When will advertisers realise that being a woman over 50 is not 'old'?

Marina Gask
·5 min read
Keto Cycle ad
Keto Cycle ad

According to Forbes, the US business publication, women in their 50s are having a moment. Unveiling its first ‘Fifty Over 50 list, an editorial announced: “This is the time that many women are transitioning from care-taking… to taking their careers in their own hands… and shattering misconceptions about age and gender along the way.”

The list has been met with excitement. “We’re not just having a moment, we’re having a full-blown movement of women who are just getting started!” tweeted Grace Creative LA, a women-owned ad and creative agency targeting women over 50.

Well hallelujah. It’s about ruddy time, no? But if the average midlife woman is hitting her second (or third) prime, would Grace Creative please have a word with the rest of the advertising industry?

Fifty-plus women are up in arms about how they are being portrayed in a diet ad currently splattered across their Facebook timelines. Using illustrations to depict different age groups, the Keto Cycle diet ad shows over-50s as fashion-free wearers of baggy cover-ups and frumpy M&S slip-on slacks that say ‘I’ve given up on how I look”. But if you think that’s bad, just look at what happens in the next decade.

If this ad is to be believed, fun times are all over at 60 when, seemingly at the stroke of midnight, we get hit with the elderly stick. From that point it’s “bring on the cosy cardis, Mint Imperials and ‘generous’ granny pants”.

The ad has been met with outrage in the Facebook group for audreyonline.co.uk, the platform for midlife women, with comments like “Is this the future, ladies?” “Those hands… is she wringing them with anxiety or folding them sensibly while contemplating the herbaceous borders?” “Shoot me now” and “That cardigan is perfect for stashing the Werther’s Originals to suck on after the daily doze”.

Sure, we all have to accept the passage of time, but as someone whose 60th is but 12 months away, hell will freeze over before you get me in helmet hair, shapeless stretch pants and a mumsy mustard cardigan.

Keto Diet
Keto Diet

Astonishingly this ad is an improvement on last year’s, in which old ladyhood beckoned a full ten years earlier at 50, heralded by shapeless polyester wear and shopping bags. As one Facebook friend commented “Hilarious! Like when the young people on The Apprentice have to design something for the middle-aged”.

Do the creatives behind this campaign actually know any women in their 50s or 60s and beyond? In my experience most are fit, love fashion and take great pride in how they look well past mid-life. And with a long list of fine, feisty over-50s in the public eye from Kamala Harris to Mariella Frostrup redefining what a middle-aged woman looks like nowadays, we just don’t recognise ourselves in tacky campaigns that tell us we’re dumpy and frumpy.

Why do TV ads never show women our age driving cool cars? Are we doomed to a diet of Vagisan and ‘anti-ageing’ beauty creams? From the smug-looking white-haired couples in the cringey conservatory ads in Sunday colour supplements to the stock imagery in Facebook campaigns targeting the over-50s for cruises and equity release, there can be few who relate to this dated portrayal of midlife, whether male or female.

The nonsense notion that getting past a certain age marker means fun, sensuality, ambition and a share in the vital stuff of life is no longer our due and we should just disappear quietly to go shopping for Tena Lady is frankly getting tiresome.

And it’s not escaped our notice. While some advertisers have, thankfully, rung the changes with a more modern take on midlife and a broader ethnic mix - Sun Life’s award-winning ‘Welcome To Life After 50’ campaign and Dove’s Pro-Age Body Care certainly have a more contemporary feel – in a 2017 survey by Gransnet and Mumsnet 79 per cent of users aged 50+ say their age group feels patronised by advertisers, with 63 per cent saying that brands don’t realise that 50 is not ‘old’.

As Lucy Tesseras in Marketing Week put it, “Type 50-year-old into a search engine and you’ll be inundated with images of people with greying hair and wrinkles looking pensive or smiling inanely, many of whom are actually far older than half a century”.

Advertisers ignore this insight at their peril. The over 50s outspent their younger counterparts for the first time in 2015 according to the 2018 JWT report The Elastic Generation: The Female Edit, while Hitachi Capital UK and CEBR research revealed that the over 50s now account for more than half of consumer spending in the UK.

JWT’s 2016 Women’s Index study suggests that women over 50 control most of the purchase decisions in their households, at 78 per cent. Get your marketing wrong and you’re missing an open goal. Perhaps the biggest mistake, as this ad shows, is defining anyone in terms of age; it’s far too easy to get wrong. I look forward to more of the advertising industry recognising that ‘over 50’ is not a homogenous greying group, nor a bunch of mild-mannered snowy-haired couples laughing endearingly in pastels.

Marina Gask is co-founder of audreyonline.co.uk, the platform for midlife women who want a fresh start