Building for boomers? These brands are looking beyond Gen Z and millennials
Consumers 40 and up don’t always see themselves reflected in the world of modern brands. Now that’s changing.
Inspiration for Stephanie Reynders' business struck while out on a shopping trip with her mother. Her “modern, cool, very stylish” mom, age 53 at the time, was struggling to find decent workout clothes. “Everything was either super skimpy, or it was really oversized and not very stylish,” Reynders says. “I just thought, this cannot be true.”
After seeing how few options there were, Reynders decided to develop her own apparel line for women 40 and up. Lagatta, launched in October 2020, is the first “modern activewear brand” to target this demographic, she says.
Reynders’ mother is not alone in feeling that brands aren’t paying enough attention to her. According to non-profit organization AARP, while more than a third of Americans are 50 and over, they appear in just 15% of media images. Meanwhile, according to Havas Group, a measly 5% of advertising explicitly targets older consumers.
There are 75 million "baby boomers" in the U.S., age 57 and up, with a combined spending of $548 billion a year. Behind them in purchasing power are Gen Xers – a much smaller group of 49 million U.S. citizens – who are dishing out $357 billion a year. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of what millennials and Gen Zers have in their piggy banks.
Alongside Lagatta, a number of brands are waking up to this opportunity. Some are creating products tailored to the specific needs of these consumers – such as Willow, maker of incontinence underwear by subscription, and brands like Womaness and State Of, that offer fresh takes on what a modern menopause brand should look like.
Others are simply discovering that their customer base skews slightly older – despite their brand identities falling squarely within the “millennial aesthetic” camp. JustWears, a U.K. underwear brand, says 55% of its customers are age 35 and older, and condom brand Hanx says its lubricant is a “fave” among 40-plus-year-olds. Wine tasting startup The Wine List says 40 is the median age for its customers, while sleep supplement company Proper and art-buying platform BetterShared also report that a significant chunk of their customer bases are over 40.
Direct-to-consumer brands are also finding popularity among famous Gen Xers. Gwyneth Paltrow, 48, is known to be a fan of Preppi’s survival kits and Airinum’s face masks. Lenny Kravitz, 56, has dabbled in brand building himself as the cofounder of Twice toothpaste, while 46-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio announced his investment in sustainable sneaker company Allbirds in 2018.
Reynders points out that it’s not so much a case of brands actively deciding to start targeting these consumers. In fact, it’s the brands that are playing catch up. “There are one billion middle-aged women in the world, and they’re ahead of the curve,” she says. “They are modern and stylish … [but] they feel extremely unseen, and that’s why this pro-age revolution is starting.”
A 2018 survey by U.K. media agency UM revealed that 44% of British women age 50 and up find advertising targeting their demographic to be patronizing, with 27% saying such ads reinforce negative stereotypes. Almost half of older women also agreed that “society expects them to vanish from public life as they get older.”
To make sure Lagatta could deliver a product that really spoke to its target audience, Reynders says she worked with women between 40 and 65 (including her mother) to develop the sportswear, a process which involved pinning garments to real-life women and asking how they felt in terms of both support and style. “It’s really important to understand the customer very well,” she explains. “People are young at heart, they just have changing bodies and changing needs."
Knours, a “hormonal skincare” brand that creates products focused on menstruation, maternity and menopause, has also leveraged personal experience to make sure it’s hitting the right notes when targeting older women. Julie Chon, the brand’s founder, is in her late 50s and had already entered menopause by the time Knours launched in 2018.
“We really saw that there was a need for women in that demographic that wasn’t being fulfilled,” Cheryl Kim, Knours’ chief brand officer says. “We thought that older women would love to find a space in the [beauty] industry to feel recognized, and to see representation where there wasn’t [before].”
Because Knours targets women of all ages, Kim says it’s important to ensure that older customers are also seeing their image and stories reflected back at them across all of the brand’s social channels – from Instagram to YouTube. “The most important way that we show that we are age inclusive is really through imagery and visual representation,” she says, adding that in the beauty industry in particular, where the focus is often on fresh-faced young women, this approach is still somewhat novel.
But while slick branding, age-inclusive marketing and an authentic understanding of what these consumers want are all helpful, actually getting a brand in front of older consumers in the first place is not quite so simple.
Unlike Gen Zers and millennials, older customers can be more elusive on social media: just 48.2% of baby boomers describe themselves as active social media users, compared to 90.4% of millennials.
They also – generally speaking – have their own ways of using social media. Josh Lachkovic, the founder of The Wine List, says that Facebook typically skews older, while Knours’ Kim says that Facebook and Pinterest were, until recently, the best place to target older consumers. “But we are seeing a rise [in the number of] older Instagram influencers too,” she says, adding that these influencers can be more picky about which brands they will work with compared to their younger counterparts. “They’re harder to connect to because they’re more wary about what they use [and will recommend],” she says. “They won’t just say yes because you’re giving them a wad of money and they like your branding.”
Kim points out that this tendency towards distrust is partly a result of advertising fatigue: these are generations that have been bombarded with misleading ads and marketing claims, after all. Brand strategist Nik Sharma, who has worked with direct-to-consumer companies such as survival kit company Judy and aperitif brand Haus, agrees, adding that “older people have a much lower tolerance for smelling bullshit."
“Older people do all the research before buying – more so than younger people do,” he adds. “They want to know everything, from the dimensions and weight of the product to what it works with, [and] where it’s good to use. [Brands] basically need to over-communicate.”
It can be a lot of work – but brands that do bring older customers on board are rewarded for their efforts. One survey found that 67% of Gen Xers and 75% of baby boomers say that when they find a product they like, they tend to become repeat buyers.
Lachkovic says this is certainly his experience at The Wine List, where “the older you are, the more you spend with us each month in terms of buying additional wines and access to events.”
He also adds that these customers are among The Wine Lists’ most engaged, with at least half of the brand’s 30 or so “regulars” that attend Zoom tastings in their 50s or 60s. “They are very open and willing to get stuck in, [whereas] younger people might sit there with their cameras off or not want to talk very much.”
“It takes longer to acquire a customer that is over 40,” Reynders agrees. “But they are loyal, and when they love your brand they really do love it. It’s definitely worth it in terms of lifetime value.”