A long time ago I used to do a lot of research for a major drinks company. Their policy then was not to research anyone over 50. The belief, probably justified at the time, was that anyone that age had long ago decided what their favourite tipple was and was unlikely to change.

Things change. The over 50s are now the focus of much marketing and market research activity. It’s not just a matter of there being a lot of them – 21% of the population are between 50 and 69; in the UK it is even higher at 29%. They tend to have a higher disposable income and greater proportion of country’s wealth – in the UK it has been calculated that they hold over 80% of the wealth.

The over 50s are thus a very desirable target audience for many brands. But it is an age cohort that is rejecting the patterns laid down for them by previous generations. They are disinclined to act their age and they are more open to new experiences – travel, taking up new hobbies and, in increasing numbers, new relationships, than their parents were. A recent study by JWT put a name on them – 'The Elastic Generation'.

They are smashing notions of how one should live past fifty and sixty. The trajectory of their lives is now sinuous, looping, filled with energy and stretching beyond imagination. It’s elastic.

One of the features of The Elastic Generation is the distance between how they see themselves and how they believe others see them. For them, their age is just a number which will not prevent them doing what they want to do. Others, they feel, define them exclusively by their age and pigeonhole and sideline them accordingly.

This ageism, which they see reflected in the wider culture, is inevitably reflected in a lot of marketing communications. 'Empty Nester' has long been a convenient label for this age group and a descriptor of the assumed target audience, but in many cases it does not do justice to the complexity of their lives and this is resented by the over 50s.  Brands that resort to stereotypes in their communications will not prosper but brands that understand the real complexity of the over 50s will.


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