If I am 65 years old, in what age-shaped ways do I approach markets – and indeed life itself – differently from others (at whatever life stage)?
Am I frustrated at how invisible people like myself seem in TV commercials (except the ones for life insurance and funeral finance)?
Do I ever feel that some shops are just not for the likes of me? In other words, can I sense a form of oblique discrimination in the air, unmistakeable under the muzak?
Am I ever embarrassed at the please-pay-here moment when I catch my grey/bald reflection as I hand over for tilling/bagging an Italian DVD thriller involving medieval nuns or four bottles of discount fragrance or a very fancy pair of purple trainers for people with plantar fasciitis?
Do I actually want marketers or salespeople to notice me for my age?
And if I were to be invited to one of their planning / forecasting conventions as a putative ambassador of the Third Age, what would I urge them to produce? Would I mention that arthritis has left my hand looking like a troubled alabaster crab and ask them to do something about those tricky ring-pull cans? Or, not so different from millions of others, would I say that as I love blended whisky very much I would be grateful if my favourite brands could be made a whole lot cheaper? Ditto for tennis-wear. And rock festival tickets too.
We stand back.
The ever-swelling debate about the Third Age has given rise to some lavish claims about just how specially interesting older people actually are. Yes, it is true that many across the Western world have cleared themselves of personal debt, hold good pension provision and cling to seriously sophisticated tastes (in food & drink, vacations, fashions….).
Brands might well love such people. But one has to wonder a) just how numerous this population can really be and b) to what extent they will actually wish to be addressed in ways which recognize their age.
For is the mindset of a thirtysomething fan of premier cru or Castilian bath-salts so different from that of his great aunt? If a young couple have the means to procure an OLED TV for their living room how will their attitudes – to, say, the features on offer – vary from those of the grey-haired couple who live on the top-floor of their block? Would it, in any such case, be worth the differential marketing spend to organize a variegated promotional conversation with such multiple age groups. One has to think not.
Besides, since too many people still retire in the sense of evacuating the labour market, price-sensitivity will to a large extent define the buying culture of many over-65. For the UK, a glance at the official figures up to 2020 will reveal that single pensioner incomes average £231 per month (after housing costs) and nobody is going to go deluxe a-guzzling down the mall with that kind of money. Two other points are significant : firstly, that very little of UK pensioner income accrues from actual fresh earnings (barely 10% for those single pensioners) and secondly that – a trend well established – incomes from all available sources decline significantly after the age of 75.
Incidentally, a broadly similar pattern is detectable in the US. It is nevertheless healthier that over 20% of the American workforce is 55+. But median incomes for the older worker lag a lot – the median for those 65+ is a little over $46,000 compared with a median of ca $77,000 for all active in the labor force under 65. (Thank you, US Census Bureau).
Nobody should expect that on the basis of current trends across the Western world a majority of greys will be serious consumers of luxury items. In fact. Millions will struggle. Few will become late-life Monégasques
So why, like someone asks in Hamlet, should the poor be flattered?
Millions would simply prefer not to grow old at all and certainly do not want to be patronized by the delivery of “age-appropriate” gifts.
Millions want more nostalgia in their lives about as much as they want more neuralgia.
To those who talk about ageing as if it were some kind of specially heated infinity pool – come in just as you are/the water is lovely – we say WHEESHT.
For let them greys get themselves better haircuts and sharper suits.
May they not be invited to whinge about the cruel insensitivity of shop-keepers or salespeople and just get on with their lives, lives that might have 30 years still to run.
Let them stick to the disciplines of working 9-5 or whatever and keep earning their own money – accepting all the while that in some fields of endeavour youth has the advantage. (How many first-time novelists are aged 80+? How many sexagenarians play in the Champions League? How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?).
Let nobody ever think that ageing on its own makes you smart or even interesting. One has a lot to contribute only if one actually has a lot to contribute – not because one has been with the same company for the last thirty years.
Ageing is tough enough as it is. Often skint, often decrepit. But where there is still a lot of gas left left in the tank let them take that ride ‘cross the river to the Jersey side.
Just do not mention the speeds achieved by modern stairlifts.