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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine


Updated: Oct 15, 2021

By Hilary Woods:

Photo credit: Richard Irvine

This was the plea of a well-known ex-CMO, David Wheldon, when we sat down to talk about how marketers are getting communication with those born pre Gen Y and Millennials hopelessly wrong. He said “I decided in my early 20s that I wanted to be David. And the assumption that you can just call someone by a nick name really winds me up. In the niceties of the age we grew up in, you are supposed to ask somebody how you would like to be addressed. And that is a good question. It is good manners. It implies respect. Just phoning up and saying ‘HI Dave’

is just lazy.”

Lack of respect and empathy was the running theme of this conversation and that, as an industry, communications agencies are not using their skills to best effect when targeting this older wealthy audience who have the time to do their research and to vote with their feet.

People born post war grew up enjoying some of the finest and most highly crafted ads in the world. They grew up reading not scrolling and now more than ever they have the time to seek out brands and products that recognise their ambitions and their hopes and dreams. They see ‘retirement’ as the start of a great new adventure as opposed to one foot in the grave. Yet not many companies seem to recognise this. Which is bizarre, really, given that this group could be the lifeline that many brands need to see them through the next few years.

One of the key things about this new group of third agers is that they simply do not recognise themselves in the advertising that is trying to catch their eye. They want to see more ‘older’ people represented but, at the same time, their idea of ‘older’ is not the same as that of the people in the agencies doing or commissioning the work. When these people talk about ‘older’ they mean people with grey in their hair but who still look young and attractive. They do not mean ‘older’ as in granny (read unpaid babysitter), someone who needs looking after or someone pretending to be older than they really are. The truth is that over the years their BS detectors have become fine-tuned, and they rarely see anyone in a piece of communications that they feel to be authentically representing them.

This could well be because, again quoting David Wheldon, “We don’t think we are as old as we actually are. I know I have learned a lot and got miles on the clock but when I looked at a recent picture, I don’t feel I actually look like that”. Another respondent from our A3A panel said “Yes I feel 40 (she is actually 60). So if in 10 years’ time I have a walking stick because my knee isn’t holding up then, and only then, would I admit to looking like an old woman, but I don’t feel like an old woman now”.

However, the key for this age group is not about portraying them as faked up ‘younger’, but by portraying them as active, sentient and living life to the full. Grey hair doesn’t mean a grey life, in fact to most of the third agers I have been speaking to, grey hair or even no hair is a fact of growing older but emphatically not a signifier of growing old.

Show third agers doing interesting and even challenging physical activities not sitting down or playing cards. Show them walking or climbing or sailing or golfing. Show them tinkering with a Harley Davidson, maybe alongside someone younger. Show them in the gym or the pool and if you want to show them as grandparents, do it with them swinging a child onto their shoulders and having fun, not indoors, passive in a doting role.

Marketers need to stop thinking about third agers as the third age that went before them. They are not only richer but fitter than the ‘silent generation’. They are also the people who campaigned for CND, invented rock festivals and invented the mini skirt.

Stop using cliches and outdated stereotypes. The only people who recognise them as valid are the millennial creatives who are putting them in your work.

Hilary Woods is Head of Strategy and Insights at A3A Agency for the Third Age

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