I’ve been in deep-dive mode, researching marketing to Gen X women. Specifically, weighing up the words used to attract and persuade the midlife female demographic.
Why the focus on midlife marketing?
Firstly, I’ve got a vested interest. I’m one of these women. So are many of my clients.
We feel it when the copywriting resonates (and when it alienates or patronises us).
Secondly, because I’m convinced midlife women are the most under-served and misunderstood big buyers in the market. Gen X women’s purchasing power is vast. If you’re a midlife woman yourself, just ask yourself this question – in your household, who is the primary shopper?
Brands are not just talking to midlife women so they can meet their inclusion and age-diversity targets. It makes economic sense to target older women too.
Midlife women’s spending power and influence means they make key decisions about high-ticket expenditure, from holidays to furniture.
And let’s be cynical for a moment too. Appealing to an older female demographic is diversity-signalling to the younger market as well.
Here’s what Katie Baron, Senior Contributor at Forbes, said about the “… self sabotaging gazillions of brands” neglecting this demographic in her predictions for brand culture in 2023 –
“… [brands] could be a.) changing the script, while b.) making themselves a mint at the temple of the middle-aged females in the process.”
When it comes to marketing to Gen X women in 2023, the numbers don’t add up
These six statistics below show the state of play right now for generational marketing. If you want to dive deeper, click through the links to read more.
Fiftysomething women are a significant proportion of the UK population
Consumers over 50 have money to spend
Gen X women are some of the biggest spenders
Yet fiftysomethings are under-represented in advertising
Gen X creatives are significantly under-represented in the marketing industry
Marketing has fewer over-50s than many other professions
Is it any wonder that marketing to Gen X women has a relatability problem? It’s time for a change.
How to reach Gen X women with marketing
Copywriting and marketing aimed at midlife women is ripe for a reckoning.
Consumer brands, businesses and even B2Bs with midlife women in your marketing sights – when it comes to your marketing message, consider this –
Are you reaching midlife women? Are you really listening to them?
Are Gen X consumers represented on your creative team? Who’s behind your words and message?
Pain-point copywriting for midlife women is risky (or Is your neck ageing faster than your face?)
I’ve explored the triggers for midlife women’s buying decisions, and how brand language can reflect these emotions empathetically and ethically.
When researching messaging and copywriting aimed at midlife women, I found the majority of examples came from fashion, skincare and health/wellbeing brands.
Of course I did. Women “of a certain age” are obvious demographic targets for such industries. So do Gen X women love what marketing shows them in the mirror? How are B2C brands marketing to Gen X?
Research consistently reveals negative or apathetic feelings about brand messaging that’s supposed to speak to midlife women. And that’s when advertising addresses Gen X women at all.
Do we really see ourselves reflected by the words these brands choose? Do we even care about what they’re trying to say?
This 2022 report by MullenLowe assessed the over-50s representation gap in advertising.
There are 52 million adults in Great Britain. 47% are in their 50s and above. Between them they control assets of over £6 trillion. They hold 69.7% of all UK household wealth. And yet as an audience, they are routinely overlooked by businesses. At the time of writing, just 12% of UK adverts feature someone over 50 in a leading role. It makes no commercial sense. (MullenLowe Group UK presents: The Invisible Powerhouse)
Menopausal women feel patronised by brands
An earlier report uncovered a corresponding gulf in the way that menopausal women specifically are represented.
Almost half (46%) of women who are going through or have been through the menopause believe that women are not represented fairly or authentically by advertising, while 44% feel patronised by advertising, and almost a quarter (24%) are simply indifferent to it. (Women’s Worth study by UM London and Karen Fraser, as quoted in Campaign)
Patronised and indifferent. If our goal is human to human marketing, that’s a troubling verdict on the state of play.
That’s why I believe Gen X copywriting in the wild is ripe for a reckoning.
Is it time for age-agnostic marketing?
