Time for brands to WiseUp! and get ads right for over 55s


In February, I welcomed ITV and System1 to Medialab to present findings from their research ‘WiseUp! Getting ads right for over 55s’. The session showcased in-depth analysis of 2021’s top 1,000 ads by media spend, highlighting under-representation of over 55s, and the themes within the advertising that attract or repel over 55 viewers.

That over 55s make up 32% of the UK population but account for 60% of the nation’s wealth won’t have come as a surprise to the nearly 100 attendees. More surprising was that despite over 55s accounting for 65% of TV impressions, only 23% of ads analysed featured an over 55 character.

But at the heart of the research sits a genuinely surprising insight: that greater representation of over 55s in advertising doesn’t produce the ‘dividend’ in audience response identified in other System 1 & ITV research. In fact, diversity dividends are rare in over 55 audiences and brands can be penalised for getting it wrong. Over 55s are easy to reach but hard to please (especially over 55 women).

Key to reaping the dividend, and dodging the penalty is understanding six themes to get advertising right for over 55s.

So, what can advertisers do to engage older audiences?

  1. Power up your ads with cultural references

Older people are cultural natives with first-hand experience of the most iconic pop culture moments of the 20th century. Think Hovis’ re-creation of the 1973 classic, ‘Boy on the Bike’. Advertisers should draw on the excitement, energy and timelessness of the moments they were there for and lived through.

  1. Make the most of friendship

Friendships often grow stronger as we age and are a huge source of joy and entertainment. Accurately capturing friendship among older people – rather than focusing on loneliness – can be a winning path for advertisers.

  1. Remember, they weren’t born yesterday

Advertisers should ditch the misconception that older people can’t navigate the modern world. Ads showcasing older people as intelligent, quick-witted and successful can hit emotional highs, as exemplified by What 3 Words showing older neighbours taking advantage of the vagaries of home delivery.

  1. Experience is priceless

To older people, their experiences are often their greatest strength. Advertisers shouldn’t see older people as ‘other’ or a part of history – but instead recognise older means wiser and celebrate those experiences. Magnum’s ‘Get Old or Get Classic’ depicting the world’s coolest resort for older people, redefined what it means to be perceived as ‘old’ or ‘classic’.

  1. Part of a greater whole

Some of the most successful ads featuring older people such as Cadbury’s Neighbour emphasise their ties to the wider society they live in. That can mean family, but also friends, neighbours and whole communities. Showing these ties wins among older viewers and the general public alike.

  1. Stars have potential

Celebrities are a welcome sight for over 55s but they have to earn their place, and that means entertaining, not just showing up. Advertisers should consider including stars who make ads funnier, especially if it involves a bit of gentle self-mockery, like Yorkshire Tea’s ‘Where Everything’s Done Proper’ featuring Sean Bean.


There is clearly work to be done to bridge the gap and tackle the age representation imbalance in advertising., To reap the dividends, it’s crucial that brands and advertisers wise up to the opportunities to unlock this valuable demographic. – By putting these insights into practise, advertisers can show they understand their world and how they want to be seen – smart, strong, friendly, and full of experience.

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