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‘Age is just a number’

People in their 20s and 30s are most anxious about aging, while older people are happier and more content.

A new global study by McCann Worldgroup, titled “Truth About Age,” showed that age-based assumptions about people’s attitudes and macro-cultural trends are changing dynamically, prompting advertisers to find ways to rethink age-led demographics.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in human history, where traditional age norms are being challenged across every age group and marketers must respond to this new reality,” said Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup. “It’s time to rethink the playbook with regards to the way brands approach age across the spectrum—not just when it comes to marketing to ‘seniors’—so they can play a more meaningful role in people’s lives at every life stage.”

“The way we look at it,” added Earl Javier, strategy director of McCann Worldgroup Philippines, “age is becoming a less reliable indicator of just about anything. While there is some truth behind age stereotypes, this study shows that bigger opportunities await brands that choose to see people beyond the number.”

For instance, youth advertising hinges on the strong association between youth and carefree vitality. The study suggests, however, that advertisers are hurting themselves in peddling such clichés, showing that people across the age spectrum are not adhering to the expectations traditionally associated with their life stage.

Earl Javier, strategy director of McCann Worldgroup Philippines Courtesy of McCann Worldgroup

Case in point: two-thirds of people in their 70s believe “you’re never too old to casually date,” while it’s young people in their 20s who express greater fears of an unknown future.

In the Philippines, 63 percent of the twenty-something respondents fear death than the global average of 57 percent.

“Part of it has to do with career anxiety and societal acceptance,” Javier said. “Young people are typically expected to perform the same responsibilities [as their older colleagues].”

He also pointed to the increased competition for higher education and better-paying jobs among the challenges faced by millennials and Gen Zers. Younger people, he added, are being more dependent on their parents as compared to previous generations, leaving little practice into being an adult on their own.

“Add to that the pressures of social media, which show some of their peers fresh out of college seemingly having it all figured out,” Javier said. “This, of course, isn’t exactly reality.”

The study analyzed data collected from 28 quantitative markets with nearly 24,000 respondents, aged 20 through 70, globally. According to Google Philippines Industry Analyst Geia Lopez, the trends have already been identified in the market behavior in recent years, as marketers restructure their segmentations.

“There’s currently a 66-percent year-on-year growth in healthy skin aging,” she said. “For the longest time, that was the hardest thing to sell because everyone just wanted to have white skin and less acne, but now it’s great to see that people are looking more into skin aging regimen.”

Lopez also highlighted that while brands by and large still have an outdated view of age, there are a few who are starting to get it right. One of which is L’oréal, which tapped 74-year-old Helen Mirren as endorser, as well as Kate Spade with Iris Apfel, 98.

“One thing we also noticed is in the financial services sector, wherein the average age of investors is getting younger in the last three or four years in the country,” Javier said. “The trend is quite new because we’re one of the least financially literate countries in the world and we have the least penetration of depositors. The real-estate sector is able to capitalize on this phenomenon quite well, too.”

He also discussed how marketers should respond to these trends by introducing McCann’s new “Age Marketing Playbook,” based on the following four principles:

Start young Traditionally, the “aging” conversation is reserved for the over 50s, but data indicates that brands may be missing a trick. Young people constantly reflect on the process of aging and the passage of time. Given the level of anxiety and misunderstanding experienced by those in their 20s and 30s, smart brands will find ways of beginning and reframing the age conversation much earlier.

Celebrate the gains Too often, the broader cultural conversation focuses on the “losses” associated with age (from reduced cognition to limited physicality), and aging is primarily framed as a negative process. McCann’s data indicates that lives mostly get happier over time, and there is an opportunity for brands to shift perspectives and focus on the gains at every age.

This could come by developing new language and imagery to connect with different age groups. The loss-oriented language associated with the second half of life—using terms such as “retirement,” “empty nest,” and “downsizing”—is particularly in need of a reevaluation.

Go beyond the number In general, age has become a less useful predictor of behavior. The fact of the matter is that everyone thinks about aging differently, regardless of their numerical age. Brands need to interrogate their own consumer segmentation in new ways to ensure that they are consistently going beyond the “number.”

Promote intergenerational connections Overall, there is one consistent theme that transcends markets when it comes to aging well: Spending time with people of different ages. The data shows that the old consistently misunderstand the young and vice-versa. There is a rich opportunity for brands to drive a dialogue between the generations and cocreate an age-positive future.

According to Javier, “this research helps us do away with the concept of age as a marker of who we reach out to, and go back to what really makes more meaningful to people regardless of their age.”

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