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Through the Ages

By: Abby Penning
Posted: March 4, 2013

Getting insight on the world’s ever more mature population, attendees at the 2013 in-cosmetics in Paris can attend “Talking About My Generation: The Marketing Challenges Presented by an Ageing Population,” a seminar that is part of in-cosmetics’ Marketing Trends education program segment. Presented by Mark Beasley, managing director of U.K. mature marketing agency rhc advantage, the seminar, which is taking place in the Marketing Trends Theatre on April 18 at 3 pm, focuses on marketing to the over-50 population.

Beasley is an experienced agency planner and marketing consultant, who has worked as copywriter, account director, planning director and managing director. He also is an associate lecturer at a business school and lead guitarist in a “mature” rock band. Beasley is a passionate advocate of the need for marketers to recognize the increasing importance of older people, as 40% of the adult population in Europe is currently over 50. It also is increasingly complex, and the discussion will focus on the myths and realities of the over-50s market, drawing upon a wide range of data sources, including some commissioned specifically for this event.

Beasley answered a few questions for GCI magazine to give a preview of his presentation and share information on what to expect from this market in the beauty realm.

GCI magazine: Is the over-50 segment very different from other population segments seeking beauty products? Or is everyone seeking something similar?

Mark Beasley: It could be argued that the only significant thing that people over 50 have in common with each other is that they were born after a certain date. Otherwise, this is a large, complex and diverse group of people with as wide a range of needs, wants and requirements as any other age group.

As people over 50 now account for more than 35% of the adult population, and [it] continues to grow in both absolute and relative terms, the cosmetics/beauty industry is doing itself a disservice if it continues to think of the over-50s as a single segment with a homogenous set of needs. The ways in which people think, feel, perceive and act are associated with many variables other than age and more sophisticated segmentation and targeting models are required. “I don’t like being labelled as young or old, I just want brands to understand my needs,”—said a female, age 59, who was part of rhc advantage Age Panel.

From the evidence I have seen, people do not change significantly as they grow older, in terms of their attitudes and behavior as consumers. However, many older people do resent the way that businesses and marketing seem to be obsessed with youth and to assume that being and looking young is the most important reference point. In fact, most people seem to be comfortable about their own age and aging and believe that it is important to look and feel attractive and healthy, at whatever age you are—but not necessarily to look younger.

However, there are two important differences. First, as we age, the way on which we process marketing information changes. We tend to be less engaged by image and emotion, and more influenced by facts, logic and information. This has many implications for the beauty industry, not least an increased skepticism regarding product claims and advertising.

Second, the one inevitability about age is the physical aging process. For example, eyesight deteriorates with age, and the need to be aware of product ingredients increases (because of the increased likelihood of allergies, use of medications, dietary needs, etc.). Despite this, the packaging for cosmetic products in particular seems to almost willfully ignore these fundamental needs. One consumer in our research, in her 50s, who is allergic to Trisodium EDTA and Disodium EDTA, spoke of the small print size and conflicting color contrasts that meant she either had to borrow reading glasses from the store display, or take her husband with her. And as for the number of people finding it difficult to distinguish between shampoo and conditioner once they have removed their glasses for a shower or bath...

GCI: What do you feel is the one most surprising thing you learned about the over-50 demo in your trend research?

MB: The importance of some of the most significant issues associated with aging and marketing (particularly for women) are heightened when one looks at the beauty industry—to an extent which is initially quite surprising. In countries where death is taboo, it is not too surprising that age and aging are culturally unattractive. As a result, the assumed gender roles of women mean that they face unique societal pressures to maintain a youthful appearance and to look younger than their chronological age. Academic research has found that while some women are able to establish a sense of self-worth irrespective of their physical appearance, the majority of women do not and are well aware of societal pressures to hide or remove signs of ageing. The typical television news’ older male/younger female pairing is just one daily reminder of this.

Some beauty products highlight the pressures faced by women. Anti-aging or pro-aging? Are wrinkles and age spots on your skin a bad thing? In some societies, age and wisdom are venerated. In ours, they are not. These are weighty subjects and worthy of much more consideration—particularly given continued population ageing.

GCI: Do you feel like other sectors are influencing trends that have to do with beauty for the over-50 market?

MB: The consumer technology sector (including mobile devices and smartphones) provides an interesting comparison. At one time, such products were exclusively targeted at the young. Then, the importance of older people was recognized, but not addressed in a very subtle way. For example, advertising featured “humorous” caricatures of older people (dressed as skateboarders, for example), or else “ghetto” products specifically for older people were produced (simple mobile phones with big buttons, for example).

However, the increased use of the internet and digital devices by people aged 50–74 (and increasingly over that age) means that older people have now been included in to the mainstream. 

Take Apple. Ads that used to feature hipsters dancing to indie music against neon backgrounds have been replaced by a much more inclusive approach, featuring greater age diversity. The products themselves are age-friendly, without specifically needing to say so. The result—Apple is gaining in popularity with older people, The Apple BuzzScore in the U.S. (effectively a measure of brand reputation, based upon YouGov research) has increased steadily for people aged 35 and above since 2008 (according to a report in November 2012), such that it is now higher for this age group than for its original heartland of younger people. As industry experts have said, this is no bad thing as Apple is simply “following the money.”

Learn more from Beasley and about the marketing trends affecting the over-50 generation at his seminar "Talking About My Generation: The Marketing Challenges Presented by an Ageing Population," and discover more opportunities at the 2013 in-cosmetics here.