Mark Beasley reviews the latest - and, it is claimed, last - book by 'ageing business' guru, Dick Stroud. The full title is: ‘This I Know: the fantasies, fiction and fantastic potential of older consumers.' and it is billed as 'Dick Stroud’s ‘no bullshit’ story of the ageing business.’
Dick Stroud has been active in what he calls the ‘ageing business’ since 2003, which was when I first met him. I was involved in an age-related academic project, which went the way of all academic projects (filed and forgotten), while Dick went on to become one of the most active and respected advocates of the ‘ageing business’ – or ‘how to profit from demographic change’. As he says in the prologue, he has written two books, over 5,000 blog posts and hundreds of articles. Not to mention numerous conference presentations, consultancy projects and the development of ‘age friendly’ methodology and software.
That’s a lot of words – and Dick Stroud clearly feels that many of them have fallen on deaf ears. He has apparently said all that needs to be said - ‘for heaven’s sake, what more can be said? Why write another book?’. And if the world had paid more attention, it would surely have benefited greatly - as ‘mostly, my predictions and ideas have been right(ish).’ A tad arrogant perhaps, but Stroud does indeed know more than most about this subject.
The aims of the book are made clear. ‘This I Know’ is Dick Stroud’s ‘final word’ on the ageing business and he has chosen to state his case (of which he is certain) concisely (75 pages) and definitively. To do this, he has opted to manage without the support of tedious facts, charts, data and references, in the hope of producing something manageable and readable. Who has time to read another lengthy marketing textbook?
‘Much-repeated facts and fiction’
The book falls into three broad sections. The first of these summarises the background to our ageing society – ‘the social, demographic, financial and economic certainties’ that ‘drive the ageing business’. Emphasis is placed on economic and financial issues – which, it is made clear, are more complex than often assumed.
The ‘far-reaching effects’ of physiological ageing, a pet subject of Stroud’s, are mentioned as an important factor – which they are. However, psychological ageing – a subject that has received the most attention in this area for some years now - is not mentioned at all. Generational marketing - a serious academic and consultancy topic in the USA – is casually dismissed as the work of ‘amateur psychologists’, with as much value as a horoscope. Take that, Professor Schewe!
The second section of the book reviews why Government, business – and many others – have failed to act. An undercurrent of frustration and annoyance permeates this section. No-one is spared: the media (who find it difficult to cope with complex arguments), Government (who have failed to act), Business (‘companies always have something better to do’), marketers - ‘the failure of marketers’, not to mention the ‘shambolic mess’ that is the NHS and the financial services industry (with its wilfully complicated products).
The ‘ageing blob’ (a vast army of state and lottery funded organisations doing little of value) receives (and probably deserves) special mention, as do its associated pressure groups and their ‘skewed thinking’ and ‘simplistic understanding’. Even older people themselves - who ‘fail to exercise’ and are all too often ‘unprepared for getting old and hope for the best’ – must accept some responsibility.
However, Stroud reserves his best barbs for the ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ young marketers he imagines are reading his book, probably looking for soundbites for their next team presentation. These are addressed in a series of asides, mostly in the form of verbal slaps to the head, reminding them to pay attention and commenting on their stupidity. For example: ‘Younger readers will have disengaged from this section...much more interesting to focus on the latest innovation in social media or some other youth-centric activity than do anything about it.’ This goading of younger marketers seems particularly counter-productive and unnecessary.
Grudging acceptance and gerontophobia
In passing, we are reminded of two of Dick Stroud’s most important contributions to the ageing business – the concepts of ‘age neutrality’ and ‘age silos’. ‘Age neutrality’ recognises that a brand may well be consumed by people of all ages, not just younger people, and requires the avoidance or removal of all age-related references or implications. The ‘age silo’ brand – explicit in its targeting of older consumers, with products such as stair lifts and SOS alarms – should not assume that its solution will be welcomed, says Stroud, suggesting that ‘grudging acceptance’ is more likely.
The final section of the book draws some conclusions, in the form of two ‘lists’ - first, solutions and opportunities and then, ‘reasons you are likely to fail’. These are relatively short sections and the former in particular is quite limited, as the author admits. Among the reasons for failure is a new term to me – gerontophobia, defined as the fear of growing old, hatred or fear of the elderly. This, it seems to me, explains so much of the inaction mentioned in the book – ‘age just isn’t sexy in marketing terms’, as the academics Carrigan and Szmigin once said.
