Thought Leadership

How to talk to midlife women

Anniki Sommerville lifted the lid on how brands can better understand midlife women in a lively panel discussion.

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


For years brands have been talking about the ‘untapped potential’ of the over 50s market. Yet while over 50s make up 47% of UK adults, Mullenlowe’s ‘Invisible Powerhouse’ research found that 74% of over 50s feel ‘advertising underrepresents my age group.

There are positive murmurs from businesses and from within organisations that finally, people are starting to take note of midlife women. From Dark Horses' Open Source Menopause Policy that aims to break taboos and encourage more support for menopausal women in the workplace, to JD Williams’ stereotype-shattering campaign that portrays midlife women with joy. Yet while there are positive signs that the narrative is slowly changing, there is still more to do.

Anniki Sommerville, Director Strategic Insights at Differentology hosted a panel session with Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief, Heather Jackson, Co-founder at GenM, the menopause partner for brands and Jo Fuller, Coach and Founder of The Merry Menopause to consider how to accelerate change and better communicate with midlife women. 

Representation is a work in progress 

The #LastLonelyMenopause campaign from TENA and AMV BBDO has been celebrated as a landmark campaign because it saw women, both older and younger, see themselves and their experiences represented accurately on screen. “We are still at the phase when it's exciting when we see midlife women represented fully in advertising,  because there’s a lack of authentic portrayals on screen” explains Kemp.

While there are stand-out campaigns from the likes of TENA and AMV BBDO and Boots and VMLY&R, on the whole, there is still a way to go before midlife women are accurately represented on screen. The likes of Boots and TENA are also exemplary because they are “not doing one off menopause awareness day but nothing the rest of the year” says Kemp, instead they continue to adopt a  ‘work in progress’ mentality to their creative.

There are 48 signs and symptoms of menopause and by understanding these, you better understand how women search, source and shop for products that support their symptoms.

Heather Jackson, Co-founder of GenM, the menopause partner for brands

“We’re not here to point fingers. No one brand has got it right, no one medical professional, no one person,” says Jackson. She continues: “But we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for purposeful collaboration for progress. We all need to understand the menopausal audience and serve them better.”

In her work with GenM, Jackson supports a range of brands such as  Boots, Holland and Barrett, Lyma, Sainsbury’s and MPowder to better understand and cater to the menopause. By educating brands and teaching them about the 48 symptoms experienced, marketers can be better prepared to create communications that fully resonate with midlife women. Such a journey of education helps brands create authentic representations rooted in understanding. 

Moving from seeing to understanding 

“There are 48 signs and symptoms of menopause and by understanding these, you better understand how women search, source and shop for products that support their symptoms,” explains Jackson. “48 symptoms gives brands 48 opportunities to serve this audience better.

Beyond representation within ads through inclusive casting, understanding the experience of the menopause creates further opportunities for representation within the entire customer journey. By getting into the psyche of midlife women brands can help to create a shopping experience fit for purpose. Understanding symptoms such as brain fog and sleep deprivation can be used to create a better experience. An example of this is GenM’s M-Tick – the world’s first recognisable menopause-friendly symbol. Similar to the vegan V, the M-Tick is used in Boots stores across the country, as well as on product packaging for 100s of products. It aims to make it easy for consumers to find suitable products, providing them with a wealth of choice to take control of their menopause in the way that best suits them.

“If I go out without my glasses I take a photo of the product and enlarge it on my phone” shares Fuller. “Either typeface is too small or it's too dark in the store. Bigger print or QR codes and better lighting could improve a lot of shop.” She continues: “More inclusive mannequins. When they don't represent a lot of shops are missing a real trick” she says.

Pointing to the example of the vegan market which represents just 4% of shoppers Jackson stresses how marketers have taken the time to understand the vegan consumer and invested in creating an in store experience that meets their needs. “You wouldn't put a meat counter next to the vegan aisle” she jokes, continuing: “20% of the population at any time are menopausal, it's a big opportunity to understand. This audience needs support just as much as the vegan audience.” 

Ageing is aspirational 

The fact remains that while midlife women are responsible for a majority of purchase decisions, largely brands that market to midlife women do so with messages of anti-aging.

“We have to remember menopause isn't white and middle class” adds Jackson, “Wealthy celeb-led brands like Goop present an aspirational image but many women see it as inaccessible. We need a diverse range of options for all price points and backgrounds.”

A desk fan isn’t going to solve the psychological issues of Menopause, which can often be ignored.

Jo Fuller, Coach and Founder of The Merry Menopause

While seeing the likes of Helen Mirren thrive approaching 80, the everyday midlife woman does not wish to look that far ahead. There is a gap in representation in between that is more accessible, more ‘normal’ and reflective.

“There is such a layer of judgement across all of this,” says Kemp, “Growing old is a privilege. Marketers need to think about products and services in a far more inclusive way. Yes, there are some products specific to one phase of life, but there are so many products and services which completely miss the market because they ignore women such as cars.” 

Ask her to stay 

Ultimately to better serve and understand midlife women, women need to be represented within the workforce. At a time when back-to-the-office mandates make it even harder for women to manage work-life responsibilities, the industry is at risk of losing talent let alone attracting it.

“This is not a niche issue,” says Kemp, “Is it a huge market segment. There is no intersectionality in this space at the moment, it’s dominated by an affluent and one-dimensional view about what happens in menopause.”

What is the cost at a societal and organisation level of not having older women visible?

Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief

She continues: “What is the cost at a societal and organisation level of not having older women visible?” Citing data from Creative Equals which shows that 88% of young female creatives do not have a role model. She explains: “It’s not a niche industry, not just for middle-class white women. A huge issue part of the challenge is retaining female talent and if they [the advertising industry] don’t meet that challenge they can't serve consumers.”

While reports show that at the current rate of change, it will take until 2076 to reach gender parity in the FTSE 100, the challenge of retention is one that desperately needs to be met faster. “A desk fan isn't going to solve the psychological issues, issues being ignored that come with menopause” adds Fuller.

Currently the menopause is akin to a ‘hormonal glass ceiling’ in business. Investing in creating an environment where women want not only to stay but are able to thrive lies in greater understanding coupled with tangible action. Learning and understanding the symptoms of the menopause is the first step in helping to retain, attract and reflect midlife women and their lived experiences.

Related Tags

Women over 50s

Agencies Featured