"Women of the Elastic Generation are ripping up the rule book when it comes to life past 50."
“Elastic Generation: The Female Edit” is a deep-dive report into the lifestyles and attitudes of British women aged 53 to 72. Blessed with longer life expectancy and boasting unprecedented financial clout, these women are a force to be reckoned with. And the way they are living is out of step with the ageist stereotypes that are prevalent in our culture.
Marie Stafford, European Director of the Innovation Group, takes us through the latest research, talks to us about the importance of thinking Elastic and explains why brands need to start paying attention.
Can you summarize what the new report is about?
“Elastic Generation: The Female Edit” is about taking a fresh and honest look at the lives of people in their fifties, sixties and early seventies. They are better known as the boomer generation, but we named them differently because we wanted to break down the cultural stereotypes and myths that are associated with their lives. We first wrote about them in 2015, when we noticed a big disconnect between how this generation is living and how brands see its members.
Our new report zeroes in on the women of the Elastic Generation, who are ripping up the rule book when it comes to life past 50, and redefining how later life looks. They are active and engaged, juggling family, work and social lives. And they are really important consumers to reach, with significant disposable income and sway over household decisions.
Why have you called this group Elastic?
We wanted to get to the core of what they are about as people. Elastic relates to their inner resilience, energy and strength. It’s also about their potential, which is so often underestimated.
Which are the biggest stereotypes you’ve seen broken by women in this group?
They break just about every stereotype you can think of. Age is a totally unreliable predictor these days. We met people starting businesses, going back to work, house-sharing, undertaking years abroad volunteering or traveling.
It’s a myth that only younger generations care about style and fashion. Among the women we spoke to, 90% refuse to start dressing in beige just because they are over 50 and 86% believe that style should not be defined by age.
Older women are infuriated by the assumption that they are somehow incompetent when it comes to technology. Don’t forget they have been there since the dawn of the computer age. We met women as passionate about their iPhones and tablets as any teenager—73% say they hate the way their generation is patronized when it comes to technology.
Are there any surprising statistics in the report?
Perhaps our most shocking findings relate to how Elastic Generation women relate to brand communications. They feel so sidelined that they are actively turning their backs on brands.
- 81% of advertisers don’t recognize their lives in products and services that target them
- 91% of Elastic women say they wish advertisers would treat their generation like people
- 63% of older Elastic women resent the continual focus on youth in communication
We asked these same questions three years ago, and, despite the greater visibility of older women in some respects, attitudes have not changed at all. Clearly the relationship is broken and brands will need to work hard to earn these women’s attention now.
How has the image of women over 50 changed in the past 10 years?
There has been an uptick in visibility. Beauty and fashion brands are signing up older women as ambassadors—Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon for L’Oréal, for example, and Charlotte Rampling for Nars. Isabella Rossellini was even rehired by Lancôme, the brand that dropped her when she was in her forties.
We’re also seeing some older female models like Maye Musk and Linda Rodin enjoy a later-life career renaissance, as well as the success of mature modelling agencies. On screen, we’re starting to see older women carry the storylines in shows such as ITV’s Girlfriends or Netflix’s Grace and Frankie.
This increased visibility is really positive and we found that women welcome the change. Yet there’s still a lot more to be done. Brands also need to understand older women’s lives and ambitions, and need to deliver products and services that resonate.
Which brands are doing a good job of catering to this generation, and why?
We loved a campaign from makeup brand Look Fabulous Forever that features a feisty-looking 50-something surfer beside the tagline “Do I look like I need a stairlift?” This is a knowing wink to a generation of women that has felt patronized and misunderstood by marketers for years.
Similarly, White Hot Hair, a brand founded by UK entrepreneur Jayne Mayled, addresses a gap in the market for hair products that accentuate the natural beauty of grey hair, when most brands are talking to women about covering them up. The brand’s message is that it’s OK to be you, you don’t need to disguise your grey hairs, you’re fine as you are. No other brands were saying that. Brands that accept older women for who they are, without making them feel they need to disguise their years, will resonate with this generation.
Among campaigns from bigger brands, we liked Marks & Spencer’s recent “Spend it Well,” which shows an inclusive group of women of all ages who share the belief that life is about the experiences, people and things that make it special. The campaign really highlights the bold, adventurous nature that grows as you age. Rather than age or lifestage, it speaks to attitudes and beliefs, which we think is a much more successful approach.
Which industries are embracing the Elastic Generation and which are falling behind?
The beauty industry has certainly noticed this generation, and has made efforts to reach out using older ambassadors. Yet there’s still a real conflict with much of the industry terminology. Concepts like “anti-aging,” and “fighting” or “battling” wrinkles don’t resonate with a lot of British women in this age group.
Some fashion brands like Winser London, Hope Fashion and Cos are doing a great job of creating flattering and stylish clothing that works for women of all ages but, in general, women are crying out for better provision on the high street and still think that what is on offer is too old-fashioned.
The financial services industry has also done some great work. Prudential’s “Day One” campaign took a fresh look at retirement back in 2011 and our own recent campaign for Legal & General speaks to the passions and dreams of customers rather than their fears by showing a 60-something punk getting his band back together.
Healthcare is one industry that could benefit from a fresh look at the lives of the Elastic Generation. How many brands talk to women about menopause? Yet millions of women go through this every year, with little more than a few vitamin supplements to see them through. There are huge opportunities for innovation here. It’s a similar case around female sexual health—who is helping older women enjoy their sex lives? There’s little to no provision here because we don’t acknowledge the reality that older women have sex.
Any tips for brands wanting to reach this audience?
The first thing to do is forget about age. It won’t tell you anything useful about how this audience is living. This generation of women does not stop to think about age. These women don’t feel their age and they don’t want to talk about it. Instead, talk to them about the things they care about—celebrate their passions and ambitions. We found that they want to get the most out of life: 57% say they are making an effort to do the things they always dreamed of. That’s what inspires them.
Then, recognize that they still have so much to offer. They are at the heart of the family. They are central to their communities. They’re contributing to the economy and society. They are not retreating from the world; they are fully engaged with it. Brands need to reflect and support that.
Above all, brands need to stop ignoring Elastic women and start mending relationships. These are vital consumers to reach, with influence and financial clout. Using older faces in your communications is nice, but it’s much more important to understand and design for women’s lives the way they live them—not the way you might imagine them.