A Frank Interview with Debbie White, Founder.

by Stacia Beer

When I started at F+C just after the new year as the Executive Producer, I was excited to join a female-focused team doing great work here in Seattle.

I wanted to learn more about Debbie’s decision to make F+C an agency that specializes in marketing to woman 50 plus and her thoughts on how the industry is doing with this category in general.

Our first conversation is below.  It’s been edited for clarity.

What made you interested in specializing in marketing to woman over 50? (Aside from, ahem, being over 50.)

I work on an account that targets women 50 plus and while working on it I have actually aged into this target, and now that I’m in it, I can see that there’s still misconceptions about these women. And I now know how financially powerful this demographic is. So, I want to specialize and bring more positive change to this category.

How are woman over 50 different to market to compared to other age groups?

Firstly, Gen X is aging into this age group now. They’re radically changing things. But even Baby Boomers are much more tech savvy than you’d think. Sure, Facebook is their favorite social channel right now, but savvy Gen Xers are moving on to Instagram and Twitter as well. Women 50+ love TV and still watch TV on their big screens, not only the major networks and cable, but Hulu and Netflix as well. They want to feel authentically represented in ads and the marketing that they see on these platforms.

What do you find most challenging about marketing to this demographic?

They really know when you’re either pandering to them, stereotyping them, or even throwing out the look-at-this-amazing-90-year-old-female-weightlifter cliché, but it really doesn’t relate to them. Mature women like to thoroughly investigate a product or service and their options. They like to ask questions, read reviews, look through a company’s website. They’re more detail oriented than most shoppers. Men tend to be more gut quick. Companies need to anticipate that while also speaking with women and understanding where they’re at in the purchase cycle.

What are some common incorrect assumptions about woman over 50?

That they should be invisible in marketing. And if not, that they all have grey hair, are grandmas, and don’t understand technology. That they aren’t fit. Aren’t digitally savvy. And that they’re a minor financial segment of the populations. And that they stay with the same brands.

Are companies portraying woman using these assumptions hurting their brand? 

Oh, of course they’re hurting brands that have these assumptions! Sorry, but I’m thinking a lot of 20-something ad guys are writing these ads.

What companies are doing it right?

I can’t think of one brand that is just killing this target. I think some are dabbling. Athleta is starting to include mature women in their catalogs, which is great.

What companies are not focusing on this demographic but should be?

I don’t see real 50- to 70-year-olds in Nordstrom’s ads or website. This demo shops. And buys online. Car manufacturers. Health insurance and hospitals. Financial institutions.

And I gotta say, I’ve always been perplexed by the POM ads. They seem to be going after men; are men really buying this stuff? I just don’t get the dude impaled by the dolphin thing, it’s kind of…phallic? I don’t think I’m the only woman, older or not turned off by that campaign.

Since older people have more money and influence, why do companies keep their focus on people under 35?  Are they trying to get some sort of cool or hip mojo attached to them?

Well, that’s a big part of it I think. Brands want to be cool and current and targeting Millennials seems like it’s more fun and perhaps they’ll catch the older folks with their ads. I personally think some of it is fear of ageism, really. A brand doesn’t want to seem uncool by targeting an older audience for fear of alienating a hipper, younger one. Our culture has such negative associations with aging. We need to redefine and modernize how we connect with people over 50. And it just makes financial sense. I mean, women 50+ have 19 trillion dollars that they spend. Who’s leaving that to chance? I can tell you that Millennials spend about half that.

So, companies that use younger, hipper models in their ads are missing the boat?

Yes, when that’s who’s buying their product. Why does Eileen Fisher use 20-year-old models? It’s disingenuous. No 20-year old is jumping up and down to wear Eileen Fisher, and they can’t afford it anyway. So why are they doing that? I’d like to see diverse, real women from 35 – 70 that are inspiring showing how easy Eileen Fisher products are to wear. That’s honest and beautiful.

You know, any high-end luxury brand purchaser skews older because that’s the demographic that can afford it. That advertising can touch a lot of uncomfortable areas, like the grey-haired man on a cruise with the younger woman– there’s a lot going on there. It touches sexism and ageism, so many things we have negative associations with. Marketers don’t know what to do with it so they go young and they’re missing out on massive opportunities.

Brands can make so much money by targeting this category and speaking honestly with them, not assuming that they will age down. Seek them out and be honest. They have a lot of power and money.  Now more than ever it’s really time to change the way we think about women 50+.

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