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The invisible woman and her hidden power

With all the media and marketing industry focus on millennials, are we overlooking and occasionally alienating an important target audience with unmet needs and yet real purchasing power?  This post argues yes.  That audience is older women.

It’s a year since the publication of ‘How Hard Can It Be?’, Allison Pearson’s follow-up to the seminal ‘I don’t know how she does it’.  By 2017, in ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Pearson’s heroine Kate Reddy is pushing 50 and out of work.  She attempts a makeover and weight-loss program, and lies about her age to help her get a new job.

It’s a lightly entertaining read, but there are dark undertones.  As with ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’, Pearson lays her finger on a simmering cultural truth.  She identified how professional mothers (it’s worth adding: upper-middle-class mothers) struggle with their breadth and depth of commitments, and consequently feel they are failing everywhere.  First it was the overstretched working mother with needy young children.  Now it’s the overstretched older working mother with different kinds of demands on her time and energy, and with new insecurities.

It was just a couple of weeks after the publication of the book that the Harvey Weinstein story began to play out – the New York Times published its first accounts of alleged harassment on 5th October, 2017.

Since then, the #Metoo movement has gained pace, and we’ve had countless rounds of exposés relating to the gender pay gap, objectification and mistreatment of women.  In scandals related to sexual harassment, aggression and ‘inappropriate behaviour’, women are routinely envisioned as objects of a desire, struggling to escape advances they do not want.

We are waking up to the challenges of women who have to deal with unwanted attention, but still forget that there are swathes of women out there who feel overlooked and alienated.  For whom there is often limited attention given in our culture.

Who are these women?  Older women.  We might call them menopausal or post-menopausal, but that language remains somewhat taboo.

This may be starting to change.  In April this year, Disrupt Aging, the bestselling book by the CEO of the AARP, Jo Ann Jenkins, was published in paperback.  Cindy Gallop, sextech entrepreneur and former chairman of BBH US, is becoming an increasingly vocal spokeswoman for equality in its many forms, including age discrimination against women.

Slowly, we are finding ways to connect with women in this demographic, and to recognise that they have unmet needs.  Not forgetting the fact that they have an important form of power: purchasing power.

Forbes estimates that global spending by women will be about $18 trillion this year (other estimates put it nearer $20 trillion), and various studies estimate that women drive between 70 and 80% of consumer decisions, even when they are not always the ones transacting.  Every fifth adult in the United States is a female over 50. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau).  And there is a wide range of data points that indicate that they have immense influence, wealth and spending power.

So why don’t we speak to them and their needs more effectively?  For one thing, because culturally we continue to valorise youth, and in our marketing thinking we have a tendency to focus extensively on ‘Millennials’.  This is not new news, and is not going to change quickly.

But what would happen if we stopped and thought about the unmet needs of older women?  What opportunities will we find? 

There are signs this is starting to happen, with new opportunities emerging.

Underwear seems to be an area that is seeing particular innovation – for example, with Willow, a brand set up to tackle incontinence (recognising that not everyone who suffers a little bladder leakage wants to wear a pseudo-nappy). 

And now, Become, a UK brand focusing on helping women navigate hot flushes.  Within the few weeks, Become has launched a provocative campaign to find its first model #HotWomenOnly, which playfully spins off the semantics of ‘hot’.

Where do we go from here? 

Surely it is a good thing to start to break the silence on the menopause, and chip away at the deeply-embedded taboos that surround it.  Surely this is an important experience in the lives of a hugely important consumer target.

In the coming weeks and months we will share insights and inspiration on how better to speak to and address the needs of the older female consumer, drawn from our work across sectors.  Stay tuned.


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