‘Age does not wither them nor custom stale their infinite variety,’ as Shakespeare didn’t quite put it – preferring to leave this slight paraphrase to UK charity Help the Aged.

Not only does age not wither them – the 50 to 65 age group is doing nicely thank you, commanding the bulk of the nation’s wealth and assets according to the National Statistics Office.

This fundamental fact, says Help the Aged, is largely ignored by advertisers and, in particular, ad agencies [66% of whose staff are under thirty-five – 78% in the case of media shops – reports the IPA’s Agency Census 2002].

The charity investigated over fifty TV commercials broadcast last August, only 35% of which featured actors over the age of 50 – and a meagre 12% people over the age of sixty. In addition, and with few exceptions, the majority of ads using older characters were either ageist or patronising – or both.

Head of market and media research at Saga Group, John Pickett, points out that the 55-plus group now accounts for nearly 40% of all peak time viewing and is the heaviest consumer of radio. And these ratios are set to soar, thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in medicine.

“Life expectancy is increasing by around two years every decade,” says Pickett. Today’s 60-year-olds are physically more like 45-year-olds were a generation ago. They are different mentally and physically and we need to think more about functional age rather than chronological age.”

Commented another advertising professional: “Although the over-50s and over-60s will become a major political and economic power, some agencies believe older people have fixed brand loyalties and can't manage new technology.”

A campaign to brief advertising agencies could benefit all concerned. “Half of their staff are under thirty and may not share the same values,” he said.

Help the Aged confirmed Thursday that just such a campaign is on the drawing board with a series of agency/client seminars planned over coming months.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff , 14 March 2003