Vicki Maguire: The Industry Needs To Stop Menopause Washing
17 Mar, 2023
The lack of authentic representations of over 50s women by brands and the absence of women over 50 in adland urgently needs addressing, argues Vicki Maguire, in her latest column for MAD//Insight.
I was idly flicking through TV channels during some rare time off on Monday, when I thought I’d brush up my cultural knowledge by reacquainting myself with daytime telly magazine shows.
Reassuringly, ITV’s This Morning hasn’t changed much in its almost 35 years on the box, nor has its stablemate Loose Women after almost 24 years, and Steph’s Packed Lunch over on Channel 4 is a welcome (relatively) newcomer, with its informal Leeds-based chat chewing over the news topics of the day, with some food, consumer advice, showbiz interviews and fashion slots thrown in.
All three are unashamedly female-focused in content and mostly female-hosted, with good humour, diversity and a variety of forthright views to be found across the board, and a good spread also of age range when it comes to presenters and guests.
On Loose Women, two of the show presenters are in their 60s - Ruth Langsford, 62, and Kaye Adams, 60 - with the other two main show hosts Charlene White, 42, and Christine Lampard, 44. Meanwhile on This Morning, Holly Willoughby is 42 and Alison Hammond is 48, while Steph McGovern is a relative baby at 40. All these female hosts always look drop dead gorgeous and incredibly trendy.
Yet if the adverts in any of the shows are anything to go by, the women who watch them are all over 50 and at death’s door, wetting themselves uncontrollably or unable to get off their sofas unaided. Apparently, us over 50s are desperate to sign up for funeral plans and have mobility chairs and incontinence pads sold to us. The only over 50s shown in the ad breaks are either impossibly glamorous Hollywood stars flogging skin cream or hair dye, biddies serving up roasts to their grandchildren or harried frumpy mums.
So when the TV shows themselves are so varied and representative when it comes to the women onscreen, why is there still a dearth of realistic, authentic portrayal of over 50s women when it comes to ads from brands?
According to the latest research, half of over 50s women don’t feel authentically represented on television or actively patronised in advertising - and only 18% of over 50s women feel they are represented positively in adverts.
But that’s if you can see us in the first place - the latest Channel 4 Mirror on the Industry research found only 12% of UK ads featured someone over 50 in a leading role, and if they were female, they are more likely to be portrayed in a stodgy, hackneyed and stereotypical white middle-class way.
Over 50s women feel invisible to brands as it is - why do they insist on making things worse on screen?
Perhaps it's because there are so very few over-50s in adland - only 4.7% of ad industry employees as a whole are aged 55-plus compared to the national average of 21%. Finding a woman over 50 amongst them is hen’s teeth territory. No surprises then that menopause washing is prevalent.
Yet the over 50s have the biggest spending power in the UK at more than half (54%) of total household consumer spending at £319 billion a year, and most of that spending is done by women. How can the industry truly represent a population when it’s not reflected in its workforce?
Both the lack of authentic representations of over 50s women by brands and lack of over 50s women in adland urgently needs addressing. After all, us over 50 females are less likely to put our hands in our pockets and splash out on brands that can’t be arsed to portray us authentically as the experienced, diverse, valuable, funny, active people that we are, but push out tired old tropes that diminish us instead.
As the 60-year-old Michelle Yeoh said the night before my daytime telly viewing, as she picked up her best actress Oscar for ‘Everything, Everywhere All At Once’: “ Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”
Brands, it's about time you took heed.
Vicki will be writing a column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.