Generation Wealth: Brands are overlooking the most lucrative demographic

Liam Ward-Proud

COURTING millennials is something of an obsession among media types. With brands chasing the digital trendsetters born between 1980 and 2000, marketing campaigns seem increasingly driven by Twitter hashtags, Facebook follows and all manner of social media buzzwords. This could be a huge mistake. The UK’s population is ageing – quickly. In 2015, over-40s will outnumber under-40s for the first time, and the spending power of those aged between 40 and 65 dwarfs that of any other demographic in the West, according to a recent report.

The study, commissioned by Immediate Media (owner of the Radio Times) and carried out by Enders Analysis and YouGov, finds that between 2002 and 2012, spending by homes where the head of the household was aged 50 or over grew by £100bn, accounting for two-thirds of the growth in family expenditure. Dubbed Generation Wealth, they’ve benefitted from free university education and the stratospheric rise in UK house prices, and are 9 per cent more likely to consider it worth paying extra for quality products than the wider population. Globally, the spending power of consumers aged over 60 (only half of Generation Wealth) will hit $15 trillion (£9 trillion) by the end of this decade. So how can brands latch onto the impending mature consumer boom?

First, they must avoid a myopic focus on the new, sexier platforms. “Media buyers depend on digital at their peril,” says Claire Enders of Enders Analysis. With the average age of a media planner standing at just 28, it’s easy for agencies to become enthralled by the cacophony of Tweets and BuzzFeed lists, forgetting that the majority of disposable income sits in an age bracket well above the typical users of these sites.

Enders stresses that this is not to say that Generation Wealth are tech illiterate. Quite the opposite in fact. Tablet penetration is the same as in younger brackets, and those aged 45 to 65 are 6 per cent more likely to keep up with the latest developments in technology than the wider population. But the content they seek is different, Enders says, with users often enjoying more immersive, thoughtful, long-form reads.

Creative agencies will also have to evolve rapidly, thinks Peter Knapp of brand consultancy Landor Associates. “The communications industry is stuck in the habit of assuming that messages should be aimed at youthful, early-adopter audiences.” Take the holiday industry. Knapp argues that ads are often polarised, with Ibiza rave parties presented as the only alternative to a Saga Cruise. But Generation Wealth, as Enders and YouGov argue, are a maverick bunch. They go on adventure tours in remote parts of the world, and aren’t especially moved by the prospect of sitting in a deckchair for a fortnight.

If brand messaging is missing one group in particular, it’s the women of Generation Wealth. Born of the free-spirited 1960s, these highly-educated, headstrong females (think Helen Mirren) are massively underrepresented in media and advertising, Enders argues. “They are fashion conscious, and want to know how the world works. Crucially, as products of the post-war education boom, you’d better not patronise them.”

Liam Ward-Proud is business features writer at City A.M.