I definitely see a new trend picking up regarding marketing toward older women, and several things have caught my attention lately regarding clothing for older women. First, older women are on the media radar. However, despite DOVE and other beauty brands efforts toward introducing images of older women in beauty advertising (though what is it worth if the goal is to sell a product that “reduces the appearance of fine lines” even if you call it pro-age?), recent Oprah shows about Dove and others featuring age ambassadors like Geena Davis and Nora Ephron, and Vogue’s age issue (started in 2001), there is a disconnect between what older women want to wear, how they like to shop, and what is available.
In recent fashion industry news, Women’s Voices for Change cites a report that baby boomer fashion stores, Gap Inc.’s Forth and Towne, and Gymboree’s Janeville are shutting their doors after disappointing sales. Lazard Freres retail analyst Todd Slater commented that Forth and Towne “suffered from fit, style and image problems and became a distraction,” and Gymboree has said that serving mothers and older women was more difficult that expected. Similarly, American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s Martin + Osa is reworking its concept to appeal to a younger, 25-to-40 age group.
In this slightly older article (2005) at Trendsight profiling the store Chicos, Marti Barletta, author of “Marketing to Women” says that “Baby boomer women are the No. 1, big-money opportunity for any industry but particularly for the apparel industry because so little is being done to create the kind of clothes they’re looking for,” Barletta said. “The concentration of spending power among PrimeTime Women is the most powerful in the mass market.”
The Forgotten Woman
Recently, Ronni Bennett posted an article at BlogHer titled “Elder Fashion – An Oxymoron,” where she humorously bemoaned the lack of wearable clothes above a size 10, calling Elder Fashion, “the ultimate oxymoron and the forgotten woman.” In Dotsie Bregel’s article, Baby Boomer Women at Midlife, she claims that there are “38 million Baby Boomer women between the ages of 40 and 58,” and that “the sheer number of us is changing the image of midlife women like no other generation before.” I think this is really the crux of the issue – whether you shout, “50 is the new 30!” are pro or con botox, think that naked grandmas on billboards is revolutionary or repulsive, these new emerging images, and lifestyles, of aging women completely baffle most marketers and PR Gurus.
Advice for Fashion PR
To find out more about the baby-boomer generation, visit Boomer Women Speak, and check out the forums. Then, learn more about fashion for women over 50 including Marilyn Kirschner, editor-in-chief, of Look OnLine’s (2000) tips for “Getting older and looking great while you’re getting there.”
Finally, the following tips for marketing to Baby-Boomin’ ladies, by Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn via NIFB offer a good starting point, but it is up to Fashion PR professionals to better understand the psychology of relationship women cultivate with their clothing, and advise clients about how that relationship impacts sense of self, brand affinity, and fashion identity.
1. She is loyal to companies, not brands.
One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that women grow more brand loyal with age. While a woman in her 40s, 50s or 60s might continue to purchase a product or service from the same place, most likely she’s attached to the company, not the brand. Unlike men who show habitual buying patterns as they age, sticking with the same brand because it’s easier, boomer women are choosey about finding the best quality, service and deals. They also pay attention to a company’s reputation, especially in terms of community involvement and social responsibility. They care not only about how respectful a company has been to them in the past but also how accurately it understands their needs. As Orsborn says, “she wants a relationship with the company–and she wants it to be sincere.”
2. She is technologically savvy.
Don’t assume that just because a woman is older that she doesn’t use the Internet. Studies show that boomer women are as likely to consult Web sites before making purchases as Gen-Xers, Orsborn says. In 2004, women age 35 to 54 represented the highest proportion of Web surfers. Direct catalog marketers even calculate that 70 percent of all online purchases are made by women, many of whom are baby boomers. “This generation of women is on the run, and they’re much more high-tech oriented than you would guess,” Orsborn says.
3. She still feels young.
Most boomer women see themselves as a decade younger than they are, Orsborn says. That means they don’t want to be referred to as “golden,” “mature,” “seniors” or even “middle aged.” While they don’t want to see clothes modeled by an airbrushed beauty with perfect proportions, they don’t want look at a close-up of a wrinkled hand on a jewelry ad either. They like to see themselves represented in a vital way. “Reading glasses are a perfect example,” Orsborn says. “They used to be fuddy-duddy and unfashionable. Now they are hip items that you can buy in different colors at bookstores.”
4. She wants to be empowered.
Age doesn’t define life stage for a boomer woman, who may be an empty-nester, a doting grandmother, a small-business entrepreneur and a dating single–all at the same time. Boomer women are looking for products and services that appeal to their sense of adventure, curiosity, renegade energy and continuous development. “You have to tune into how she wants to be talked to–and that’s in a way that’s respectful of her growth process,” Orsborn says.