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What does the disappearance of middle age mean for brands?

Article-What does the disappearance of middle age mean for brands?

© AdobeStock/Allen.G What does the disappearance of middle age mean for brands?
If middle age as a life stage is disappearing, how can nutraceutical brands reach the “non-existent” middle-aged consumer? Appeal to people’s mental age; use precision segmentation; and position ageing as an empowering experience, say brand experts. 

In a recent article, Vitafoods Insights explored the demise of middle age as a demographic as younger people continue to delay traditional life-stage patterns such as getting married, having children, and getting on the property market, while older consumers adopt a “forever young” ethos and remain active well into their retirement.

The big question for companies in the nutraceutical space is how they adapt to this new reality, which clearly presents both challenges and opportunities. How can brands target middle-aged consumers if this consumer group no longer acknowledges its very existence?

Position healthy ageing with empowerment, not frailty

According to market research firm FMCG Gurus, the blurring of the middle ground makes it even more important for the nutraceutical industry to ensure that ageing is positioned as something empowering, as opposed to something that is associated with vulnerability and illness.

“This means that health benefits must be communicated in a positive manner and as something that can help consumers live an energetic lifestyle where they continue to break boundaries, as opposed to something that is a necessity because people are getting older and are at greater risk of health problems,” said Mike Hughes, head of research and insight at FMCG Gurus.

He said that ultimately, the challenge was that if those consumers who traditionally might have been classed as middle-aged now deemed themselves younger, they may not be as conscious of health problems they were at risk of or may feel that they did not need products that facilitate health.

In addition, he said that if these consumers felt that brands were positioning ageing in a negative light, they would be more inclined to feel that brands did not understand their attitudes and outlook on life, and that their marketing was stereotypical and outdated.

“The industry needs to respond by merging those consumers they previously classified as ‘young’ and ‘mid-age’ into one group, and positioning products and the related benefits in a more aspirational manner,” he said.

The industry needs to modernise its messaging

Marketing research company the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT) agreed on the need to empower consumers, and recommended “sharper segmentation” and a focus on consumers’ specific health concerns.

“It is time to modernise our communication and messaging as an industry, to lead a more positive and inclusive narrative towards ageing… a narrative that empowers consumers to make educated decisions about their health and enjoy a good quality of life as they grow older,” said Maria Pavlidou, senior B2B strategy expert at the HMT.

She added that the HMT did not segment consumers according to their age, but according to their attitude towards innovation.

“Are they early adopters or are they mass market? The communication and approach will need to be adapted according to these insights,” advised Pavlidou.

Think about consumers’ self-image

Wennström’s advice, when considering how to adapt to this societal shift, was to bear in mind the disconnect between people’s lifestyles and their demographics.

“Demographic segmentation is relevant when it comes to ageing of the body, but we think of ourselves as a certain mental age. Brands need to think about the self-image of the person who is buying the product. If it is a woman in her fifties, for example, she might not see herself as entering old age, rather as undergoing a transition to stay in a more active sexual state,” he said.

As an example of this approach in action, Wennström explained how the HMT had been working with eye health supplement manufacturers on targeting older consumers.

“Yes, they want to maintain their eye health to see their grandchildren, but more and more it is about performance – they want to be able to see the golf ball in flight,” he said.