While we may roll our eyes at those who offer themselves or others the palliative “50 is the new (40, 30, 25, take your pick),” it must be said that the half-century mark doesn’t look like it used to. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Johnny Depp are still heartthrobs into their 50s (though we suspect that Depp may have fully morphed into a pirate at this point) and Sandra Bullock, who’s in her 50th year, is Hollywood’s top-earning actress. Looking beyond the laser-smoothed bubble of Hollywood, there is a massive disconnect between the reality of many everyday (fit, tech-savvy, culturally engaged) over-50s and perceptions of what upper-middle-aged life is like.
The creators of content platform High50 are looking to dismantle those lingering assumptions with a message that’s less “pretend desperately that 50 is younger than it is” and more about owning your age.
While few would argue that aging is a non-stop physical and emotional party, society does add trauma and misinformation to the process. Consider how media and marketing place an unrealistic premium on youth. Regardless of actual consumer demographics, young faces populate ads for everything as marketers continue to focus intently on the almighty 18-49 (that is, when not focusing intently on millennials). “Marketers like to pretend that 28-year-olds buy luxury cars but the average age of those consumers is 51. It’s like the advertising industry is systemically incapable of marketing to people over 50.”
This is the view of Robert Campbell, a 55-year-old adman and the creator of High50 (pronounced high five-o). After a successful career in the agency business–Campbell was a co-founder of the prominent U.K. agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and later launched new-model agency Beta–he’s now set his sights on speaking, in a new voice, to contemporary 50-plus consumers. and finding a way of tapping into the purchasing power of this sorely underserved demographic.
Rejecting the prevailing view of 50-plus consumers, Campbell and partner James Burrows set out to create a platform from which to engage with this audience intelligently, respectfully, and in a fresh an entertaining way. Sample articles from High50’s U.K. and U.S. versions have included stories on DJs over 50, later-life divorce, coping with the death of a child, and a feature on the Rockers vs. Mods style war at 50. His interest in the demographic is not simply because he, himself, is over 50. Campbell says the marketing potential is huge.
In the U.S. and the U.K., nearly one third of the population is over 50 and, according to Campbell, by the year 2020 more than 50% of the U.K. population will be over 50. People over 50 control 89% of all disposable wealth in the U.K. and this group spends more on beauty products, luxury travel, and culture than younger target groups. Culturally, he says there are more entrepreneurs over 50, more people coming out as gay, and more people getting divorced. Which all creates excellent fodder for smart and informative content.
But more than just an editorial site, High50 was designed from the start to build brands into the conversation. The principals will work with marketers on content initiatives, which will provide a revenue stream along with traditional display advertising.
The company has secured a round of funding and plans to expand internationally and to develop a more robust platform that includes an e-commerce function. “A lot of brands now are facing this dichotomy of ‘Are we brands or are we publishers?’ There isn’t a lot out there to support that. Marketers understand they have to be in the content game and they have to be producing all forms of content to engage their customers but at the end of the day it has to lead somewhere,” Campbell says. “So the idea of building an e-commerce capability surrounded by content is a really interesting one.”
With the expansion, the company has hired Editor-in-Chief Stefano Hatfield to build out a global roster of writers and foster brand content partnerships. Hatfield had most recently launched ESI Media’s TV channel, London Live and the Independent‘s i newspaper, and was previously editor of News International’s the London Paper, Metro New York, Metro USA, and Advertising Age‘s Creativity. About the high-profile hire Campbell says, “What Stefano understands and what most journalists don’t is commerce and marketing because he’s worked closely too it.”
What the platform’s e-commerce functionality will look like remains to be seen–Campbell speculates it will take about six months to roll out but suggests it could include a range of features, such as lead generation for entire sectors, like travel or luxury goods, or joint ventures with financial institutions to create products aimed at this audience. “One of the problems with this market is that a lot of the financial services were created for the generation above, so you need to create a new suite of financial services products for people who will be living until they’re 90.”
Campbell likens this stage of life to a second round of teenagehood. “It’s a really interesting time of change for human beings. It’s not old age anymore. It’s like being a teenager again, a time of physical change and experimentation. So High50 is about glamorizing age but it’s also about age-power in a way. This is an overlooked and underserved generation. If marketers are wise, they’ll acknowledge it much mores strongly than they have in the past.”