when I had a revelation about the next great consumer market

September 29, 2014

50 black…was a black leather jacket and a black velvet skirt, tres Jo Wood, tres le baby boomer d’un certain age.

I don’t know if the outfit was a catalyst for the revelation or if the revelation inspired the outfit, but, anyway, here’s the revelation:

50 is the new black.

Think about it: 50 is the new black.

I can’t believe everyone isn’t saying this.

I can’t believe it’s not a mantra, a mantra for the zeitgeist.

Most of all, though, I can’t believe the extent to which the British marketing industry is trying to ignore this, pretending it’s not so, hoping it will just go away. It’s as if most of them — manufacturers, advertisers, trend spotters – have decided the 50-plus audience is dull and toothless, not worth bothering with. Negligible.

Three words come to mind:

Head. Sand. Buried.

Anyone with any sense knows this is Britain’s next great consumer revolution.

As a consumer group, the 50-plus age band accounts for 76% of the UK’s wealth. Come April 2015, this group will be even richer, with the law shifting to allow them early access to their pension funds. And they’ll be dipping into that money, spending it to enhance their emotional, social and physical well being; this is a group obsessed with self-improvement, with all things quality of life.

50-, 60-, 70-year-olds comprise the serial generations that invented teenagers, that codified sex & drugs & rock & roll. That made a religion out of challenging the status quo — in fact that made a religion out of making religions. These were the first generations to trudge through mud for music festivals, espouse free love and communal living and make a whole lot of useless, exuberant noise about smashing the state.

Most importantly, we — I’m in there — are the tribe that sanctioned the concept of choice, life as a menu of options.

Keith Richards is our poster boy.

Does anyone really believe this tribe will take ageing lying down? Take death lying down?

We don’t have to! Thanks to technology, both conditions – decline and mortality – have been upgraded from inevitable to governable. Stem cell therapy will be available to halt not just the effects of menopause but the process itself and, on an even more fundamental (and slightly creepy) level, scientists are developing the ultimate life option: human enhancement. For a price, presumably a really staggering price, this cocktail of chemical, electronic and genetic engineering will allow us to surmount evolution and live longer, better, stronger.

Why buy a retirement condo when you can lay out the cash for a new self?

For a tribe committed to the concept of perpetual reinvention, this is very attractive stuff.

It should be even more attractive to marketers, the prospect of an aspirational, acquisitive audience with money to burn.

Bizarrely, it’s not. Instead, the 50-plus market is subject to sad-dad commercials for elder insurance (cue grey-haired gramp in a pastel sweater vest puttering around the garden), sappy ads for Nordic cruises (cue grey-haired couple staring into the sunset) and all those Viagra promos with a man in a plaid shirt who clearly needs to be talked in off the ledge.

There have been a few signs of a more targeted approach. A new cruise ad that shows a middle-aged couple gassing it up on the dance floor. Clairol urging us to defy time. Clinique insisting our skin has a future at any age. At least the (older) women and the lone male in those spots look as if they know there’s still fun to be had out there.

Because that is what’s missing in all of this: the fun factor, that hint of former wildness. The British media seems unable or unwilling to assign fun to us, to allude to a previous level of coolth.

They’ve neutered us.

The BBC has just launched a comedy series called Boomers, ostensibly for and about the 50-plus audience. I say ostensibly, because the night I tuned in I couldn’t find a single appealing or even identifiable character in the entire show. The episode I saw centred on a retirement party. It’s an age-appropriate theme with a certain amount of psychic and comedic potential, but the actual plot line – or should I say plod line — concerned the retiree’s anxiety over food preparation. The retiree, played by Alison Steadman, was incensed because one of the guests was getting underfoot in the kitchen, co-opting the Hors d’Oeuvres and acting territorial over serving platters. Ms Steadman complained to someone that this was ruining the party.

Really?

This is how the BBC perceives the Who generation?

They just don’t get us.

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7 Responses to “when I had a revelation about the next great consumer market”

  1. Sonia Says:

    You’re right.They just don’t get us. And I love the coolth.


  2. so true – the observations on how our age group is portrayed on tv really resonates – I don’t recognise those people!

  3. Melissa "Lissy" Medici Jaffee Says:

    Boss article Michelle! I wear black: in a 1934 Ford Roadster Cabriolet, driving out to California from Denver with my boyfriend, paints and easel in tow….
    Yosemite is wicked! Hang loose baby, and bring your hiking shoes

  4. Cecelia in the Ozarks Says:

    As a 69 soon to be 70 year old, i can say they didn’t “get ” us then and they don’t now. But we’re still having fun. I suggest more dance parties, beach parties and hanging out with those who feed your soul. The media be damned!

  5. kate cleaver Says:

    You are dead right. Between the 40 something’s and the ageing folk with the onset of dementia, we are lost and abandoned.. Thank goodness you are getting our voice heard!

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