No light bulb moments
I will conclude this review with two comments. First, in my opinion, the book would be better if it were a little less bitter. As Stroud says: ‘perhaps I have been working in the ageing business too long and have become cynical, maybe defeatist.’ Like many, he had expected a ‘light bulb moment’ when business would come to its senses –and feels that this has not happened. It seems like he may taken this personally. But I do not entirely agree – there may not have been a light bulb moment, but I sense a lot of flickers.
Second, if you are going to say that the book is your final word – not mere opinion, but the summation of extensive experience and knowledge - then you have to be consistent. Statements like ‘I have little evidence to substantiate this statement’ and ‘I can’t offer you any hard evidence for this statement’ sow seeds of doubt, where none should be sown.
My own final word is this. Dick Stroud has made a great contribution to the 'ageing business' and deserves our thanks and praise – and what better way to show it than to buy this book? It is a little anecdotal, sometimes unstructured, definitely opinionated and often provocative – but that is what it was intended to be. However, it does have the great merit of brevity, for which we should be extremely grateful.
Here is a link to Dick Stroud’s page on Amazon.
The Mature Marketing Association today announces the first-ever
Mature Marketing Awards. These are intended to recognise and promote excellence in marketing activity directed at older consumers. More information and entry forms are available here. A shortlist will be published in August and winners will be announced at the Mature Marketing Summit in London on October 17th.
Kevin Lavery, Vice Chairman of the MMA, writes:
WARNING this blog contains adult content
I make no apology for this because I’m talking about the only part of the UK market which is actually growing. They hold an estimated 80% of the country’s wealth and have the highest disposable income of any age group. In fact they outspend their younger counterparts in almost every category from food and packaged goods to cars, cruises, entertainment and personal care.
In spite of this profitable profusion, they are all too often fenced off by marketers and their agencies as old tortoises with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin. Either that or so miraculously full of youthful vigour that they think nothing of cycling up Snowdon on mountain bikes.
Yes, it’s the 50 plus market that, in three years time, will make up more than half the adult population in this country - over 20 million. They’re bending the rules, bucking the norm and defining Britain’s ‘new old’.
It’s a youth centric marketing world
In the advertising industry we're obsessed with youth, we're endlessly trying to get "upwardly mobile Millennials" or "hard to reach youthful influencers" or some nonsensical and largely broke crowd who can't afford the premium SUV we have on offer. Meanwhile we've not looked around to see that all the people with money and influence are actually rather old.
Mature consumers are frequently bewildered by much of the advertising they see because it’s youth centric – even for things that all age groups buy.
Part of the problem is that people who create the ads don’t look like the people who buy the products. The average age of an ad agency account executive or creative is 28. It’s the same in marketing departments and, believe me, a 28 year old can’t think 50, 60, 70 or 80. Unconscious age bias is a proved academic fact.
So the ad agencies and their marketing clients are fielding people who are three, four even five decades younger than the age group that dominates the marketplace.
We swim in a world of groovy new language and trendy new terms, unaware that basic advertising concepts, tools, and techniques are tried and tested over years.
Native advertising and content marketing, two of the biggest buzzwords of 2016, have been around for more than 100 years. Take the examples from the 1890s when John Deere launched the Furrow magazine, the Michelin Guides from the 1900s, recipes from the Oetker Company, or even the entire soap opera genre.
Somehow the entire current advertising world thinks that we face entirely new marketing and psychological challenges in selling goods or services. The fact is that times and media change – people don’t.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many awful songs, terrible TV shows, and crap movies? I’ll tell you why. Because it’s really hard to make or write a good one.
The same is true with advertising. No one sits down to write a crappy ad. Mostly they just turn out that way. And when it comes to advertising to older people, age myopia really kicks in. Either that or the creative director reaches straight for the blue rinsed grannies from central casting. The result? Marketing that misses the mark.
In research, older consumers consistently report that they feel at best ignored and at worst patronised by current advertising and marketing.
