Advertising to the over 40s: The new rules of engagement

By Richard Ardley

This idea was brought front of mind to me recently when talking to Richard Jacobs, head of commercial strategy at Real & Smooth Radio Ltd. The station has a specific target audience of 40-59s; a demographic that historically would have been considered ‘old’. But no longer is this the case. For the first time in history we appear to be at an evolutionary stage whereby the generation gap between those in their 20s, 30s 40s & 50’s is closer than ever before – meaning that different generations can & do enjoy similar interests and pastimes.

As Jacobs pointed out: “these are the children of the baby boomers, we’re running the country, operating and managing businesses large and small, we are doctors, teachers, software developers and media planners! We buy ipads, brand new cars, clothes, crisps, smartphones, deodorant and expensive holidays. We are a group of consumers that the marketing industry hasn’t quite got its head around. You’ll seldom see us appearing in ads, which is fair enough as no brand wants to be seen as old, but the problem is that in many cases, we’re not even appearing on media schedules anymore. How many times do we see brands actively targeting consumers beyond 44 on a media schedule? We believe our research goes some way to addressing that problem and some of the insight is genuinely surprising and hopefully behavior changing.”

From its own research, Smooth Radio suggests that because of increasing divorce rates (13% of all over 40’s are divorced and 25% of over 40’s are either divorced or still single), this age group has a ‘second lease of life’ mentality. In addition, having children later means more parents with young children in their 40’s. This creates a need for marketers to start extending their targeting to reach older people doing more and things in life you’d traditionally expect 20 & 30 somethings to do. As those in their 40s and beyond feel younger than ever before, perceived age versus chronological age is becoming ever more separate.

In fact these days it is not uncommon for the over 40s to be considered the ‘Highlifers’ in advertising circles. This demographic is in better financial shape with money it is willing to spend at the click of a mouse button. This doesn’t mean that this audience is not exercising control in a still cautious financial market. The recession has made this group careful but still prepared to spend on what they feel is important or what they really value.

Real & Smooth Radio’s consumer research department, MediaLab, has spent the past two years examining the lucrative over 40s market and honing in on where advertisers can find it ‘hanging out’.

Perhaps most crucially of all (certainly to advertisers), the over 50’s have accumulated around 80% of the nation’s wealth and is the demographic with the healthiest rate of expendable income overall. This is due in the main to big increases in the value of their homes and economic benefits now less readily available to younger generations, such as generous salary pension schemes and affordable housing.

This group isn’t shy when it comes to embracing new technology either. Some two in five consider themselves to be early adopters. In focus groups, technology usage is described as ‘intuitive’ and absolutely vital to the way Highlifers live their lives today.

This is a demographic keen to retain looks and good health too. Eighty-seven percent of women say they actively seek beauty information with 91% saying that they trust word of mouth when it comes to beauty products and treatments – an interesting face perhaps for those brands looking to target 40+ women via social media sites. Eighty-one percent are interested in their health and seek information on keeping healthy, but 40% claim they have little time in which to actively research health products and would like help with it.

So what does all of this tell us about how advertisers should approach this increasingly youthfully-minded audience? Smooth Radio’s own strapline; ‘Love life, love music’, is designed to resonate with an audience enjoying the best time of its life. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that as far as advertisers were concerned, the 40 plus market was considered ‘past it’. It wasn’t unusual to see ads for the 40s market tailored to pension planning, and even funeral care!

Fortunately, today’s adverts for this demographic are becoming ever more neutral, positive and engaging. Brands are realising that the 40-plus demographic is no armchair group. It is actively using social networks to engage (social networks are considered crucial to rekindling friendships or old romances for this group). MediaLab found that 77% use popular social networking sites – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube being the main ones visited.

And it not just the virtual world they are embracing either. MediaLab research tells us that, in the case of over 40s that have grown up children, they are increasingly indulging in past passions and hobbies. They’re going to concerts, festivals, gigs and comedy shows.

The ‘Highlifers’ or ‘Modern-Midlifers’ as MediaLab call them are a fascinating and economically rich group of consumers. They can really help to optimise a brand’s success, so long as they are communicated to and engaged with in the right way. And rule number one is to treat the over 40s as anything but a grey market!

About the author

Richard Ardley is Getmemedia’s insight director.

View more information on Real and Smooth on

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