Who wore the Atelier Versace gown best – Carrie Bradshaw at 37 or Carrie Bradshaw at 55?
That this is a valid question may be more remarkable than the $80,000 gown itself. But age and influence are enjoying a lucrative co-existence in the fashion and pop culture world that is getting the attention of retailers and brands.
Mature influencers, both men and women in their 50s and older, are gaining millions of viewers on social media for their style advice, fearless individualism and plain old hunger for life. From the 60-to-70-something men who call themselves “The Old Gays” (6.2 million followers on TikTok) to 50-plus women like Carla Rockmore, Trinny Woodall and Grece Ghanem (more than 500,000 each), these social celebrities bring to life everyday people who just happen to be older, and with whom consumers of any age can relate.
And they all name the brands they love. (Woodall additionally owns her own beauty brand.)
Even HBO is discovering newfound wealth in mature female brand icons, via Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) of “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and The City” reboot. Based on the reviews, popular media appeared more interested in the character’s styles than her story.
It’s Not Merely Pro-Aging, It’s Evolution
Some view popular culture’s embrace of older men and women as a positive pro-aging movement. However, smart merchants will recognize this phenomenon as an indication of much broader, and permanent, lifestyle shifts that go beyond mere demographics.
True, the whole world is getting older so it’s natural to automatically measure the influence of our mature cohorts by mere numbers and resulting spending power. But look beyond the simple demographics and one can see this generation also is making age-neutral lifestyle changes, many unplanned. And because they also are adopters of social media, they are sharing these experiences with the world.
Consider these contributing factors:
- Mature celebs have acquired the (Betty) White-hot element of relevance. In 2010, 88-year-old actor Betty White became the oldest host on “Saturday Night Live,” not because she was promoting a movie, but due to a Facebook campaign. Her devoted following persisted throughout her long life not merely because she had great comic and acting chops, but because she adapted effortlessly to her surroundings. This made her relevant to people of all ages, and brands evidently noticed. A couple of years after White’s SNL gig, American Apparel, known for ultra-young models, chose 60-something Jacky O’Shaughnessy as the face of its brand.
- Older consumer influence is on both sides of social media. The fans of Grece Ghanem and “The Old Gays” are not all young; many are the same age, and they have considerable spending influence. The percentage of social media users who are 65 and older rose to 45% in 2021 from 34% in 2016, according to Pew Research. The figure is 73% for those ages 50 to 64, from 64% in 2005. At the same time, people 50 and older represent more than half of all U.S. consumer spending, according to the AARP. These consumers also held on to their “relative position of financial strength” through the pandemic, with a median income of $65,000 and little debt. Yet a 2019 report estimated fashion and beauty brands stood to lose $15 billion over 20 years because they did not target older consumers. Opportunity hinges on timing, and social media is right on it.
- Their spending choices represent a spectrum of preferences. People who are 50 and older are still pursuing vibrant lifestyles highlighted by career changes, new loves and fresh interests. They are not a predictable, one-size-fits-all audience riding out the years. Rather, mature adults as consumers are much like young consumers – they represent varying preferences that regularly change, down to the individual, thanks to their longer lives and the lust to live them. So those hot-pink Zara pants featured on Trinny Woodall’s YouTube account? They may appeal to 60-year-old retired men as well as 70-year-old working women.
- Yet, they also mentor next-gen consumers. Gen Z and the Millennial consumers may dominate social media viewership, but their particular demand for transparency could lead them to older influencers. This is because many mature social media celebrities are genuine and seemingly unscripted. They know what they want, they know what they can do and they shout it out. Such authenticity matters especially to members of Gen Z who see gender identity, race and lifestyle as an open book. Their preference for transparency extends to their purchases – 82% said they trust a company more if it uses images of real customers in its advertising.
The Model Has Changed. Literally.
Perhaps the single biggest reason the hot models on social media are aging up is that the market guidelines retailers have traditionally followed are simply no longer reliable.
Couples marry later, if at all. Fewer people have children in their 20s, if at all (and fewer are married when they do). Consumers switch careers and homes more frequently. They work, date, travel, remain politically active and change habits well into their 70s and later.
All consumers change, by choice or by force. Carrie Bradshaw became a widow at the age of 55. Joan Didion became a widow at 63. One is a fictional character who went on to launch her own podcast. The other is a literary icon who at the age of 80 began modeling for the French fashion brand Céline.
It’s time for retailers and marketers to rethink their demographic constructs. One age does not fit all; it’s what defines a group that wears it best.
Bryan Pearson is a Featured Contributor to The Wise Marketer and currently serves as a director and strategic advisor to a number of loyalty-related organizations. He is the former CEO of LoyaltyOne.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. Be sure to follow Bryan on Twitter for more on retail, loyalty, and the customer experience.