Get down with the over-50s and reap the rewards

Excitingly, adland is catching up to the fact that older people are massively underrepresented in advertising, and the commercial potential that can be realised when that changes.

At SunLife, we’re already big advocates for the positive representation of older people in advertising. We provide financial products exclusively for people aged over 50, so we only represent them. And we’re committed to doing it well.

How can young marketing teams effectively connect with customers over 50?

System1’s recent Wise Up! report states the average age of UK ad agency employees is 34 and at SunLife we’re not much different. The average age of our marketing team is 36. This needn’t hold back any brand from connecting with the over-50s effectively though.

Research is the key to everything

At SunLife we carry out in-depth research to make sure we’re communicating with our customers the way they like. We run monthly customer research, regular focus groups, eye-tracking and heatmapping studies. We do online quantitative research, and lots of live testing and listening on review sites and social channels. We read the papers our customers read, we dig into social, political and environmental issues and challenge what this really means to our customers. Oh, and ethnographic study gets a look in too – the conversations I have and overhear at my local nail salon are gold.

What’s more, we commissioned the biggest ever research study into life after 50 with 50,000 participants.

We constantly challenge our assumptions

Only with this level of commitment do we feel qualified to have a voice in our customers’ world. And even then, the work never stops. We continually challenge our assumptions and biases. We challenge ourselves to deeply understand the desires and motivations of our customers to convey something that resonates with them in an authentic, meaningful and powerful way.

At SunLife our ads reflect the real lives of our customers

That knowledge is brought to bear in our advertising. One of our highest rated ads on the System1 platform shows a 50-something grandfather playing a game with his grandchild. It’s a simple narrative packed with intimate, heart-warming moments and set in a home that nods to a full and varied life. Other ads portray the friendships between people in their late sixties, particularly those within their neighbourhoods and communities. Things like conversations with the local postie or bumping into a pal at the garden centre. It’s slice of life stuff and I was pleased to see the importance of this reflected in the Wise Up! research.

What I like most about the research is that it doesn’t parrot the lazy solution that says we should be showing older people climbing mountains, bungee jumping or learning to be a world-class violinist. Not everyone has the financial means, desire or physical capability to do that and many of our customers tell us that they’re happiest spending time at home with their families and watching Strictly together. To our customers, home really is where the heart is.

And our extensive Content Hub recognises that far from winding down for the third chapter, many people are still working – and working hard. Articles like ‘How to tackle agism in the workplace’ or ‘How to avoid burnout over 50’ and ‘Starting a new career after 50’ respond to this. Another of our ads shows a woman in her fifties rushing out the door to get to work.

And the future?

The Wise Up! report from System1 has provided extra insights that will prove helpful as we continue to review our advertising through the lens of inclusivity – an important lever for effectiveness. As System1’s Feeling Seen report showed, there is no downside to greater inclusivity. Coupled with our recent Test Your Ad subscription we are armed with the research and tools to keeping pushing ourselves.

In addition to the research, I think this will come from being a team that are united in the desire to get it right. I’d like it to feel ever-more natural to ask ourselves and each other whether we’re portraying our customers well. Are we creating advertising that feels authentic, not stereotypical? Our job requires us to have strong creative and commercial acumen, but more and more it also demands us to be culturally astute.

At SunLife we aim to celebrate and champion people over 50. These generations have experience, wisdom and resilience that can teach us ‘36’-year-olds a thing or two.

I really look forward to a society where people can’t wait to grow older. We have a great opportunity to change perceptions of ageing and I believe we can do that in a way that keeps SunLife prosperous for generations to come.