Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

Old is gold

Older consumers represent a profitable proportion of any market, so why do brands choose to ignore them.

Unilever Pakistan’s flagship brand, Brooke Bond Supreme (BBS), came up with a platform in 2009-2010 that positioned it as a healthy drink. The premise was based on negating an age-old concept of tea as not being a healthy drink. One of the communications on that platform, which I found entertaining and insightful, showed a family gathering where a boy about to drink a cup of tea is stopped by his mother saying: “Kids don’t drink tea.” Shaan Shahid, the celebrity guest in the house, then asks: “Who said that?” and the next 10 seconds are spent trying to identify who it was who said tea is not good for kids. In the end, it boiled down to the grandparents, who themselves have no idea where was it that they first heard the statement. The bottom line was that tea is healthy and kids can drink it. At the same time, the ad touched on a very important topic, i.e. the totkas, the legends, tips and advice that travel from generation to generation and are considered to be valid without any verification.

BBS is not the only brand that used this platform. My early childhood memories are of Habib Cooking Oil ads, where the grandfather says: “Jadoo hai bahu ke hath mein, jisay mein ne pasand kiya”, emphasising the role of the elderly in making important household decisions. Or another cooking oil ad with the tagline ‘Amma ji ne kaha dekha bhaala, Nayab Banaspati waqai dekha bhala’ where a young daughter-in-law endorses the choice made by her mother-in-law. Or even the iconic ‘Meri nanni kali naye ghar ko chali’ where an elderly man decides to buy furniture for his daughter. However, with the passage of time and the ad universe in Pakistan (and the world over) now dominated by telecom service providers and instruments, the target markets have moved away from the 50-plus generation, making a significant chunk of our population increasingly irrelevant in the decision-making process.

To assess the worthiness of this change, we first need to understand Pakistan’s demographics. Pakistan’s population stands at 207.7 million according to the census of 2017. If we plot this on the breakup of the Pakistan Demographic Survey 2013, according to which 16% of the population is above 45, this accounts for approximately 33 million people, which is more than the population of 193 countries of the world, including Australia, Greece, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Applying the 39% urban population split to the 45-plus age group gives us approximately 13 million of them living in urban centres. This is also more than the total population of 159 countries of the world. Let’s not forget that 35% of our population is under 14, an audience that cannot be directly targeted for marketing. Taking that market out of the total, the 45-plus segment actually represents 25% of the total marketable population of the country.


The question is, how often do we see a soap bar ad saying perfect for your 50 year-old skin? Or a tea brand saying it refreshes you when you are retired? Or instead of packages for dancing teens in colleges, telecom companies advertising packages to the elderly who need to communicate with their children and other relatives.


Forty-three percent of the so-called senior population watches TV at least once a week, which is similar to other age groups (no group goes beyond 50%). Newspaper readership in this group is the highest, with 4.3% of this segment reading daily newspapers. If we take the male population, newspaper daily readership jumps to 18%. Twelve percent of this population smoke tobacco and nine percent own their own houses (higher than any other age group), which goes to show that they are in a better position to make life choices as they have stabilised themselves in their lifestyle.

The sheer size of this segment cannot be denied for having both marketability and consumption. Thirteen million urban people can consume 14 million soap bars every month (Rs 915 million annual market size – or nine million dollars), can drink 27 million cups of tea every day (Rs 12 billion annual market size – $115 million) and possibly use five billion rupees’ ($38-39 million) worth of phone credit every year at a one rupee per day rate. And here I am only referring to the urban population, not touching upon the 60% that constitute the rural population.

These are not small numbers. The question is, how often do we see a soap bar ad saying perfect for your 50 year-old skin? Or a tea brand saying it refreshes you when you are retired? Or instead of packages for dancing teens in colleges, telecom companies advertising packages to the elderly who need to communicate with their children and other relatives.

However, the segment has been completely ignored. Master MoltyFoam has stuck to its core audience of fathers buying furniture for their daughters (even if it raises the debate about encouraging the practice of dowry). Their recent campaign, based on the life of Areej Amir had a similar theme; the only difference was that in addition to showcasing a daughter’s wedding, the women empowerment angle was incorporated by showing a supportive father encouraging her to participate in a rowing competition despite family opposition.


Unilever Pakistan’s flagship brand, Brooke Bond Supreme (BBS), came up with a platform in 2009-2010 that positioned it as a healthy drink. The premise was based on negating an age-old concept of tea as not being a healthy drink. One of the communications on that platform, which I found entertaining and insightful, showed a family gathering where a boy about to drink a cup of tea is stopped by his mother saying: “Kids don’t drink tea.”


Another industry which has continuously targeted the 45-plus segment with their products and communication is banking. The Bank AL Habib Saver Certificate ad featuring Bushra Ansari and Javed Sheikh does not show parents saving for their kids’ education or bad times; it just shows a happy elderly couple enjoying life thanks to their savings plan. Other banks (HBL Value Account, NBP Cash and Gold, Silk Bank and Tameer Bank) have also targeted this segment, although their communication has been more on the lines of FOMO.

The reality, in a society like Pakistan, is that people in the 45 to 60 age group do not just control their own lives, they influence the lives of the younger generation in more ways than one and eliminating them as a target audience is rather surprising. This is not about an ad here and there showing an elderly gentleman or a lady using the product. This is about creating a sustainable marketing platform aimed at the older generation. If a 45-year-old consumer is targeted and then converted, there are still 15 more years of usage and loyalty this consumer can give to a brand. Cases in point are Boost Mobile which between 2006 and 2012 ran a campaign for simpler phones aimed at older users and the Taco Bell 2013 Super Bowl commercial showing old people partying.

Granted both campaigns were exaggerated and humorous; however, there are many ways to be culturally sensitive and yet target a sizeable chunk of this market. You never know, you may be sitting on a gold mine of volume and value share from that Rs 11 billion tea market or that Rs 20 billion phone credit. Brands need to come out of the ‘20-35-year-old homemaker’ target audience and think about what kind of products and services can be offered to the older generation.

Next time you see a 55-year-old couple in a restaurant, buying a phone that has been endorsed by your favourite celebrity or drinking a cup of tea, ask them why they are consuming those products... even though they are not the target market.


Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few. sami.qahar@gmail.com