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Opinion and Insight

The New Midlife Consumer: It’s Not All About Millennials

LBB’s Addison Capper chats to Leo Burnett Poland’s Adam Nowakowski about this huge market of untapped potential

The New Midlife Consumer: It’s Not All About Millennials

Millennial might seem like a word that has been around for a while now, but advertising is still very much all about it. Campaigns seldom aim at target groups not within that golden age bracket. But what if we told you that there’s another group of people boasting perhaps even richer opportunity than said millennials? That group is the ‘New Midlife’ consumer; the over 50 generation that’s set to make up almost 50% of Europe’s population by 2030. They’re eager to try new things and spend their cash - but the advertising industry just isn’t communicating with them. 

Leo Burnett has conducted a series of studies into the behaviours of this group, the findings of which Adam Nowakowski, Head of Planning / Deputy Managing Director at Leo Burnett Warsaw, presented in a lecture at the Golden Drum festival in Ljubljana last week. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with him in the Slovenian capital to find out more. 

LBB> To get started, can you define what a New Midlife consumer is? 

AN> You know there’s the bon mot “50 is the new 40” or “40 is the new 30”? That’s a big truth - it’s not just an opinion about shifting lifestyles. It’s to do with something called prospective age. Prospective age is different from chronological age because rather than being calculated from date of birth, it is calculated to date of death. So that means that, as we sit here today, we maybe have 50, 40 or 30 years ahead of us. For a person to have 30 years ahead of him in the 1950s, he would be 40. Today he would be 50. And that is why 50 is the new 40. 

That obviously changes the way people think about what they can do with their lives. Suddenly when you’re 50 and your child has moved out or at least got a job and become independent, it leaves you with extra income, maybe an extra room in the house and a whole lot of extra time. You begin wondering what to do with the rest of your life. People have a much bigger span of life ahead of themselves. 

LBB> So what can brands and the ad industry be offering these people? 

AN> The market has a lot more to offer these people than just anti-wrinkle cream and painkillers. The interesting thing is that the market remains blind to the needs of these people. The market assumes that they’re reaching them - they watch a lot of TV so if a brand pushes content aimed at millennials to TV, there’s a spillover effect and this age group will see it. In fact, probably more of this age group will see it than the primary target group. But the problem is that you’re reaching them with advertising that is not relevant to what they need, their motivations and aspirations. So even though you’re technically reaching them, you’re not actually communicating with them. 

Then there’s the misconception of those people not having money. We’re prejudiced and think in terms of stereotypes we have about people of old age. We presume that they have small pensions and not much expendable money. But when you look at the data, people over 50 well into their 80s provide more financial support to their children than they receive from them. And it’s pretty much a five-to-one ratio. They’ve got cash. They just don’t have stuff to spend it on because nobody is really treating them as a viable target group. 

Malcolm Gladwell once made an observation about how sports teams are losing half of the pool of talent because when they make the pick, obviously kids born in the first half of the year are stronger than the kids born later. The same thing is happening with lead marketers. They are ignoring a huge swathe of population. 

LBB> How big is that population?

AN> By 2030 in Europe that age group will make up between 45-50%. So it’s almost half of the population. And you can’t ignore that. If an age group has such a big share of a population, it also leads to a huge share and impact on the economy as a whole. We can not focus exclusively on millennials. I’m not saying we should ignore millennials due to this. I’m just saying that we are missing the point. 

LBB> Why is advertising ignoring them? Is it mainly linked to stereotypes? 

AN> Yes. Cindy Gallop said something at Golden Drum (19th October) that is extremely central to how advertising works. She said that “stereotypes are the shorthand of advertising”. We have so little time to tell our stories, so we can’t develop our characters over long periods of time. We use stereotypes, and these stereotypes then determine what we think and do - and that’s not good. 

LBB> How is Leo Burnett researching and acting on this? 

AN> We’re working on a meta-study, which is a variety of studies that we’ve performed across numerous markets. We did a study called People Shop that was 13,000 people across seven markets and 24 categories. Then we did the Humankind Quotient which was about brands and which ones are relevant to which people for certain reasons. And we did another study called Bait which is about the tactics that are most relevant to brands in specific situations. It’s about a variety of around 150 different marketing and advertising tactics. When you take those three data sets and you look at what the 50+ group is sensitive to - what sort of brands, tactics, shopping, channels - suddenly you’re really well informed. 

LBB> What were the most surprising things you discovered? 

AN> Some of the findings were quite surprising. You would expect to find that these people would be very price sensitive. Obviously they are in some cases but it’s not true that this is the only manner in which they conduct their shopping. Actually we found in the People Shop study that there are six archetypes. One is the ‘quality seeker’. Another is a promotion seeking archetype called an ‘opportunistic adventurer’ - these people tend to shop on impulse whenever they see something that’s on promotion. The level at which millennials split between those two is 19% and 20% - an almost equal split. When you look at 50+ consumers, the opportunistic adventurers go down to 12% and the quality seeker rises to 26%. So they’re not promotionally driven - they don’t want to leave things to chance. They’d rather plan it, speak to people in specialised retail. And how many times have you heard a story of a grandmother buying a $2,000 vacuum cleaner from a travelling salesperson? That’s because he mesmerises his clients with his expertise - and also emotion. 

LBB> So do you think emotion is a big part of advertising to this age group? 

AN> It’s a very important thing. We might assume that this is a very rationally minded group - it’s not. This has to do with how the brain ages. Data-heavy reasons to believe are not popular with this group because their ability to perform high effort thinking actually goes down with age. But at the same time their emotional intelligence and ability to process emotion improves with age. They’re susceptible to emotional benefits - that’s a creative’s dream! You’ve got science proving that you do not have to go into lots of rational details and parameters. It’s more about connectivity - how does this brand or product improve my ability to connect with other people? How does this product help me make the most of now? We often think that older people are thinking about times past - that’s not true. They can tell you stories because they want to tell you stories to engage you - but really they’re building relationships with those stories. And those relationships are what really counts to them. 

LBB> So surely if there’s such an important role on emotion, then positivity is important too? 

AN> They want to see brands that are very positive about their life and their role in life. Too much advertising plays on consumers not being able to do something - “you’re pain-stricken, you can’t do the needlework” for example. Get rid of that. If you really want to engage this group, talk about the good things in life. Don’t show them the pain. Show them the benefit of being able to do the needlework - or whatever it is - that will allow you to connect to others and be a value to family and friends, and generate value and respect through the things that you know. 

LBB> To get this into effect, is it a case of agencies educating clients first? 

AN> I think that in many cases you don’t need a client to change anything with their product or service to make it relevant to this age group. As soon as you see the figures - and most clients are very sensitive to figures - it’s very easy to convince them that there’s a huge opportunity that they’re missing, and it’s actually a short term gain that’s possible. You do not need to anything special - you will feel the difference this quarter.

Genre: People , Strategy/Insight