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Meet marketing’s ‘Invisible Powerhouse’

MullenLowe Group UK’s research highlights the misrepresentation of over-55s in advertising

Georgie Moreton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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The over 55 age group controls 69.7% of all UK household wealth and is worth around £6 trillion, yet it remains a demographic that is overlooked in advertising. 

With 71% of people saying they are more likely to buy from a brand they feel represents them, advertisers need to start taking note and making steps to communicate better with a core part of their audiences. In response to the stereotyping and misrepresentation that is rife when it comes to portraying people over the age of 55, integrated advertising agency MullenLowe Group UK has launched its ‘Invisible Powerhouse’ project, in partnership with Kantar to define the audience by their interests not their age.

The Invisible Powerhouse project breaks down the over 55s into seven distinct segments based on their attitudes, behaviours and buying preferences fighting against the traditional categorisation that has been based purely on age; reinforcing the fact that the audience is vast and multifaceted and cannot be boiled down to one overly general common factor. 

The seven segments of the Invisible Powerhouse are as follows: 

Caring Conformists: 15% of UK adults. They believe in fair play, family, and community, and sticking to the rules. They are a little worried about their health and have check-ups even when they feel fine. A ‘Caring Conformist’ likes advertising that tells a story and is relevant to their life and is price-conscious about what to buy, often preferring to choose low prices over expensive brands.

Security Seekers: 14% of UK adults. Worry about themselves and the world around them. They trust their own knowledge rather than the ‘powers that be’, intimidated by the pace of change and new technology. A ‘Security Seeker’ watches a lot of television, and values ads that amuse them but are rarely tempted to buy new products or technologies. 

Savvy Spenders: 18% of UK adults. They are pleasure-loving impulse buyers but know how to spend on a budget, often using discount codes and cash to budget more effectively. A ‘Savvy Spender’ uses adverts to inform their buying decision and will remember an entertaining ad. 

Carefree Hedonists: 12% of UK adults. Live, laugh and love in the moment - they are spontaneous and impulsive, an optimistic lot who don’t worry about much. They find advertising an annoying encroachment in their entertainment and hate being overtly ‘sold to’. A ‘Carefree Hedonist’ spends without thinking on brands that they know and trust, and are the group most comfortable on their current income. 

Experience Lovers: 13% of UK adults. Always want more from life - more from their careers, adventures, food and culture. They are careful, conscious spenders who plan their purchases and rarely buy on impulse. An ‘Experience Lover’ feels that advertising should entertain them and inspire them to make a purchase.

Accountable Citizens: 13% of UK adults. Work hard, live responsibly and do their bit for good causes. Passionate about nature and the environment, you’ll often find them outdoors. They believe advertising should be informative or ground-breaking if it is going to get in the way of their entertainment. An ‘Accountable Citizen’ is concerned by the virtue of the things they buy, and, though careful with money, will pay extra for organic products. 

Social Progressives: 14% of UK adults. Believe in change, passionate about equality, the environment and they are arts and culture enthusiasts. They resist consumerism and corporate greenwashing, but will respond to ads that are genuine, informative and enjoyable. A ‘Social Progressive’ considers the provenance and politics of the things they buy, typically buying free range and Fairtrade produce.

Breaking the audience down into these seven segments gives marketers and brands profiles that they can measure their current campaigns against, encouraging them to consider how their efforts are aligning to appeal to any of the different personalities that make up the broader over 55s audience. This approach also takes into account social and attitudinal factors that influence choices considering real-life problems rather than taking a blanket approach that by aiming to appeal to everyone ends up appealing to no-one. 

Missing and misrepresentation 

At current over 55s are represented poorly or inaccurately or even worse, rarely seen at all. Research has found that 74% of over 50s feel ‘advertising underrepresents my age group’. 

“Brands have to be aware of their audience. If, for example, your audience is exclusively made up of older people, then you have to tailor your advertising to address them.” explained Tricia Cusden, Founder and M.D. of Look Fabulous Forever 

She continued; “However, this shouldn’t be the only representation of older members of society that we see in advertising. I am still going to be buying products with a wider appeal, like washing powder, because I am a human living in society. At the very least, we should see older members of society represented in these adverts, not because they are old, but because they exist - and we need to be aware of that and recognise that they live normal, fulfilling lives in the same way as any 20 year old does.”

MullenLowe Group UK found that 47% of UK adults are in their 50s and above (24.6 million), while only 12% of UK adverts currently feature someone over 50 in a leading role. This is a trend that is repeated across all sectors, with 87% feeling underrepresented in technology, 79% in entertainment and 76% in cosmetics.

When people aged over 55 do appear in advertising, they are misrepresented and caricatured as one singular demographic often in need of pity and help. With 88% of people aged over 55 feeling unhappy about the way advertising treats them, 7% feeling angry and 15% depressed or disheartened, brands must re-evaluate their strategies or risk losing out on a valuable audience. 

“Above all, it’s important to note that a person’s age doesn’t equate to their identity,” added Tamasin Ford, BBC journalist. “As I get older, it doesn’t change the fact that I am, above all, a journalist and identify myself by that label. What I find most frustrating about this issue is society’s perception of ageing as a negative thing. We’re often told that we need to stock up on products like anti-ageing lotions to ‘fight back’ against our bodies as we get older. By identifying ourselves through our attitudes, rather than by our age, we can take control of this harmful narrative that ageing is something to be avoided and, instead, embrace ageing with grace.”

Ageism is rife in Adland and is extending into the work. Brands that choose to ignore the over-55s, are choosing to ignore an invisible powerhouse audience segment that holds much wealth and make valuable brand decisions. Multi-faceted and intersectional representation is the only way to combat ageism as brands that represent audiences well on screen are the ones that will create better, long-lasting relationships. 

For more information on the Invisible Powerhouse, click here

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Representation Inclusion