27 Nov 2017

Beauty and ageing: Why is aspirational imagery of older women the last taboo of marketing?

The rise of the 40+ role model

Pro-ageing, ageless generation, #ageingwell.  Anti-ageing, shudder, remember that?

For women over 40, culturally, things are beginning to get interesting.  The last year has seen the rise of the 40+ role model.  This is the year that Lauren Hutton made the front cover of Stylist magazine’s fashion week edition.  Nicole Kidman’s ‘renaissance’ at fifty made global news.  Actresses that had hit the skids in Hollywood used the box-set phenomena as a career springboard – Big Little Lies, Top of the Lake, House of Cards the list goes on.

Whilst this is all very encouraging, back on planet earth, the reality is, well, a little less real.  When it comes to representing and portraying women over 35 years in brand marketing we have a long way to go, especially when it comes to beauty and ageing.

Beauty is in the domain of the young and famous

At SuperHuman we have spent some time getting to the nub of the problem.  The biggest barrier to change is that in our youth-obsessed culture the image of youth is still largely the epitome of beauty and currently this means beauty is in the domain of the young and the famous. In Oprah’s words,

“We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we’re not glowing, and we’re not hot, that we don’t matter.”

Our recent ‘Invisible Middle’ SuperHuman research echoed this sentiment. At a time when biologically middle-aged women are in their prime of life, they feel they become invisible in modern society.  In fact, 80% of our sample said they sometimes, rarely or never see women of their age in marketing.  So, there is a significant disconnect between negative attitudes to ageing and the growth in confidence that women experience as they come into middle age.

In a time when we worship at the altar of youth it is therefore not surprising that many brands are worried about using images of older women, believing older is not aspirational to both their younger and, yes, older customer.

“Older women find younger, beautiful women more aspirational” is a common convenient truth often backed up by research.

In SuperHuman’s recent research amongst 500 women, we found that as women grow older, the perception of the height of their beauty changes. For every age group, the decade preceding your current age is held up as the decade when women are at their most physically attractive. For 30-year-olds it’s your 20’s (44.3% strongly agreeing), for 40-year-olds it’s your 30’s (42.8% strongly agreeing) and for 55+-year-olds it’s your 40’s (35% strongly agreeing).

The problem is that there are so few examples, and therefore inspiration, of beautiful, wrinkles and all, imagery of older women in marketing. It’s no wonder that this is the view that is played back by women.

Waking up to the power of age

Yet, we know that there is a desire for something new.  Brands like Studio 10, and others who are innovating and championing this age group, are great examples of the undercurrent or change in attitudes around beauty and ageing.

When this starts to happen, things will change for all concerned.  The brands that do this first will win not only a lucrative audience (50+ women are the biggest spenders when it comes to cosmetics) but the next generation of inspired customers coming through.

Brands have played a central role in engendering body confidence in younger demographics, but what about women at another vulnerable life-stage?  Brave brands have an opportunity to address these corrosive external factors, and leverage communications to positively influence and change our culture.  This is paradigm shifting exciting stuff!

Renaissance Magazine is a new style magazine is set up to do exactly that. It has embraced beauty and ageing, demonstrating that it is absolutely possible to create beautiful, inspiring images of older women that inspire older audiences, and grasp younger ones too.

Society is beginning to wake up to the power of age and attitudes towards beauty and ageing are changing.  Brands just need to catch up and bring this to life.  Tokenistic, cynical campaigns like Baddie Winkle for Misguided and ageing ‘snatch shot’ of 66-year-old model Jackie O’Shaughnessy for American Apparel need to stop.  We in the marketing industry need to lead the charge and create fabulous, engaging images so that Helen Mirren, God bless her, can have a break.



Get in touch with us if you would like more information on SuperHuman’s beauty insight report and how your brand stacks up as part of our ageing beauty special.

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