If you type ‘pink pound’ into Wikipedia, you’re directed to a page with the expected plethora of sub-sections looking at the nifty phrase’s meaning, history and cultural impact, along with plenty of other links to articles written by both gay and non-gay commentators on the importance of this consumer sub-section.
Now type in ‘grey pound’. That entry has two utterly pointless sentences. And one of those is about the pink pound.
As much as anything, that reveals just how little importance we attach to probably the biggest, richest, most adventurous and influential single consumer group we have today. People over 50 should be an advertiser’s nirvana. Yet they are more likely to be ignored in our lust for youth.
I was lucky enough to meet with one of London’s most influential PR and communications gurus this week, in an unusually peaceful office. His staff – of whom the average age is less than 30 – were, he surmised, enjoying the Friday afternoon sunshine somewhere. “I would have thought at Glastonbury,” he said. “Definitely not Wimbledon.”
We had coffee and talked about getting older and I asked him how the PR and advertising industries approach this ‘grey’ market. With a sigh he responded, “They don’t, they just ignore it.”
Why? “I honestly don’t know.”
We spent a while guessing why. Too difficult to categorise, too easy to patronise, too complicated to sell aspiration to, too set in their ways, too boring, too unsexy. Too, well, too old. That, I suspect, is his 26-year-old account manager talking.
It strikes me, however, that the vibrant London media scene is now controlled by the very people who, 20 or 30 years ago, were those 26-year-old account managers.
And instead of buying slippers, smoking pipes and going on cruises, they’re buying box-sets and boutique whiskies, spending a fortune on luxury holidays and engaging in ever more ridiculously immature and sweaty weekend pursuits designed to show the world that they’re still young.
And they are still young – the entire 50-70 market is still young – because age is meaningless now. It is a label that doesn’t match the clothes we wear. It is a box we no longer want to open. Age is what other people feel, not us. It used to be a part of one’s identity. Today, it’s what holds us back.
The irony for someone like me – gently feeling my way from the fringes of this PR/marketing/advertising world – is that a whole group of 26-year-olds are running around trying to persuade businesses to sell their products to them, when they should be looking to their bosses for inspiration instead.
Their bosses are the ones with the money, after all. They are the ones who were born into this world of consumerism and moulded it to their desires. They are the ones who truly understand what advocacy is and how technology can be turned into a tool that makes the most of that advocacy. And now they are the ones being ignored.
A recent report by Capital Economics (CE) suggested that the “spending power of over-65s will jump by £40 billion in under two decades” and warns firms that “they could suffer if they fail to entice the growing grey market”.
One in every five pounds spent on the high street comes from those aged over 55. CE believes that by 2025 it could rise to one in every four. They might not fit into an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt – but then, who can?
So what do we call these poor neglected souls? New-Youthers, Second-Lifers, Seniors, Mature, Wise, Older, Grey, Experienced, 50-Plus, Mirrenesque, Clarksonians.
What an appalling list of words. Perhaps that’s why no one has cracked it yet: we can’t figure out a catchy phrase, a killer word.
Well, here’s mine: Big-Timers. Because this is the big time – the last third of the rollercoaster ride, but the bit that you can design and plan for.
You’ve earned it – financially and metaphorically – so now you can indulge the way you want to. You’ve seen enough to know what makes you happy, so spend it all now on making yourself happy. It’s your time. Have a good time. Have a big time.
There must be a media power-player out there who wants to consign ‘grey pound’ to history and capitalise on this incredibly vibrant and rich seam of society. I’m not in that bracket yet, but I can see its value.
And I suspect it’s not on events like last weekend’s Glastonbury that sights need to be focused, despite the presence this year of Bruce Forsyth, Bobby Womack, Kenny Rogers and the Stones (combined age 504), but on Wimbledon.
This article first appeared in Media Week