Rupert Pick
May 28, 2024

Not dead yet: Is it time for brands to invest more in the over 50s?

Age should be seen as a creative asset, not a hindrance to new thinking, Hot Pickle's Rupert Pick writes.

Not dead yet: Is it time for brands to invest more in the over 50s?

Victoria Beckham’s headline-grabbing birthday bash has given us a glimpse of a new kind of 50. Stilettos not slippers, tequilas not tea and Barry’s Bootcamp, not bridge.

Yet, as a creative agency working with the world’s biggest brands, virtually every brief we get is focused on Gen Z or Gen Alpha.

I can imagine some people deriding VB for being piggybacked out of her 50th birthday sneering: “Oh she should just act her age.” But I’m with her on this one; good for her defying ageist stereotypes and having some fun. Because I’m also approaching the big five-oh and I am certainly not planning to play ball.

While I am still able to record a respectable Parkrun, I have become increasingly conscious that I no longer see myself “represented” in comms by the brands I covet.

The data is clear. We underinvest in media aimed at this audience and we underrepresent them in our ads. According to ITV and System 1’s Wise Up! report, only 23% of ads feature a 55-plus character.


We should remember that boomers and Generation X wield significant economic power. The 55-plus age group holds 60% of UK wealth and accounts for 47% of consumer expenditure, yet it amounts to only 34% of the population.

Agency Anything But Grey doesn’t hold back in asserting that “the neglect of these older age groups in brand marketing makes no commercial sense. For too long, brands have ignored the real needs of the over-50s and have made broad assumptions over their attitudes and behaviours."

In my own channel of experiential marketing, the story is remarkably similar. We are inundated with briefs targeting consumers under 35, but above this age group, the assignments are few and far between. In a straw poll of leading experiential and event agencies from the AllPoints network, less than 10% of their briefs were aimed at a 45-plus audience.

Yet, this older demographic is curious, confident, wealthy and looking for outlets to remain young. So why is this audience being bypassed? I suspect that there are several issues at play.

In the world of innovation, there’s a perception that younger people are more experimental and more open to new ideas. The early adopters of today weren’t bought up on A-ha. If you buy this view, you target young people. I don’t. Of course, there are generational-specific products, but I don’t see my generation being any less open to trying new things. 

We’ve also built an industry that skews young. Our industry's average age is 36. This wouldn’t be true of medicine, law, or even finance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact I go to work and hear different music and have my views challenged daily, but there is a danger that a dominant, younger demographic group fosters a creative echo chamber and where the lack of lived experience results in people biasing what they know. My hunch is that the risk is even greater in BTL, where clients and their respective agencies skew even younger.

Perhaps marketing and media decisions are being steered by theoretical lifetime-value assumptions that favour young consumers over old. Numbers concocted to make the opportunity look really big over the long term. But herein lies the flaw. If your young consumers can’t afford your products today, there will be no lifetime. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Our experiential world is awash with locations and events suitable for brands appealing to a younger audience. Finding places and partners that work for an older audience is challenging.
Of course, there are exceptions: Goodwood Revival, Wilderness, and Latitude, to name but a few. If the audiences are there, the brands will come.

In the agency world, we need to find a way to keep people in the industry. Age should be seen as a creative superpower and not a hindrance to new thinking. Diverse teams produce disruptive thinking.

To the clients, there’s an underserved market out there, ready and waiting to be engaged. I’d urge you to pay less attention to those clunky demographic tick boxes and lean harder into psychographic segmentations.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only a youth audience builds a brand quickly. Remember that, across the ages, we have surprisingly more in common with each other than we’d think.

Rupert Pick is co-founder and global managing partner at Hot Pickle.

Campaign UK

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