That's why we want to champion and promote excellence in advertising and marketing activity that is aimed at older consumers. And why the Mature Marketing Association (MMA) in association with Warc, has launched the first ever Mature Marketing Awards.
You can find out more about the MMA and the awards here. You might even want to enter.
Grown up awards for grown up marketing.
Kevin Lavery is a marketing and advertising specialist for the 50+ cohort and is Vice-Chairman of the Mature Marketing Association (MMA).
The missing £Billions - new report from the ILC estimates cost of failing to adapt to demographic change
The Mission £Billions - the economic cost of failing to adapt our high street to respond to demographic change.
This report was issued by the ILC (International Longevity Centre) in December 2016 and was presented to MMA members this week by the authors, Cesira Urzi Brancati and David Sinclair.
Older people are increasingly important consumers – a large and growing group of consumers, in absolute and relative terms. The report points out – as we at the Mature Marketing Association have been saying for some years – that the over 50s account for 35% of the population and 43% of total household spending on consumption. On this basis, the over 50s account for disproportionately high levels of expenditure, outspending other age groups.
However, the report also argues something rather significant. This is that households headed by someone aged over 50 account for 55% of the total number of households – presumably, because some of the households headed by people over 50 also include people aged below 50. On this basis, it is argued, older households spend less than their younger counterparts. In fact, the ILC state, household expenditure (on food, grocery, eating out, clothing and leisure) declines by approximately one per cent for each year beyond the age of 55.
Of course, the over 50s continue to be increasingly important in economic terms. With an ageing population, aggregate expenditure will continue to increase, even if individual household expenditure shows a slight decline with age. Furthermore, as we also know that the over 50s account for a disproportionately high amount of wealth, there is an apparent opportunity to increase their levels of expenditure.
Why does economic and social participation decline?
As we have known for some time, economic and social participation decline with age and this report confirms that we don’t 'go out' as much (eating out, cinema, cultural activities and so on) as we get older. If we go out less, we spend less. The question is: why?
The ILC report argues that financial constraints are not a barrier. In fact, decreased expenditure is not related to income levels. One can hypothesise about other factors in reduced expenditure – a less materialistic mindset, increased satisfaction with ones lot, or canny saving for an uncertain future, say – but this is just conjecture.
Two main barriers to social activity and consumer expenditure by older adults were identified. The first is that of poor health and in particular, walking difficulties – associated with 14.5% less spending on average, finds the report. The second barrier is accessibility, in the sense of living in a rural area, lack of access to a car and low levels of internet access.
The report identifies the importance of consumer spending to the economy and estimates the potential increases in spending if these barriers could be overcome. For example, the amount of lost spend due to walking difficulties is estimated at between £470million and £3.84billion. It is argued that this makes it worthwhile for businesses – and Government - to consider age friendly changes in the built environment, such as improved seating. Indeed, Anchor - England's largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people – who were involved in this research - have launched a campaign called ‘Standing up for sitting down’.
There is a well-established argument that the failure to address the physical limitations of older consumers – which may include sight, hearing, cognitive and strength issues, among others – is a significant barrier to consumption. This report adds further weight to that argument and is to be applauded for that reason.
1. The Missing £billions. ILC-UK discussion hosted by Anchor
Monday February 13th 14:00 to 15.45
To be held at offices of the Anchor Trust, Central London (WC2).
Before Christmas, ILC-UK published a new report (The Missing £Billions) which explored the health barriers to expenditure in later life. The report was supported by Anchor who have launched a “Standing up for 4 Sitting Down” campaign.
We are holding a private meeting for MMA members interested in hearing more about the report and its findings. There will be an opportunity during the event to discuss the implications of the research.
If you are an MMA member and would like to attend this private discussion, please email email@example.com as soon as possible. There are limited spaces available and they will be reserved on a first come, first served basis.
2. 2017 Mature Marketing Summit
Please make a note of the date - Tuesday October 17th, Cavendish Conference Centre. We are currently looking for sponsors and speakers. Please get in touch if you can help.
3. 'New Old' Exhibition at the Design Museum.
Curated by Jeremy Myerson, this pop-up exhibition looks at design approaches to ageing. Free entry. Information here.
Mark Beasley, Chairman, MMA