Age-agnostic marketing has yet to go mainstream. It’s an approach that places age further down the list of factors that shape a campaign. Instead, age-agnostic marketing focuses on behaviour, preferences and values shared across the generations. No more assumptions about lifestyle based solely on age demographics. This type of copywriting focuses instead on Gen X emotional triggers to buy.
It makes sense, because midlife women have got plenty of other stuff going on, beyond fretting about Turkey Neck.
Skincare brand copywriters have a particularly tricky job. So do any writers working in other ‘appearance-first’ niches like fashion. They tread a fine line between writing about arguably superficial products and creating messaging that relates to the deeper, life-affirming emotional stuff. The stuff that speaks to Gen X women’s real needs and wants.
It’s an easier balance to negotiate for an EdTech brand, for example. Yet I’ve still to find one that speaks directly to midlife women, despite the massive influence we have across the generations AND the learning projects we embark on ourselves around milestone moments. It’s not just the fashion and beauty industry with work to do.
We all rely on rules of thumb, including marketing creatives
Just like the mental shortcuts that influence buying decisions, creatives have rules of thumb that help us complete our work efficiently.
As a copywriter, I know how easy it is to get caught up in wordplay or customer pain points, then forget that your copywriting is just a version of talking, human to human. That’s why it’s common to fall back on stale assumptions and stereotypes, instead of creating copy that’s fresh and meaningful.
Pain-point copywriting and watching the clock
Speaking of midlife pain points, I see brands poking at this one like an open sore. The ticking clock. I found variations on this theme in lots of midlife messaging.
Exhibit A – Is your neck ageing faster than your face?
I saw this question tucked away in a product description (from a brand with a headline value stating that “beauty should make you feel good”).
ALL brand copy matters, from often-overlooked product descriptions to headlines. In a short sentence like this, a brand can easily (and even unwittingly) undermine its core message of celebrating ageless beauty.
Human to human, can you imagine asking this question face-to-face?
If you can, your social skills need some spa time.
It’s a passive-aggressive compliment delivered with an insult. At best.
My guess is that the copy choice originated in a reasonable idea – use voice-of-customer research.
Some focus-group participant probably once said “I feel like my neck is ageing more than my face.” And that sounds quotable.
Yet here’s the insinuation in those eight simple words in the product description – Your face might look ok, but your neck’s f***ed. Go on, look.
Copywriting that pokes at this real-to-many pain point – the fear of looking older – is risky. It can sound patronising, spiteful and bleak. Where’s the feel-good factor in that pain-poking line of copy? It’s got critical-inner-voice vibes written all over it.
It could also provoke an unwanted customer response. My neck might be losing some bounce, but I’m not terribly happy about you pointing your metaphorical finger at it. So I’ll pass on your Dorian-Gray-in-a-jar serum, thanks.
How to market to Gen X women: the alternative to pain-point copywriting
Creatives targeting midlife women should consider the life events or values that shape buying decisions, rather than focusing on years on the clock (and how to ‘dial them back‘ – another ubiquitous phrase that I loathe).
The best marketing to Gen X women recognises that age is not our entire identity. Not even close. Midlife women don’t think and act as one homogenous, sweaty unit. Important as it is, hormone balance is not our only preoccupation. Nor is smoother skin.
We might have more in common with your 30 year-old niece. We could be childfree, a mum, a gran, a caregiver. We could be a career-restarter or a lifelong learner. We might be adding to our tattoo collection or accompanying our kids to Harry Styles concerts (and paying for the tickets too).
Or as one woman pointed out in the Noon research project: “I feel like a teenager but in my own house, with posh sheets and nice tea.”
Gen X women are frequently irreverent and a bit cynical.
Some of us remember Diana marrying Charles. We might recognise Yuppies and that Levis laundrette ad. We read The Face and watched Channel 4 and Live Aid. Don’t assume we were just prepping for a future of hormone imbalance and worry over crow’s feet.
