Raymond Snoddy on media: The grey pound isn't black and white

It is not often you feel the need to publicly praise a media agency.

Most are indulged far too much as it is. But OMD deserves at least two cheers for revisiting its UFO project - Understanding Fifties and Over.

The network should not really get any attention for doing its job and carrying out original research on the biggest, richest minority segment of the population. It is only because most of the advertising and marketing community are almost criminally negligent on the issue that OMD stands out at all.

Everyone entering the industry should have a few choice statistics tattooed on their person in a visible location.

Twenty million people in the UK - or one-third of the population - are over 50, and the number is growing all the time. They control 80% of the UK's wealth, 60% of its savings and 40% of its disposable income.

Yet this slice of the population is almost ignored by the marketing community, which prefers to engage in the witless pursuit of the young. How stupid and economically illiterate is that?

Could such counter-productive behaviour have anything to do with the fact that 64% of the inhabitants of adland are younger than 30?

Media owners are hardly any better. In the media explosion of the past decade only two out of 200 television channels, two out of 100 new magazines and five out of 50 analogue radio stations were aimed at this 20m-strong audience. A new TV channel, Silver Screen, is, however, on the way.

The latest research demonstrates - surprise, surprise - that all the hoary old myths such as 'they aren't early adopters', 'they don't like advertising' and 'they don't like trying new brands' are, to a considerable extent, untrue. What is true is that, as in any group of a similar size, there is wide variation to be identified within this segment.

The OMD research gives the moniker of 'Live Wires' to one big grouping.

These people have all the latest technology and can hardly wait before booking their next expensive holiday - probably online.

As one enlightened adman noted, it's not the over-50s that are stuck in their ways - it's the advertising industry.

Those who are smart are already turning common sense into sales and money.

When it launched its 1007, Peugeot targeted female Live Wires wherever they could be found. That included advertising during ITV programmes such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Midsomer Murders, but also the internet and experiential marketing. Seventy six per cent of Peugeot 1007 sales have been to the over-50s - the people with the money to buy the thing.

Even Saga has an enlightening story to tell. Only those who have never been on one its holidays still carry all the old preconceptions about Zimmer frames. You have to be pretty fit for some Saga holidays, and those who go generally come back for more.

The aim has to be age-neutral advertising. That is where the money lies, and as the numbers of the over-50s rise to account for half the UK population over the next 20 years, only a few residual head-bangers will be able to ignore the phenomenon.

You have to be a little careful with international comparisons, as the book The 50-Plus Market by Dick Stroud makes clear. The Australians are prepared to listen and react to any commercial message, whatever their age. But not the Czechs. Mature Brits are much more prepared to change their brands and lifestyles and embrace new products than the French.

Maybe Stroud has stumbled on a characteristic that helps explain why the UK economy is doing rather better than the French?

30 SECONDS ON ... SAGA AND THE OVER-50s

- Saga Magazine is the UK's leading subscription-based monthly, with a circulation of more than 1.2m.

- Glasgow radio station Saga 105.2FM has a market share of 7.3%; 185,000 listeners tune in to the station for an average of 13.7 hours a week.

- Saga 105.2FM received three awards for its September 2004 launch campaign - a Radio Academy PAM Award for Marketing and two Silver CIPR awards for Best Use of Media Relations and Best Consumer Campaign.

- The over-50s is the fastest-growing section of the UK population, and is forecast to grow from 19m to 25m by 2015, according to Saga.

- Only a quarter of 50-somethings would rather save their money than spend it. Forty six per cent of over-50s and 49% of over-70s would rather spend, according to Age Concern's LifeForce survey.

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