The best ageing strategy is no ageing strategy at all

After years of running a multi-generational advertising campaign that includes younger and older models, leading British retailer Marks & Spencer have now turned away from this strategy.


In a recent panel at Advertising Week Europe, Marks & Spencer’s brand and marketing director said “Bluntly categorising consumers based on age is “meaningless”.

This Campaign Magazine article reports that M&S has suffered almost continual decline in its clothing sales over the last five years and analysts have blamed the malaise on difficulties reconciling a “mumsy” image with the need to recruit younger shoppers.

The M&S marketer explained: “If we choose a younger model, we get lots of people on social media going ‘you guys have forgotten us, you’re chasing a younger audience’. But then if we use an older model everyone goes ‘oh dear, sorry, you’re reinforcing your mumsy image, and therefore I’m not going to shop with you either’.”

As I have long maintained, written and spoken about, age alone is an extremely blunt instrument and is no longer a relevant marketing tactic.

We need to search for commonalities across ages and that usually means ‘attitudes’. Another powerful quote from the M&S marketer. Read and think about this carefully!

“The answer to this was attitude, which could transcend age. Consumers wanted brands to “talk to me for who I am not what I am,” he explained. “You’re not coming to us because you’re 50, it’s because you want to wear stylish clothes, you care about ethics, that kind of thing.

I wonder that in order to bring ageing ‘out of the closet’, we needed to go through this phase of overt expressions of age in advertising? Perhaps in a similar way, featuring women in stereotyped housekeeping roles back in the 1950’s was one of the first steps toward female emancipation and gender equality?

So is the best ageing strategy, no ageing strategy at all? Definitely not. You cannot simply ignore the fundamental difference between young and old customers. Natural physical ageing has a profound impact on the customer experience*. In order to create a Lifetime Customer Experience that appeals across ages, you need to understand these changes and adapt your customer experience to accomodate them. Our free AF Brands app is a great place to start.

*Download our free explanation of the 25 universal physical effects of ageing that impact consumers, employees, citizens and patients.