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Silver surfers: Reaching mature audiences online


The over 55 age bracket controls £6 trillion of assets, representing nearly 70% of all UK household wealth. They’re fast becoming the biggest spenders in every single category, yet they feel advertising ignores them.

Given these stats, it’s somewhat easy to think boo hoo boomers (and those in mid-life), but representation matters. In a recent survey of this generation by MullenLowe Group UK, which covered 7,373 adults aged 55+, 88% of the respondents said they felt unhappy about the way advertising treats them, while 7% felt angry and 15% depressed or disheartened.

And they’re right to feel aggrieved. According to Channel 4’s Mirror on the Industry Report from last year, just 12% of UK adverts currently feature someone over 50 in a leading role.

What do advertisers need to know?

Firstly, it’s about acknowledging the size of the audience that’s being alienated. It’s common knowledge that the UK has an ageing population – estimates suggest that by the mid-2030s, half of all UK adults will be over 50.

The over 50s represent a rapidly growing and lucrative market. With many people in this age group taking money out of their pension early (over 55s can take a cash lump sum of 25% tax-free), there’s also an element of financial freedom coming into play.

In 2019, people aged 50+ were responsible for 54% of all consumer spending, with far greater financial power than younger generations. And with 71% of them saying they’re likely to buy a product from a brand that represents them, there’s real incentive for advertisers to tune into the middle aged and above’s preferences, behaviours and outlook.


What are some of those preferences?

Let’s start online. My dad is about to hit 70 this year. In no way a digital native, he owns an iPhone, iPad and desktop computer. He’s booked holidays online for well over a decade and now requests ‘links’ instead of a Christmas list! Yes, he still buys local and national print (he’s in the minority), but increasingly his news is being consumed on apps and on websites – he doesn’t use social media.

Many of the online tactics and thinking advertisers apply when marketing to younger generations simply doesn't work with older audiences.

Take the current trend of influencer marketing. Only 1% of 59% of 55+ year olds with a social media account have Instagram or TikTok, the platforms commonly associated with influencers.

Facebook is the most-used platform amongst this age bracket at 83% - while 49% of 65+ have a Facebook account. However, this is still short of the 77% of 65+ who use the internet at home – for advertisers, it’s about trying to understand where this generation is spending their time online and targeting accordingly.

Why trust is key

Engaging with these audiences in environments familiar to them, such as local newspapers, trusted publications, and relevant magazines will lead to far better results. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of 65+ get their news from online newspapers, putting it ahead of print and only second behind television.

Over 65s represent the highest portion of local newspaper readers (26%), both online and offline, making them easily geographically targeted, and with 70% of the 65+ audience getting their news directly from news publications rather than social media, they head straight to the source.

Seniors are open to learning about brands and products along the way, but the information must be presented in a way that’s relevant, helpful and familiar. Using the credibility of the publisher environment, such as in our native article format, long form content can explain the proposition and how it will help them. Consider running alongside print and TV to join the dots between online and offline world.

In short…

Older audiences represent a lucrative untapped market to advertisers. But having been left disappointed and disaffected by brands’ attempts to date, marketers will need to drill down into their preferences and produce content that represents and resonates, all while delivering it in the right environments online.