Thought Leadership

Is generational marketing still relevant in an era when age no longer equates to a life stage?

Josie Shand



In marketing, is age really just a number? While a wealth of research points to the importance of mindsets over life-stages all too often as an industry we rely on outdated stereotypes. From conflating youth with innovation or inexperience, to urging older consumers to ‘fight the signs of ageing’ stereotypes thrive when it comes to defining people by their age.

When it comes to age many believe the industry is long overdue a radical re-think. Almost half (47%) of people over 50 in the UK control over £6 trillion of spending power. However, this age group is continuously overlooked and features in just 12% of UK advertising.

Brands could be strategizing to better communicate with this 47% rather than ignoring them. These consumers want diversity in the way they are portrayed and to be seen as more than just the ‘+55’ category. 

Ageing is inevitable, but it is crucial that marketers embrace a full spectrum of consumer experience which extends beyond age. With this in mind, we asked industry leaders whether generational marketing is still relevant in an era when age no longer equates to a life stage?

Jo Vaughan

Jo Vaughan.jpeg

Strategy Director

Team Eleven


Yes, absolutely. 

But we need to reinvent it, so it is no longer a cliché-ridden, stereotyped, lazy view of each generation. Consumers want to be recognized as multifaceted individuals, whatever their age.

One group that advertisers really need to wake up and pay attention to is the ‘Forgotten Shopper’. Consumers over 55, especially women, are frequently ignored by brands and overlooked in advertising. 

More often than not, the industry favours much younger women even when advertising so-called “older” products.   And when they are included in advertising, it’s a cringeworthy line-up of incontinence products, life insurance and wills.  

There are so many reasons not to ignore them – not least that they emerged from the pandemic with the least income loss. By 2030, they will spend just under $15 trillion, up from only $8.7 trillion in 2020. And they have over 30 years of spending power still ahead of them, so brands ought to be lining up to win the hearts and pockets, not pretending they don’t exist.

The shift is happening across the creative industries. Michelle Yeoh and Jessica Coolidge’s Critics’ Choice wins brought cheers from over 50s across the world.   But changes are not coming fast enough.  We can all do more.

So yes, generational marketing can still be an effective media strategy. But we need to redefine it, and not be lazy with our age associations.

Charlotte Willcocks


Head of Strategy


Generational marketing is rife with outdated codes and signals.  At best this leads brands to overlook potential growth opportunities, and at worst excludes groups from whole categories and brand narratives. 

Let’s talk about a very real example. 

What do J-Lo, Gwen Stephani and Nicola Sturgeon have in common? Almost nothing, apart from their age. Yet in targeting terms they’re one of the same homogenous group of ‘mid-life women’ who are likely to be overlooked as a source of growth by brands.  Midlife women have huge cross generational influence [looking at you Kim K] and are in their ‘self-actualization’ phase of life meaning the focus has returned to themselves. Not to mention that in 2019 for the first time ever, women over 40 out-earned women under 40. As an industry we’re doing a disservice to the nuances of humanity which are much more likely to be wedded together by fluid shared values than a shared age range.

So what's the solution? In my opinion that lies with the marketers and the effort put in to really get to know consumers beyond the stereotypes and tropes presented to us in trend reports. Invest in qualitative research to really get to know their motivations and behaviours. I guarantee you’ll be surprised and your campaign will head in a direction you would never have expected, and your brand will be better for it. 

Mercy Abel


Cultural Insights & Content Lead

John Doe

I don’t think generational marketing is irrelevant. I think it needs a new perspective.

Let’s be honest, what was important to a Boomer at age 20 will differ from that of a Millennial, never mind a Gen Z and let’s not even get started on how Gen Alpha will be.

And that’s OK.

As a Gen Z, I don’t want the broad-brush approach. When I see marketing that accepts my generation for who we really are vs what marketers want us to be, I feel more seen. I feel like they’re talking to me and not about me.

Why generational marketing may feel irrelevant is because it focuses on age rather than mindsets. It feels restrictive and doesn’t really evolve with its generations. However, each generation should be seen for who they are today and not who they were yesterday.

That’s why insights are important.

As the Cultural Insights and Content Lead for John Doe Group’s new insights division, Elsewhere, we don’t talk about generations, we talk with them. Through continual conversations, we unlock lesser-known multigenerational truths and acknowledge that difference isn’t bad, it’s important.

We live in a world where multiple generations co-exist and there’s a beauty in that. Thanks to social media, there are more intergenerational conversations accelerating learning and unlearning opportunities between generations. Therefore, making good of our differences by focusing on connection and resonance rather than ignorance and erasure.

So, let’s not bin generational marketing. Let’s give it a positive lens instead.

Rachel Wood


Head of Communications

ACNE London

Remember when questionnaires only used to go up to 55+ on the age question? It smacks of everything that’s been wrong with generational marketing. Why? Because our industry has always had a slightly lazy view of age, obsessive about the younger ones - Millennials or now Gen Z, and downright forgetful about Baby Boomers and Gen X thanks to our industry being mostly 20 and 30 year olds. We’re now entering an inspiring evolution of age and we’re just at the beginning of getting our heads around age not defining individuals. Our time as active, contributing humans to society has stretched considerably due to medical advances and a culture of individual freedom that pushes against the conformity of previous times. 

