By Founder & Strategy Director Will Worsdell, as featured in Campaign Magazine. 

In recent times the marketing industry has, importantly but belatedly, woken up to the need for diversity of race, gender, neurodiversity, disability, religion, and socio-economic background. But there is one area that is still often ignored: age. Research from Mumsnet showed that 62% of Over 50s feel ignored and 78% feel mis-represented. This is particularly apparent in the experiential industry.

Experiential first emerged as a way to connect with predominantly young audiences that were hard to reach through more traditional techniques. But the landscape has evolved dramatically since those days. Experiential is a discipline that should be seen as a broad creative technique that can be maximised through Owned, Earned, Shared and Paid media channels. It should be audience-neutral and applicable to any community that a brand wants to target, in the same way that advertising is. So why is it that most of the experiential work you see shared features young people at the bleeding edge of popular culture?

One obvious reason is that experiential is a key way to connect brands with communities and culture, so it needs to have its finger on those pulses. But the rationale behind the industry’s over-servicing of young audiences is more complex. Firstly, it comes down to the briefs received with pre-determined audiences, mostly wanting to talk to young people. Secondly, is a misunderstanding of how 50+ audiences actually think about brands. And finally, it’s a belief that experiential is a channel not a technique and only for young audiences. 

This needs to change.

This is certainly not the first call to focus on under-represented older audiences. The brilliant Bob Hoffman has written at length about the enormous missed business opportunity of older consumers. Over 50s have a combined global spending power of $7.6 trillion vs Gen Z’s £143 billion and have 80% of the UK’s wealth. Further, the research referenced at the start of this article showed that half of over 50s avoid brands that they feel excludes their age group. Why would you ignore a group of people with more money to spend, and more interest in what a brand has to say? Progressive brands such as Airbnb realise this, and are starting to represent, and market to, older audiences in a way that isn’t all retirement funds and funeral expenses. But in this area, the discipline of experiential is lagging behind and it makes no sense from a social or business perspective.

The way we live our lives has changed rapidly, meaning that the old world of working five days a week for the same employer until you retire in your 60s has long gone. The very idea of retirement has changed with most people thinking of a future where they never retire, but instead reduce days or take on different activities that keep their mind sharp and engaged in a more blended way than the all-or-nothing of work then retire. What this means is that older audiences look at the world very differently. You don’t turn 50 and stop caring about brands and what they have to say or the experiences they create. If anything, people are more brand savvy and interested as they have more disposable income and several decades of building associations with brands.

Experiential can connect brands to communities like no other creative technique. And it can do that for 50+ audiences to unlock growth for brands. How? There are three key ways:

  1. Focus on experiential as a broad creative technique that can prove what a brand stands for in varied, creative, engaging ways.
  2. Have more 50+ people around the business to challenge the way you think about this audience. Engage ethnography to further this. And stop being obsessed with under 25s.
  3. Agency and clients should challenge each other on targeting and agree a sound business case for the audience selected.

It’s time for Experiential Marketing to grow up. I firmly believe that experiential is the creative technique of the future, helping brands show what they stand for and connect with target communities in a way that other creative techniques can’t match. It’s time for this to be applied to older audiences too.