That invisible feeling

Posted on December 9, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature marketing team

It’s a strange thing becoming slowly but surely invisible. The kind of invisibility that afflicts older people is a subtle loss of presence in situations where in your younger years you’d have been, if not a central figure, at least a ‘somebody’. I’m not saying that this happens when you are with your peers – no, not at all. It is when you are in a multi-generational place, a bar for example, that you notice it.

Only a few weeks ago I was out with a younger female friend at a bar with a singer who performed a wide number of genres. He walked around the room inviting requests. When he got to me and I suggested ‘Ain’t no stopping us now’ by McFadden and Whitehead, he waved his hand in dismissal, but took all the requests of the younger folks around me. Now, perhaps he just isn’t down with disco, but I felt at the time that it was easy for him to ignore me, whereas he felt more compelled to pay attention to the younger crew.  This is not a whinge because he didn’t sing my song; it’s just an observation.

Invisible to brands

But, I’m not alone in feeling that I’m at an age when invisibility suddenly becomes a fact of life. There’s a growing number of people in our age group who feel that media, marketers and big brands seem to feel we are not worth talking to, or that we are only interested in a limited range of products and experiences. For example, we are deemed worthy of being offered an assortment of health products ranging from pain relief gel and incontinence products to life insurance and funeral plans. Well, we will all need a funeral at some point, but do you really have to rub it in Mr Advertiser by only casting people over 60 in your adverts?

Setting aside the products that most people will argue are age specific, we are also invisible to the youth-obsessed brands. Being ‘blanked’ by a big brand may not be terribly surprising seen from a Guide to Marketing 101 perspective in which the beautiful, trendy 20-year-olds enhance the desirability of a new mobile phone or a new car model. However, if you look at it from the viewpoint of sales and profit, the Baby Boomers have way more money than those in their twenties. A marketing expert may argue that youngsters are their customers of the future. Well, that is true, but our generation is healthier and living longer now, as well as being able to pay for brands at the more expensive end of the market. We are much more likely to be ‘brand loyal’ as well. According to Andrew McDougall writing at Cosmetics Design Europe, who backs this up with research from Datamonitor: “Winning over older consumers, like those in the 40-60 age bracket, is probably more profitable, because they stay loyal for longer.”

But the brand managers and their teams of advisers don’t appear to have grasped this. It is time to make them aware that we are their target market, just as much as the youth, and one new business start-up led by women is hoping to do just that.

The SuperHuman movement

SuperHuman is a strategic marketing agency that is determined to change the way that major brands look at women in their 50s and beyond, and the way that they are portrayed in marketing campaigns. Its mission is to smash the older female stereotype. The agency points out that “85% of purchasing decisions are made by women, 91% of women believe that advertisers don’t understand them and 96% of Creative Directors in global advertising agencies are men.” There are a lot of talented, creative women working in advertising as well, but their presence at board level is still outweighed by that of males. Still, my intention here is not to have a feminist rant, but to highlight the ways in which our generation is rendered invisible by society, and that does include men, who are equally poorly portrayed in advertising campaigns.

It’s time to throw off invisibility and reclaim a strong, visible presence in the media. Quite how we will do it, I’m not sure, but I am confident that the journey is well under way.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.