13 Jul 2016

The Rise of the Midult

Marketers and political pundits are fond of identifying new demographic groups and consumer segments on which to focus their attentions.

The latest is the Midult – a phrase coined by journalists Emilie McMeekan and Annabel Rivkin to describe a new tribe of women aged 35-55. The Midult is being described as more than just a demographic but a movement and a mindset.

And the 35-55 year old woman is one of the most powerful consumer groups. In the UK, 8 million women fall into this category and, according to The Midult team, women drive an estimated 70-80% of consumer spending globally.

However, many feel they are overlooked and misunderstood by brands and media outlets.

According to Emilie McMeekan , co-founder of The Midult, “Midults are a unique combination of digitally literate, hyper-connected and financially confident, they are the first generation to grow old without checking out. We are the healthiest, wealthiest and most active generation of women in history. Ignore us at your peril.”

In the past we’ve seen Mondeo Man, Worcester Woman and Pebbledash People – three groups of swing voters that politicians have created as a focus for their campaign activities in the past. Consumers are also grouped into key groups such as DINKs (Dual Income No Kids), Millennials and Centennials, based on their life situation and a host of other factors such as age and income. These often rather brutal monikers are used to focus attention and assist with decision making, whether by political tacticians or marketing managers honing in on an audience.

Mondeo Man was a target demographic of 30-something middle-income homeowners identified by Tony Blair as a key target voter for Labour’s 1997 election campaign. For the next general election, the Tories pinned their hopes on the Pebbledash People. These were identified as married voters aged between 35 and 50; suburban professionals to win over before the election.

These demographic targets all share one thing in common: they quickly fall out of favour, to be replaced by more fashionable ones. And this may not just be because of the fickleness of market analysts. Current thinking seems to reveal that demographics aren’t as predictable as they’ve been in the past, which explains why new demographic groups need to be identified all the time.

The changing nature of our social demographics

It’s generally assumed that social development is something that ends with childhood. Psychologists have tended to overlook any social development that happens once an individual reaches adulthood, as any ongoing development is seen as insignificant compared to the enormous social change that occurs in childhood. In reality though, there are many factors affecting human behaviour that continue past childhood. There are hormonal and other physical changes, and changing social roles that come as individuals become parents or care for their own parents.

Perhaps just as significantly, the socio-cultural context of the individual does much to influence their behaviour.

And it’s the socio-cultural context that is the most likely to change over time and across the generations. Compared to previous generations, we’re marrying much later and the pattern of adult life is less predictable. We’re seeing more and more adults moving back in with their parents, and adults leaving the family environment to become singletons again following divorce.

Many people face challenges as their role does not confirm to expectations of the role a person should play at a certain age.

Psychologists refer to ‘social age’ to reflect age which is defined by social rather than chronological expectations. In modern life, the social meaning of being a particular age is less predictable than it once was.

Culture seems to play a significant role in our ongoing social development. For example, different approaches in education in the West have created generations that often have very different cognitive development to previous generations. This also means that all bets are off when it comes to generational behaviour at any particular age. It just isn’t realistic to expect that the thoughts and attitudes of a particular age group are going to be the same as previous generations at the same age. This is often expressed through claims such as ’60 is the new 40’: expressions like this reveal how age is no longer a predictor of attitude.

We’re also facing unprecedented demographic changes, with an increasing number of very old people still active in society. Improvements in longevity and in healthcare means that people can expect to live for longer than previous generations but also that they can realistically expect to live healthily for a longer period of time.

Public Health England, an agency of the UK Department of Health, recently launched the “One You” campaign, which aims to encourage people in middle age to preserve their health in order to live well for longer. This campaign aims to challenge ‘old’ assumptions that physical decline, inactivity and weight gain are inevitable parts of the ageing process. It’s an attempt to reduce the burden of caring for an elderly population by encouraging a generation of 40-70 year olds to preserve their health for as long as possible. But the DoH is fighting against the assumptions of prior generations that physical decline is inevitable and cannot be resisted.

For marketers, it’s important not to roll out the same tired old tricks for each generation as if it were identical to the last.

With changing gender roles, washing detergent companies look increasingly out of touch if they assume only women use washing machines. It’s naïve to assume that the middle aged have no interest in fashion or fitness and only want to buy Agas and HRT. It’s time for marketers to rethink how they approach age demographics, abandoning the clichés and assumptions of the past.

The Midult

A pair of journalists have launched a new digital platform targeted specifically at the Midult demographic, with the aim of engaging with a group that they claim has been heinously neglected so far.

Although these 35+ women may boast a higher disposable income than Millennials, they haven’t been targeted with the same innovative focus. Many platforms have been launched aimed at the Millennial audience, yet the ‘Midults’ are being approached with the same tired old tricks that have been used on previous generations. This is despite the fact that more women aged 35-55 are online daily than Millennials, are just as likely to share content, and are the gateway to both older and younger people as they are likely to be responsible for both groups.

Marketers need to pay attention to the social significance of this reinvented generation. It’s no longer appropriate to assume each generation is the same as the one before it in its tastes and attitudes at any particular age. Your brand needs to find a fresh approach for each generation based on its own wants, needs and expectations.


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