I Am a Middle-Aged Beauty Consumer and This Is What I Want Brands to Know
Frustrated by how her demo is spoken to, Liza Herz has thoughts on marketing to the middle-aged.
by : Liza Herz- Mar 31st, 2020
Being an older beauty consumer can sometimes make you feel as if you’re standing in the middle of a store waving your wallet around and yelling “Please take my money!” while everyone around you kowtows to millennials and generation Zs. Sephora, my preferred source for a quick beauty endorphin hit (usually a new lipstick), is now always clogged with teens, flush with their parents’ cash, roaming the aisles in search of the latest mermaid-inspired holographic eye gloss. (I just made that product up, but if you’re a brand and think it would sell, go for it.)
There’s a lot being written about the “grey wave” and how “senior women may account for about one-quarter of the female population by 2036,” according to Statistics Canada, and that “50 is the new 30.” (Spoiler: It isn’t.) But all that means is I see more beauty ads starring silver-haired women, like Helen Mirren. And as beautiful and inspiring as she is, she’s still two decades older than I am.
As a woman over 50, I exist in some notional space between stoic resignation to my mortal fate and wanting to sleep submerged in a bottle of Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair serum. I don’t envy the marketing staffers at beauty brands, who are only now starting to figure out how to talk to me and my über-cranky fiftyish sisters. (Hormone- induced menopausal rage is real – just imagine being premenstrual all the time.)
These beauty executives have read the marketing reports, and they’re relieved that my cohort still want to spend on themselves, especially after “The Great Makeup Crash of 2019,” when colour-cosmetics sales fell precipitously because young, Instagram-obsessed beauty fanatics got bored and decided they had enough eyeshadow palettes and highlighters to last a lifetime. So it’s left to older women with thinning hair and dry skin to save the beauty industry, and we are up for the job. However, a caveat: Never use the word “mature” if you want to sell us something. Likewise, banish expressions like “pro-aging,” which was meant to be a play on “anti-aging” but sounds more like the sort of New Age cant uttered by women who say things like “My wrinkles are a road map of my life.” Shudder.
“A caveat: Never use the word 'mature' if you want to sell us something.”
You see, although I want products made for me, I don’t want products that scream they’re made for me. My skin is dry and weirdly papery, so even though I am very interested in your new moisturizers, I see the word “mature” and immediately think “old-lady hydrating cream” or “desiccated-lizard-skin-repulping serum.”
Surveys repeatedly find that women want to see themselves reflected in advertising, but how much reality does an over-50 woman really want? According to a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we rate ourselves as better looking than we objectively are. In my case, I’m reflexively drawn to photos of Vogue U.K.’s absurdly stunning silver-haired editor Sarah Harris. (Sure, she’s only 40, but in my clearly deluded mind’s eye, that’s what I look like.) So kudos to Clarins for signing the beautiful 57-year-old champion fencer Claudia Maria Ferreira da Costa for its new Nutri-Lumière skincare line.
One brand that does get a conditional pass on using the M word is Australian makeup line Rageism, which bills itself as “Makeup for Mature Women.” It’s clever to leverage female anger, but do I want to see the word “rage” every time I open my makeup bag? No. I want to be cosseted and buffeted out of my new reality.
Launched last year by a former P&G executive, Better Not Younger is a line of shampoos and treatments designed to coax thinning, brittle aging hair back to life. Stylishly packaged, it’s a welcome alternative to the usual dour-looking products for anemic manes (the orthopaedic shoes of the beauty world). The brand’s name is also an admirable philosophy and would be great as an advertising tag line, but it’s a bit earnest—I don’t want to read a company’s philosophy every time I reach for a bottle or tube. (Contrast that with Kérastase’s forthcoming Genesis line for thinning hair, launching next month, which will come in the brand’s signature bottles with the words “Anti Hair-Fall” below the name in tiny letters. That’s fine because I can no longer read small print anyway.)
“I just want the simple pleasure of opening a beauty product. It supplies the serotonin jolt that fashion can no longer provide. ”
I just want the simple pleasure of opening a beauty product. It supplies the serotonin jolt that fashion can no longer provide since my figure has shape-shifted into something alien and impossible to dress. I now possess what my friend Kelley refers to as “bug body,” which is what happens when menopause steals your waistline, thickens your torso and makes your forearms and lower limbs so spindly that you now resemble an upright beetle.
Have you ever tried dressing a beetle? It’s so much easier to buy a new lipstick or a nice purse. I thank the gods daily that athleisure and stylish trainers are now considered fashion and hope that my Sisley Phyto-Hydra Teint-polished skin, #oldceline bag and nice watch distract from the fact that I am essentially wearing gym clothes and sneakers most of the time.
I’m also learning to smack down any tendency to save my nicest things “for special occasions” and have finally stopped hoarding expensive serums or fancy moisturizers and leaving them unopened on my bureau. I recognize that I need to use them now or suffer the deflating fact that they’ve gone off and need to be tossed.
Same with nice accessories. If it lives in a dust bag or a jewellery box, it’s now in rotation. “Wear everything, use everything” is my new motto. It’s laughable that millennials adopted “YOLO” (you only live once) as their battle cry when it rightly belongs to those of us over 50.
So if you see me out in the world, come say hi. I’ll be the noticeably moisturized person at No Frills wearing cocktail jewellery in the produce department.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here.
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