This means that ‘lifestage-flux’ is a concept we need to be comfortable with as marketeers. A chance for us to be more cognisant of the mindset we want to attract with our creativity and brand messaging to ensure that no assumptions are made on age. We need to push clients to think beyond simplified profiles to delve into the richness of the niches, as paths through life become increasingly more complex.

Plus, generational understanding is still relevant. We all still age, we just don’t all do it in the same way and it doesn’t define people. Done well it would mean a much-needed correction of the obsession with younger generations, to make our views more balanced so that we can find new opportunities with the older generations (who, incidentally, hold the current wealth of the UK nation) and we can all learn more about the life stages that define us all.

Claire Holland



MullenLowe group

I’m going to jump in here and talk about this in the context of Ageism because it’s one of the last unchallenged prejudices.  

The over 50s make up 47% of UK adults and control over £6 trillion spend. However, they’re routinely overlooked by our industry, featuring in just 12% of UK ads which makes no commercial sense. Even worse, when they do appear in advertising, brands are missing a trick with the group often depicted as a singular demographic ‘in need of pity and help’. 

And the picture doesn’t get much better when we look at the make-up of our own agencies. The IPA's newly-released 2022 Agency Census shows that across marketing services 6.5% of employees are aged 50+ which remains unchanged year on year. And whilst we at MullenLowe are tracking at nearly double that stat, we’re on a mission to continue to challenge, change and drive progress. 

We’re now in the second year of our Invisible Powerhouse Initiative, which focuses on attitude and not age to shine a light on the richness and complexity of the millions of people who are too often lumped together. 

Our study divided the over 55s into seven segments based on attitudes, behaviours and buying preferences. From ‘caring conformists’ to ‘savvy spenders’ to ‘social progressives’ what this study confirms is that age really is just a number. 

Our ambition is to represent this economic powerhouse fairly and to capture exactly what over 50 looks like in a way that will resonate on a deeper emotional level. Which, in turn, will pay dividends for brands and benefit society too.

Ali Mcclintock

Ali Mcclintock Dept 2 (1).jpg

Managing Director - Marketing Technology


Let’s face it, generalisations very rarely hit the mark or give us the insight we need to build brilliant strategies but it’s equally silly to negate shared life experiences, right? The world is changing so vastly from decade to decade. Brands have to understand that age, and the cultural references that go with it, shape opinions, priorities, and attitudes. While a 13-year-old and a 26-year-old might be only an age box away, they are fundamentally different types of consumers: one was wowed by MP3 players, while the other doesn’t know a world where content isn’t mobile-first. And while age can’t be a singular marker for marketers, it is undeniable that it brings with it useful context and expectations that brands can’t overlook. To neglect the epoch that has shaped them would be short-sighted.

Kate Sheehy

kate sheehy - jwiglobal.png

Client Services Director

JWI Global

Generational marketing matters. 

Whilst it’s true that age no longer equates to a life stage, we cannot ignore a person’s lived experiences. More often than not, these are intrinsically linked to the time period in which they grew up. We are shaped by our formative years in a way that profoundly influences our lifestyle, our characteristics, and even our purchasing decisions. For consumers, there’s comfort to be found in marketing that resonates with - and ‘speaks’ to - them on a deeper level.

In contrast, when a brand tries to reach too many different ages and demographics at once, its message risks becoming diluted. And, in this age of hyper-segmentation and targeting, any brand that spreads its messaging too thinly will get lost in the noise. 

However, that’s not to say that marketers should be rigid in their approach. I think it’s more about reframing the narrative. Generational marketing isn’t a ‘birdcage’ - rather, it’s the key to a greater emotional connection with your target demographic.

Although some brands do have the luxury of being more generationally ambiguous in their marketing - and there will always need to be room for fluidity - the bottom line is that generational attitudes have always existed, and they will continue to exist. And, in order to appeal to consumers on a more meaningful level, marketing must reflect that.

Ines Casas


Social Director


From a performance perspective, focusing on the commonalities within these social constructs – biased and fuzzy as they might be – means we have better chances to drive action. The reality is that ‘generation’ as a concept is quite useful, simply because the differences are there for everyone to see, even if they exist over a spectrum!

Social media as a case in point. Around 40% of Gen Z and Millennials make an impulse purchase on social media every 2 weeks, this drops to 10% among Baby Boomers (GWI). You have your Facebook Groups for mums and Gen Z messaging on Snapchat. You have your shortening attention spans. And so on. We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge all of this. But that doesn’t mean we should not account for individual experiences across stages of life – and these are now more diverse than ever before. Being overly generic brings in the risk of landing flat, or worse, alienation. 

We are conditioned to look at the commonalities – for example when building target audiences for biddable media. But listening to communities online helps remind us that everyone has a unique experience and perspective – brands must be cognisant of this and adapt. 

The key is balance. Generational marketing can still offer a starting framework but requires nuance. For me, this means seeking to connect with the individual: getting a better understanding of our audience, engaging in a two-way conversation to learn more, and tailoring strategies and messages accordingly. 

Related Tags

Gen Z Marketing over 50s