Jane Fonda in Gucci's 2020 Off The Grid campaign.
Jane Fonda in Gucci's 2020 Off The Grid campaign.
Image: Harmony Korine / Gucci

A few years ago when I was working as a consumer insights analyst, it struck me as odd that every brand we interacted with and every study that came across my desk seemed to be concerned about one generational cohort only — Millennials. Fast forward six years and Gen Z, which back then you barely heard about is the new buzz.

Everyone wants to know how to sell to them; millennials are fighting with them over being called “uncle” or “auntie” (that’s hilarious, I have to say).

In luxury fashion, Gucci is being lauded for famously “crushing it” with the younger consumers. I mean, I don’t really know if we millennials can be referred to as “younger” when there are Gen Zers telling us we’re old, but let me focus.

It is reported that in 2018, Gucci generated 62% of its $8bn in sales from under-35s. This is a biggie because everyone should know by now that we’re poor and yet, here we are, buying more Gucci than any other generational cohort.

It doesn’t surprise me, though. Luxury brands are often synonymous with ageism. I don’t know what it is but I can make an educated guess that it’s because we’re all obsessed with youth. However, this is something I thought was slowly changing; or maybe I’m just growing older, and with that it’s becoming ever more clear to me that, maybe, there isn’t much to look forward to insofar as seeing representations of what we’re all heading towards agewise.

Singer Joni Mitchell featured in the 2015 Saint Laurent Music Project.
Singer Joni Mitchell featured in the 2015 Saint Laurent Music Project.
Image: Saint Laurent

But as I ponder Gucci is doing better with millennials than they are with, say, the boomers or even Gen-Xers, it strikes me as odd considering those older generations generally have much more disposable income than we do. Are luxury brands leaving money on the table by largely ignoring older consumers?

According to research by London-based marketing and brand consulting groups MullenLowe and Kantar, older consumers are “the invisible powerhouse”. Their study was aimed at helping brands become more “effective at reaching consumers over 55 and explain why ageism means brands are missing a trick”.

The study found that 71% of Britons over 55 were most likely to buy products from brands they felt represented by. It makes sense; if I was 60-something, and everything I would otherwise like is sold to me by fresh-faced 20-year-olds olds, I would think twice about buying.

MullenLowe Group and Kantar found that this ageist approach by brands is causing them to miss the mark with an age group that controls more than £6-trillion in assets. The study found that only 12% of UK ads feature someone from this age group in a leading role, and most of the time they were depicted as “in need of pity and help”. It further notes that these types of portrayals anger this age group, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be rushing to spend their lifelong earnings on brands that don’t see them for who they truly are — a worthy, cash-flush audience.

Vanessa Redgrave (right) in Gucci's 2016 Cruise Campaign.
Vanessa Redgrave (right) in Gucci's 2016 Cruise Campaign.
Image: Gucci

Fortunately, the aforementioned Gucci was lauded and used as an example of how to approach the millennials, and now the Gen Zers is not one of those brands. While it’s been noted that some heritage luxury brands are hiring younger and younger models for campaigns as they — the brands, that is — get older, some are moving past ageism. Gucci’s 2020 Off the Grid campaign featured then 82-year-old Jane Fonda. They also had 79-year-old Vanessa Redgrave in a Cruise campaign. Joni Mitchell did Saint Laurent at 71; the late Jane Didion appeared in a campaign for Céline at 80, and centenarian Iris Apfel signed a modelling contract with industry leader IMG Models.

Does this address ageism in luxury fashion? Not by a long shot. I bet that unless you have a very particular interest in fashion magazines and that sort of thing, these are campaigns you may very well have missed. It does, however, give me pause that, as I grow older, I can still aspire to remain stylish without feeling like I’m competing with Gen Z, Generation Alpha and whatever follows.

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