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In the Age of Inclusivity, Age Still Matters

[RETHINK Retail] — When it comes to inclusivity, people often relegate that conversation to ideas of greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity to illustrate a more robust, accurate picture of the general population. However, an oft ignored component of this top-down view of inclusivity is the age conversation. So, let’s have it.


Older consumers are often ignored despite their commitment to consumerism as a large part of the greater market, especially mature women. Recalibrating the conversation to cast a wider net can help illuminate inequalities in other group dynamics such as the age question in advertising.


According to a report published by Girlpower Marketing, nearly 70 percent of baby boomer women expressed modern advertising either never or very rarely targets their age group. Fifty-three percent said they felt outright ignored and invisible in modern advertising campaigns.


Of course, the reasons are obvious. In the world of marketing, the 18-34 demographic is the golden demo, because they are seen as malleable consumers more likely to convert to services and brands. The assumption is if you capture them young, they will become lifelong brand loyalists and those who age out of this demographic are hardened and impossible to move and convert.  This could not be further from reality. A 2015 Adroit Digital Survey found that when it comes to self-assessment, young consumers thought they were more loyal to brands than their parents and that advertisers would have to work harder to convert them.


Meanwhile, women between the ages of 55 and 75 remain some of the most enthusiastic shoppers, accounting for 27 percent of the overall consumer base. When analyzing the data, the reasons become apparent. With both time and money on their hands, older consumers have a lot more disposable income than their younger counterparts and women, on average, tend to be more avid shoppers. Along with being increasingly tech fluent, traditional ideas of appealing to older consumers won’t cut it in the new era of commerce.


Simply put, ignoring older patrons, especially female ones, leaves a huge dent in the market due to the failure to engage these super shoppers based on stereotypes about their consumer habits.


Data collected by the U.S. Government Consumer Expenditure Survey found women over control 95 percent of their household spending habits. Additionally, these consumers are more likely to have incomes above $100,000. Contrary to conventional wisdom about older consumers being too cemented in their shopping habits, the survey also found 82 percent were willing to switch allegiances to other brands and more likely to pay more for additional quality and convenience.


Like most things in the retail market, unfounded assumptions about demographic groups have become the prevailing narrative and costing marketers potential new, enthused customers with the ability to spend more money than their younger counterparts are products and services.


Many people often downplay the psychological impact of inclusive representation, citing it as nothing more than a simple trend. Often, it’s because they have always been present in media and ad representation. However, we understand from the vast amount of scholarship designated toward understanding the effects of representation, that negative and scarce representation can have ill-fated effects on populations. Namely, a marked decrease in self-perception and general self-esteem where those positively and largely represented actually see increases in self-image. While the data comes from black men who’ve internalized negative media images, we can extrapolate that notion of how media representation affects demographic groups to other populations: a meta-analysis of media studies across gender, ethnic and racial lines found similar outcomes.


Heidi Zak is the CEO of underwear and lingerie brand Third Love, which is known as the anti-Victoria Secret for its inclusive sizing and style options, touched upon the topic of diversity and the cultural moment It exists within. “We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be seen as groundbreaking; it should be the norm,” she said. “Please stop insisting that inclusivity is a trend.”


Being absent from media can aid in mature consumers feeling invisible and unimportant. Clinical studies from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, establishes the idea that self-esteem increases throughout adulthood and sharply declines around 60. Of course, there are other factors including loss in health and mortality rates, but its not hard to exacerbate this phenomenon when the advertising you consume effectively tells you people like you do not matter.


There is a paradigm shift in the way retailers and marketing experts analyze the greater consumer base past stereotypes born out of an outdated model of who is most worthy. Making older consumers feel seen and visible is not only the right thing to do financially but it is also a way to signal your company’s values aligning with a more modern and accurate sensibility.