? There are two reasons. 


Consider this quote from an article on "stellar strategies for marketing to seniors": "My approach to marketing to seniors focuses on their abilities, rather than on their declining health. Most enjoy reading about senior services, but they can’t always read small print. Choose a larger font for your web pages to make them easier to read."

This is the language of distance. Distance that causes us to make inaccurate assumptions about a huge proportion of people. And it’s no wonder when you look at our industry's make-up. According to the IPA, the average age of an agency employee is just 33. It’s hard to accurately portray or understand an over-fifties audience when the vast majority of your workforce is under 40. 


Humans have always idolised youth, from tales of the fountain of youth in the fifth century BC to the hero-worshiping of young pop icons today. Being young is perceived to be "in your prime". In past eras, when life expectancy was far lower than today, we were obsessed with youth because being young meant "being alive". But this is far from the reality of life today, when we are living longer than ever. 

I believe this ingrained obsession with youth is driving our unconscious bias today when it comes to the over-fifties. This unconscious bias affects us all and is part of "System 1" thinking: the fast, automatic, emotionally led thought processes described by Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

We are all, to a degree, making snap decisions about people without realising it and that may be why we are unconsciously judging the over-fifties to be "past their prime". 

You could say that our "System 1" brains haven’t caught up with the reality of life today. So what can we learn from this?

Stop treating people over 50 as a niche audience

They’re anything but. There are more than 23 million consumers over 50 in the UK who have the disposable income to spend on the goods and services you are marketing. 

Get out there

Get closer to this audience and take the time to truly listen to and understand them. Sitting behind a two-way mirror in a focus group or reading the same reports as everyone else isn’t enough.

Be aware of your unconscious bias 

Think more progressively about the over-fifties audience and challenge the stereotypes you may encounter. From strategy to production to casting of content. 

Take age diversity seriously 

Creativity comes from diversity of thought and different perspectives. This is as true for age as it is for gender or race. As Dave Trott wrote earlier this year, "let’s stop the fallacy that young people are better at everything and old people are past it".

I’ll leave you with a quote from Bob Levenson: "Most people ignore advertising because most advertising ignores people." Let’s stop ignoring and start engaging.

Gen Kobayashi is head of strategy, communications, at Ogilvy

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free