Are over-55s underrepresented in ads because they’re hard to please?

Advertisers under-represent older demographics despite their commercial potential, finds ITV and System1. Over-55’s account for 65% of TV impressions, but are hard to please.

Over-55’s are inadequately represented in advertising, revealed research from marketing decision-making platform System1. 

The age group appears in just 23% of ads despite making up nearly one-third of the UK population, and accounting for 65% of TV impressions and 60% of the UK’s wealth.

There is also gender disparity according to the findings: it is far rarer for older women to star in ads than older men.

“The older demographic is a massive commercial opportunity for brands, but too often they’re ignored or portrayed inaccurately,” commented Jon Evans, Chief Customer Officer, System1.

The findings are revealed in Wise Up!, a study on the state of age representation in UK advertising, jointly created by System1 and ITV. 

System1 analysed 2021’s top 1,000 ads by media spend in the UK, coding work from 422 brands based on age and gender. 

Easy to reach but hard to please

The platform tested more than 50 top ads to measure emotional response among the general public as well as the over-55 and over-65 age segments.

The results of the ad tests highlight that older people may be easy for advertisers to reach, but they’re much harder to please compared to younger audiences. 

The average score for the ads in the report was 3.76 stars among the general public, and an average 2.96 stars for older audiences. System1’s star rating from 1 to 5.9 predicts long-term brand growth based on the emotional response people have to the creative, with happiness carrying the most weight. 

Only 5 out of 56 ads experienced a higher score with older audiences compared to the general population, with some performing considerably worse with the older demographic. Older viewers had more complaints about ad length, generic content and lack of interest.

System1’s 2021 Feeling Seen report on diversity and inclusion in advertising uncovered ‘diversity dividends’, or uplifts in an ad’s score among diverse groups who feel represented by the creative, but these diversity dividends are far rarer among older people. 

6 steps to connecting with older generations

The report offers six key insights that help brands produce adverts that include, respect and amuse older generations while also pleasing the general population. System1 analysed the top scoring ads for over-55s and found common themes that resonated, including:

  1. Capturing attention with cultural references;

  1. Portraying friendship; 

  1. Remembering they weren’t born yesterday;

  1. Understanding their depth of experience;

  1. Showing their connections to a greater society; and 

  1. Using recognisable faces.

“To get age representation right, the fundamental thing is to really see older people – they exist, they are important, and they are part of your customer base,” explained Jeremy Hine, CEO, MullenLowe Group UK. “Portray them, represent them, and celebrate their life.”