We’ve lived a little. Or a lot.
Effective Strategies for Marketing to Gen X Women
Copywriting aimed at midlife women must evolve from three crucial questions –
- What are we spending our time doing?
- What are we thinking about?
- What are we talking about?
(And yes, ideally it is ‘we’, because we need more midlife women on creative teams, creating the copy and shaping the message).
And when the words are finally written, brands should add a human to human sense-check. Would you actually say that in conversation to a friend? Is your neck ageing faster than your face?
How do Gen X women rationalise reasons to buy?
We all rationalise our reasons to buy. ‘Because you’re worth it’ is an interesting reason for midlife women. Unlike the pain point messaging above, this rationalisation comes from a place of self-worth.
Of course, just as there’s not one single reason why midlife women decide to buy, ‘because you’re worth it‘ isn’t specific to this age group alone. It doesn’t just apply to women at their midpoint.
However, it’s a powerful emotional trigger for many nice-to-have purchases.
I’ve assumed that the brands I mention in this post have midlife women as one of their target customer groups.
I’ve taken real brand messaging (mainly from social media profiles) to illustrate this self-worth messaging trope.
Let’s dig in.
Self-worth copy: a fashion-brand example
Take this self-worth messaging from JD Williams, a fashion and home brand aimed primarily at women – Admit it, this age thing suits you.
I’m convinced that human to human copywriting would do better to sound conspiratorial like this, rather than critical.
‘Because You’re Worth It‘ brand messaging
Instead of poking at real or invented midlife pain points, this type of messaging focuses on self-esteem and reward.
- You’re worth it because of the things you’ve been through.
- You’re worth it because of what you’ve achieved.
- You’re worth it because what they said about you was/wasn’t true.
- You’re worth it because you belong.
I’ve identified 3 messaging sub themes around self-worth for marketing to Gen X women
- Invest in yourself.
- Take a stand.
- The best is yet to come.
Copywriting that encourages you to Invest in Yourself
This messaging theme focuses on longevity or agelessness, and usually makes a feature of brand heritage. It’s often used for investment pieces or premium products.
Here’s what’s implied in the messaging – You’re a legend, just like us. You deserve to invest in yourself.
So how do you recognise Invest in Yourself messaging?
Here’s one sign. Look out for this simple copywriting strategy – does a key message include the word since?
Invest in Yourself copywriting in action
Bringing quality, considered design to the British High Street since 1970. (Jigsaw)
The Joy Makers, since 1993. (Cath Kidston)
British pioneers of slow fashion since 1990. (Celtic and Co)
Celebrating British heritage, incredible colour, beautiful fabrics & thoughtful details since 1993. (Brora)
Since 1707, Fortnum & Mason has been home to extraordinary food, joy-giving things and unforgettable experiences. (Fortnums)
The Invest in Yourself (because you’re worth it) theme usually focuses on quality over quantity.
Me & Em messaging mentions the most flattering investment pieces, and style for now, and forever.
Meanwhile Saga’s Experience is Everything campaign conjures up the luxe, wood-panelled members’ club vibe – Don’t call me old-fashioned. Just pour me one.
I googled favourite Gen X brands and Boden popped up at the top of the list. Here’s Boden’s ‘Invest in Yourself’ messaging –
Buy better. Buy less. Wear more.
To which, of course, any sensible marketer should add, sotto voce – pay more for each piece – otherwise the brand is toast. Sustainability has its limits. But do please invest in yourself. Because you’re worth it!
Copywriting that gives you agency: Take a Stand
This copywriting trope relies on buying choices that are partly motivated by social consciousness.
Of the three themes here, this is the hardest message to pull off with authenticity. It’s quite a stretch to imply that simply by buying a product, we’re demonstrating or building our self-worth by contributing to social change.
Cue those bland and ubiquitous verbs like empowering and unlocking. It doesn’t take much for midlife women like me to raise a cynical eyebrow in response. “So wait, by shelling out for this collagen-boosting face serum, somehow I’m empowering …?”
