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THE OVER 65S - THE RISK OF GENERALISATION

BY ROB MCGOWAN, STRATEGY DIRECTOR.

We’ve posted recently about the issues surrounding the blanket classification of particular age brackets , in particular the risks around assuming particular demographic classifications can be treated the same from a marketing perspective. The marketing industry has been in a froth over Millennials and Xennials, largely because they represent the spending power of the future, but much less has been written about a group who are often simply classified as “the over 65s”. Given that life expectancy in the UK is currently around 81 it seems bizarre that this classification exists, let alone is as well used as it is. Imagine the differences in consumption habits, spending power, attitudes, and general outlook on life that exist within the 16 years that that difference between the over 65s and the average life expectancy represents. This group currently makes up around 18% of the UK (2015 figures from the ONS), yet by 2045 this is expected to have grown to around 25%.

The increasing longevity of human life is one of humanity’s greatest success stories – prior to 1800 no country on earth had a life expectancy over 40, fast forward to today and there is not a country that does not (Chad has the lowest, at 49). Between 1990 and 2015 the average life expectancy of a boy born in the UK has risen by 6 years, and 5 of those will be lived healthily (according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington). While not quite the same age band the view from McKinsey that states that the over 60’s will account for 59% of consumption growth between now and 2030 is illustrative of the disproportionate power this group wields in terms of its ability to drive growth for brands and the wider market.

Given the relative economic power of this group, the risk of broad generalisation is even greater than for the Millennials and Xennials who despite being greater in number have less spending power currently.

Of course, the “over 65’s” definition is largely based on a rather outdated view on retirement. Sir Mick Jagger welcomed the crowd at the Desert Trip Music Festival in California last year with a quick request: “No age jokes tonight, all right?”. The Rolling Stones have an average age of 72, and while their rock and roll antics are perhaps at the more extreme end of the scale, they do represent a global truth – that the ‘old’ are increasingly less likely to think of themselves as so and are still actively contributing to the economy, either through official channels (e.g. remaining in full time work or supplementing pension income with part time jobs) or through the less easily measurable economy (e.g. through the provision of childcare for friends and relatives). The economic implications of this are fascinating, and complicated. The marketing implications are equally intriguing, but our processes when studying and marketing to this group should not be any different – our role is to understand people as individuals, whatever their age. We should be marketing to the rock stars who happen to be 73, not the over 65 who happens to like rock music.