Ageism is an issue, and we’re part of the problem

The creative industries must do more to combat ageism or risk alienating a key demographic

Corinna Field

Joint-Managing Director Red Lion PR


It occurred to me recently that in 15+ years, I can count on one hand the number of briefs I’ve received targeting anyone over 50. One of them started out on 50+ but then backtracked, so barely even counts.

Having put the question to around 100 of my industry network; the answer was unanimous. They’re few and far between.

Jessica Nordell, journalist and author of "The End of Bias: A Beginning," asserts that “Ageism is one category where in some ways it's still kind of acceptable to be somewhat biased.”

This is despite the fact over 50’s make up a third of the population and control two-thirds of the country's disposable income. Income that we, as promoters of brands, want to get our mitts on.

So, why are we hellbent on ignoring them, and what can do to fix it?

The problem

Talent: When I look around at comms teams it is easy to see how the issue is perpetuated. We’re not representative enough of a 50+ audience. Clearly, as people curating comms plans, more diversity within the team would be beneficial. 

It’s our responsibility as creatives to push briefs that ignore older consumers with no evidence to back it up

Corinna Field, Joint-Managing Director of Red Lion PR

Membership organisation 55/Redefined commissioned a report revealing that many older workers feel pigeonholed, with stereotypes such as exhibiting lower levels of commitment or being less physically or mentally able. The reality is literally the opposite. Workers in their twenties are twice as likely to take time off for illness compared to their older colleagues, for starters.

Audience Data: The number of briefs that lack data to back-up a target audience still surprises me. The most frequent demographic we hear is ‘Millennial’ or ‘Gen Z’, leaving the odd crumb thrown to Gen X, and we count a host of mainstream brands in our portfolio. Often those same brands clearly benefit from the spending power and buying behaviours of the older consumer and yet choose to ignore them.

Outdated Perceptions: Older people aren’t traditionally seen as a ‘sexy’ target by marketers (which goes some way to explaining the issue) but perhaps they should be, and perhaps we need to change that too. Personally, as the co-founder of a business, a demographic controlling £6 trillion in assets and fast becoming the biggest spenders in every category sounds pretty damn sexy to me….

How the creative industries can support change

Training: It’s great that we have finally begun to work to eradicate racial bias (though still with a long way to go), but we also need to look at unconscious age bias and ensure that anyone making hiring or progression decisions has received it. Not to mention, anyone responsible for creative. The likes of equalityanddiversity.co.uk is a good place to start.

Recruitment: Worth noting that PricewaterhouseCoopers recently estimated that if member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) increased the employment rate of those aged over 55 to match that of New Zealand, where it is currently highest, this would represent a £182bn boost to UK GDP. At Red Lion, we work with a host of experts of all ages on a consultancy basis (Our ‘Red Lion Pride’). We’ve set objectives to build on this, leveraging the expertise of those that are in the twilight of their careers or even semi-retired, all of whom have a lot to offer.

True Flexibility: Women in PR commissioned research into the experience of women in the industry, and sadly found that a stark revelation was the level of ageism prevalent in PR agencies. Two-thirds of women currently working in PR agencies could not see themselves being there beyond the age of 50. The long, traditionally inflexible hours have a lot to do with it. If we’re ripping up the rule book with the hybrid working model, why not take it further to be flexible around an older person’s caring responsibilities, or acknowledging they may simply want to work less hours?

Break Out of the Echo Chamber: The brief I alluded to earlier targeted the over 50’s in rural settings. No one in our London-based office was representative, so we conducted a number of focus groups to hear directly from the horse’s mouth. Nothing unique whatsoever about this approach, but I know from my own network that it’s not a given – when surely it should be. All too often, people working on briefs simply assume what might resonate with an older person, without ever actually finding out.

Push the Brief: It’s our responsibility as creatives to push briefs that ignore older consumers with no evidence to back it up. I’m not saying we start insisting that fast fashion brands for 20-somethings worn by Love Island stars pivot to pensioners (though this would be interesting) – not every brand has 50+ appeal. But for brands that do, it’s time we push them to start representing. Every time we don’t, we’re contributing to the problem.

Make assets inclusive: As creators of assets, we all have a perfect opportunity to represent. For inspiration, I point you towards Centre for Ageing Better’s brilliant age-positive image library – created in 2022 in response to the fact that just 29% of TV advertisements feature characters aged 50 years or older.

Still need convincing? Research from Gransnet revealed that almost half of older people say they actively avoid brands who ignore them, while 69% suggest that if advertising is more representative of their age group they would be more receptive to the brand behind it. After all, isn’t selling brands why we’re all here?

Guest Author

Corinna Field

Joint-Managing Director Red Lion PR


Corinna Field has over 15 years’ experience in PR, starting in Dublin where she worked for Fleishman Hillard, whilst throwing herself into all the Emerald Isle had to offer, until she left to travel the world solo. Arriving in London, she worked for top agencies including Frank, Borkowski and Hope&Glory. Experience includes the relaunch of Laura Ashley, growing lululemon in the UK, heading up the VIP lounge for V Festival, and running the Virgin Media’s Shorts competition. She met co-founder Ellen Durrant at Hope&Glory (their relationship cemented by a ‘Holiday Hypnosis’ campaign for Virgin Holidays with Paul Mckenna). They launched Red Lion in March 2020 with two months-old babies in tow, and the world went into lockdown two weeks later. Despite this, they thrived, and their portfolio now includes Habitat, Laura Ashley, Campari, Argos, Shaken Udder and many more. Her claim to fame? Being the late, great June Whitfield’s body double back in the noughties…