Taking a stand seems to go in one of two directions. Some copy evokes collective change, while other copy pushes a message of stand-out individualism.
The messaging goes one way or the other. Either we’re all in it together, or you’re out on a limb, being unapologetically you, stirring stuff up and not giving a sh*t.
By the way, if you’re interested in the debate about brand purpose, the most thought-provoking deep-dive I’ve read recently is Nick Asbury’s three part series.
I’m not entirely cynical about tying brand purpose to customer feelings of self-worth. Whatever way you look at it, it’s a big improvement on the ‘is your neck ageing faster than your face?’ messaging I wrote about on Substack.
Take a Stand (because you’re worth it) copy motifs in big brand social media profiles
Let’s Change Beauty together and help raise self-esteem in the next generation. (Dove)
Because we are all worth it. (L’Oreal Paris) This word remix made me smile, as L’Oreal has rewritten the famous ‘because you’re worth it’ tagline for the collective good, rather than the individual.
Typical language like confidence, self-esteem and love suggests that self-worth comes from making peace with our appearance.
We want you to love the skin you’re in. (Olay)
Feel confident in the skin you’re in and #FaceAnything with Olay (Olay UK)
This type of self-worth messaging also often uses words like everyday, ordinary and together.
Make every day a great skin day. (Clinique)
Anything but ordinary. (Marks and Spencer)
Bring the extraordinary to the ordinary, everyday. (LK Bennett)
Mindfulness, sweat, community and more. We’re here to inspire you to live #thesweatlife every day. (Lululemon)
So much for the collective good. What if we feel like boosting our self-worth by taking a stand as an individual?
Here, taking a stand can be reserved and elegant, as in Willowberry Skincare’s Age without Apology campaign. Can’t argue with that.
Or it can be in-your-face upper case.
Welcome to ‘Zero F**ks Given’ copywriting, where the messaging is all about rebellion and defiance.
Rule Breaker. Image Maker. Risk Taker … Are you a #NARSissist? (Nars Cosmetics)
Hold Nothing Back. #LIVEBOLDLY (Revlon)
Take a Stand (because you’re worth it) even sometimes uses language more familiar from a protest placard. In Gilette’s case, shaving with a hint of the suffragettes –
No retouching. No restrictions. No one way to have beautiful skin or to show it off. Venus stands with all women who right the rules. #MySkinMyWay (Gilette Venus)
Reassuring copywriting: The Best is Yet to Come
This messaging pillar provides the antidote to the ticking clock. It suggests that midlife women still have time to live up to their potential.
Liz Earle and her Wellbeing Warriors have this self-worth messaging down to a tee –
Wellness inspiration to support your better second half.
‘The Best is Yet to Come‘ is probably the most palatable of all messages aimed at midlife women. Instead of looking back in impossible yearning, this messaging encourages Gen X to look ahead.
Bomino Nutrition uses this messaging for their MenoShake® –
Our award winning formula combines 30+ sustainable ingredients that have been specifically chosen to support you to be your best self in midlife, making them your best years yet.
And even if your self-worth still needs some work, it’s emphatically not your fault –
Too many women’s gifts are smothered by hormone imbalances, preventing them from being the best version of themselves.
Other future-focused messaging suggests that we’ll be saved by science –
The science behind great skin. (Strivectin)
Defined by nature, led by science. (Elemis)
Some of this messaging is vague enough to mean whatever you want it to mean –
This is beauty, reinvented. (Jones Road Beauty, founded by Bobbi Brown)
Or consider this self-worth word salad (sorry, Sephora) – Unlock your unlimited power of beauty.
Thankfully, the best was yet to come. Eventually the copy cavalry came to the rescue and I discovered this gem. Product meets message in witty synchronicity.
Here’s my favourite copy find from handbag brand, Radley –
Grab life by the handles.
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