TV cook Jamie Oliver has again attracted widespread derision, as his restaurant empire crashes and burns. Last time he was in difficulties, a conservative MP suggested that he should look closer to home: perhaps his restaurants just haven’t met consumer expectations. This isn't the reason Jamie has given: excessive costs and the general malaise in the High Street seem to be the official reason. However, other chain restaurants have survived, so perhaps the conservative (let him remain anonymous, like most of the current leadership contenders) was right.
After all, it is unlikely that Jamie has much influence on the meal you eat at one of his restaurants. It is more likely that your dining experience will be in the hands of a number of low paid, unskilled young people, some of whom may have only recently learned how to eat with a knife and fork. Let us further assume that the restaurants are operated by a management focused on operational efficiency, supplier cost reduction and zero hours contracts.
Lured in by the promise of Jamie’s loveable mockney personality, cooking skills and love for food, you will inevitably be disappointed. After all, Jamie probably hasn’t been there since the opening – and even then, he kept the engine of his car running. Let's be honest, it’s just another chain restaurant. It's brand promise is built around Jamie. And it is possible that by doing this, the enterprise was doomed from the outset.
Too often, that’s the problem with marketing: the yawning gap between promise and delivery. And the problem for Jamie's restaurants is that many people - especially, perhaps, older consumers (the ones with the money) - will know that Jamie is unlikely to be cooking here tonight. Or any other night.
Remember cognitive dissonance?
If you have studied marketing, you will probably be familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance: that post-purchase state of mind when consumers realise that their product or service experience has not met the expectations generated by marketing communications. If you are an older consumer, you will almost certainly have experienced it. Probably on a daily basis.
I’m going to go one stage further and suggest that many older consumers experience cognitive dissonance before they purchase – as well as after. When exposed to marketing propositions and communications, they know – almost immediately – that this is a promise which cannot possibly be delivered.
Furthermore, they may also think that this is a promise which is quite ludicrous, completely at odds with reality and of no interest or relevance to them – even though they are likely to be potential customers for that product. The over-50s outspend the total population in most mainstream categories, remember?
Take the current TV advertising for MBNA, the biggest credit card provider in the world. Please, take it away. In order to boast about their credit card prowess, MBNA opt to use four nerdy twenty-something ‘payment ninjas’ who ponce about being ‘boringly good at credit card stuff’. Is it really credible that the expertise of such a large organisation (whose directors are all in their 40s, 50s and 60s) is vested in these people? I assume that the target audience for credit cards is quite broad – but is this likely to appeal to anyone of any intelligence or age? This sample of one says not, but I welcome your opinions.
Older consumers and marketing
My hypothesis runs as follows. Older consumers are experienced consumers. And as experienced consumers, they are likely to be less responsive and more cynical to marketing. We’ve been there, seen it, done it and returned the TShirt. We are sceptical about the marketing promise and quick to judge if the experience does not match the promise. And because we are experienced consumers, we like to think that we can evaluate the promise without even needing to experience it. Jamie's restaurant? No thanks - who are they kidding?
To appeal to us, marketing needs to be more realistic. It needs to support propositions with relevant information and facts and to deliver what it promises. It needs to stop patronising us with fatuous drivel (remember when TV advertising was good? But that’s for another day). Instead, we are given payment ninjas, misleading promises and an obsession with youth.
Research has told us this for many years now. Ten years ago, academics Smizgin and Carrigan concluded that ‘despite all the evidence, advertisers continue to pursue youth’. In 2015, JWT found that 73% of people 50-69 say they don’t pay attention to ads because they don’t seem relevant. I could go on about this subject – and in the Mature Market Report, I do.
Positive action for older consumers
I believe that older consumers deserve better. That’s why i formed rhc advantage – to help brands connect better with older consumers: from one-off professional copywriting to educational seminars to strategic planning to brand communications. All with older consumers in mind and not a payment ninja in sight. For a friendly discussion, why not get in touch?
It’s also why a group of us formed the Mature Marketing Association in 2013. We felt that those of us who believed that older consumers would respond to better marketing should get together and promote the subject to the rest of the marketing world. We now run Europe’s largest conference on the subject and this year, launch the Mature Marketing Awards. We’d love you to join us!
With all good wishes for a successful year,
Email Mark here