Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

The Elastic Generation: Patronised, Stereotyped, Invisible

Advertising Agency
London, UK
INFLUENCER: Women in their 50s, 60s and early 70s feel ignored by brands, writes J. Walter Thompson's Sarah Tilley

According to the ‘Elastic Generation: A Female Edit’ 2018 report, over half of women in the Elastic Generation (those aged 53 to 72) feel like society sees them as invisible. But the research also revealed it’s not just society who ignores women in this group but also brands and advertisers too. 67% of Elastic Generation women believe that advertisers only care about young people and more than half resent the focus on youth in advertising. Most disturbing of all, three-quarters of women in this age group say that they don’t pay attention to advertising as it doesn’t feel relevant to them. If companies and brands don’t change the way they communicate, a whole generation will stop listening – if they haven’t already.

Stereotypes of older people, and women in particular, abound in advertising. The images of silver-haired, pastel-wearing empty nesters don’t resonate with this generation at all. Over three-quarters of our respondents believe that every time you see an older person in an advert they are a stereotype and eight out of ten think advertisers assume everyone over 50 is the same. Over 80% don’t recognise themselves in ads which are supposed to target them.

However, the research paints a very different picture of the lives of today’s older women, proving outdated assumptions wrong. Influential and entrepreneurial, they are intent on living life to the fullest. They are embracing new hobbies, with almost a third planning on doing this in their next phase of life, starting new businesses in the thousands, and seeking out adventure – six in ten are making more efforts to do and experience the things they always dreamed of doing.  

So how should advertisers mend the relationship with these women? First of all, this is a group that has enjoyed a lifetime of attention from brands, only to see it dwindle. Yet they are still key consumers and can’t understand why brands don’t want to engage them. They are among the biggest purchasers of new cars, clothes, and food, not to mention their direct or indirect spending on their children, grandchildren and even their own parents. The first step for advertisers therefore, is to stop overlooking them. 

Secondly, treat them like people, not a number. As simple as it sounds, this is what women in this group want most – over 90% said so – so focus on the things they care about. M&S chose to focus their recent ‘Spend it Well’ campaign on attitudes and passions rather than targeting a specific age demographic. They featured a range of women across all ages, all embracing a life filled with excitement, family and friends.

Finally, celebrate their potential. The research points to the many ways in which women of this generation contribute to society. Whether running businesses, taking care of their families or producing award-winning art, today’s 50+ women are changing the way we think about ageing. Brands that acknowledge their contribution rather than dismiss them as past it, will pique their interest.

And if brands needed any more proof that this was an audience worth speaking to, consider the financial clout they possess. This generation now controls more than half the spending power in the UK. As a group of people with the desire to embrace life and the money to do so, they are a vital cohort for marketers. It’s time to ditch the stereotypes and acknowledge the power and promise of this generation.

Sarah Tilley is Consultant, Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson London