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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine


Updated: Aug 31, 2021

By Hilary Woods:

I was talking to an agency EVP about targeting recently and she told me that so many strategies are aimed at the Millennials because they are the ones online and active, so by targeting them using digital, her clients get to fish where the fish are.

But what if the fish being fished for are merely sprats?

Where are the BIG fish vs the tiddlers?

According to the ONS, household wealth resides in the over 60s, with those in their early 60’s owning 17x that of those in their 30’s. This is interesting because only a decade ago, they owned only 6x as much. The digital natives may be online but a deadly cocktail of tuition fees, childcare costs, and spiralling rent increases has meant they actually have low disposable incomes. This is why marketers should maybe think a little harder about who they place as their priority audience and how they should talk to them.

But it isn’t just about household wealth.

Epsilon research shows that Third Agers – those born after the war and before 1965 – have the highest average spend per transaction. Indeed, spending by those aged 65 and over has increased by 75% between 2001 and 2018. Compare that with the fall in spending of those aged 50 and under during the same period. Without that Third Age spending we are told UK economic growth would have been reduced by 4.2%.

Turns out, then, that Third Agers are the big fish in terms of both wealth and being the spending heavy weights. Data shows they spend the most across all categories and the most per transaction, preferring premium brands and stores.

And they are spending both offline and online too.

Even before the pandemic, 49% of this age group was spending at least 11 hours a week online, this compares with 42% of millennials. And a lot of that time is spent spending as witnessed by ONS data that shows that before lockdown more than half of people aged 65 and above (54%) say they shop online and WPP data shows that 78% of this Third age cohort research and buy products online.

And its not just an occasional habit. Research by Greenlight shows that 76% of over 55s make at least one purchase online a month and that 9 out of 10 will use the internet to both research and buy products. In fact it is the over 65s who show the largest increase in online shopping (pre Covid) over the preceding 12months.

Indeed, Third Agers rank researching and shopping as the third and fourth most important online activities (after news consumption and social media) whereas Millennials ranked shopping as only fifth most important.

As Wayne Best, chief economist at Visa said “This older generation, those over 50, 60, even 70, they have computers, they have smart phones and very directly they are using them for everything from canned tomatoes to TVs to order them online”.

Moreover, the 23m people aged over 50 in the UK, that’s more than a third of the population, are voting with their feet and their wallets. 92% of them say they are open to new products and brands and 83% say they have moved on from brands that are no longer fulfilling or meaningful. They also say (94%) that they don’t like the way that organisations and marketers communicate with them.

As David Wheldon, ex RBS CMO said “We’ve got an ageing population in this country where most of the economic power resides, and most people are healthier, more active, more alive in their skins than people our age might have been in generations gone by,”

Clearly, Third Agers are the big fish.

So if you are looking to hit (or exceed) your targets this year, maybe you should think about how your digital work as well as your overall strategy should look to catch the mackerel and not the sprat.

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

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