In the age of technology advertisers are still using age to target audiences. Why?

In the age of technology advertisers are still using age to target audiences. Why?


It’s the lowest common denominator. The dumbest of dumb tools. Yet Age is still the first data line on any brand audience profile and the first factor on any media audience definition.

But is Age still relevant as an identifier or even worthwhile as a marker in 21st century marketing?

Not according to 9 out of 10 respondents to a recent survey spanning the entire adult spectrum.*

Overwhelmingly, they see age-neutral brands as more up-to-date, relevant and modern and want advertising to focus on needs, interests and attitudes rather than age.

We can do that. And it works.

In a recent test for an EMEA client we switched targeting from age based audiences to precise profile selection using needs and interests, and turned a campaign delivering negative ROI (1:0.6) into a hugely profitable activity (1:52).

In a developed digital world, we don’t need to rely on age as a probability factor for targeted message distribution. We can target moments and needs, recognise and respond to behaviours, and plan for when consumers enter our categories and choose to find us.

Equally, in our fast-evolving societal world people no longer live linear 3-part lives, and consequently age is no longer reliable as a guide to likely needs or norm behaviours.

Over-50’s start new families and new careers, embark on new adventures and, surprisingly for most brands, are more open to new ideas, new products and new solutions than many younger cohorts.

So is it just habit or laziness which leads advertisers to default to Age as a determinant for message creation and distribution?

Is Age just too convenient as a shorthand for media stereotyping and the effort of thinking, and acting, age-neutral too alien or complex to justify the considerable reward of engaging a bigger, wealthier audience defined more by their needs and interests than their birth dates?

Or, more simply, is it that 95% of people in marketing are under-50 and Age is the –ism that isn’t addressed, isn’t on trend, and represents an inconvenient truth that advertising is an industry of young people only interested in making messages for other young people?

By 2020 more than 50% of the UK adult population will be aged over-50. Over-50’s already possess 78% of disposable wealth (excluding property and pensions). 16 million are active internet users. 9 million live on Facebook. They make up 1 in 3 of YouTube users.

Sooner, rather than later, brands and the agencies they employ, will have no choice but to recognise this large, wealthy and active missing majority and begin to plan more inclusive, age-neutral journeys.

For our part, we are launching Walnut Tree, the UK’s only social agency dedicated to connecting brands with over-50 audiences through social media.

It’s about time.

Ivan Palmer


*Tapestry/Flamingo 2016: Building An Age-Neutral World