Demographics be damned!

Why do so many brands and designers still assume older people are all penniless pensioners or ailing retirees – and why isn’t this changing faster? CR investigates the huge missed opportunity of the over-50s market

Outside of the five main UK terrestrial TV channels, advertising goes a bit … weird. Anyone who has channel-hopped enough will be familiar with the commercials for commemorative coins, accident claims and – a firm favourite for daytime TV – life insurance. And when it comes to the latter, advertisers can’t get enough of age-related stereotypes.

Grey-haired men and women potter about in the garden among their roses, or play in teepees with their grandchildren while uttering smiling euphemisms about death and the need to help their family after they’re, you know, gone. The adverts are terrible, cliché-ridden pieces of nonsense, and it would be easy enough to shrug them off as second-rate creative work if they weren’t symptomatic of a wider issue. Brands, designers and creatives still aren’t getting it right when it comes to an older demographic.

Over the years, CR has written extensively about the need for designers to think about an ageing ­society. Some of the issues we face include adapting existing housing stock for older people that want to remain in their own homes despite changing mobility needs; modifying public environments for people with sight or hearing impairments; and making products such as hearing aids or wheelchairs more appealing for users. And we need to answer these questions now, with the ONS reporting in 2018 that there are almost 12 million people aged 65 and above in the UK.

Top: pin badges created for This Age Thing, a Design Age Institute initiative which challenges negative narratives around ageing; Above: Ruth Rose, photographed by Carlotta Junger Luke

We also have to address issues around the representation of older people within the creative industry. “I wrote an article 20 years ago for Design Week, saying, where do older designers go?” says Colum Lowe, director of the Design Age Institute at the Royal College of Art in London, funded by Research England. The institute is the National Strategic Unit for Design and the Healthy Ageing Economy, which aims to “amplify the voice of people as they age and create a thriving ­economy for aspirational products and services that support healthy ageing”.