The Roaring Forties – Marketing and Advertising to 40'somethings

On the Southern Seas, at below 40 degrees latitude, there isn’t land from South America to Australia. About 20,000 kilometers of clear water.

This is the place where the biggest waves in the world compete for the heavy-weight title. Piling on top of themselves, whipped by the wind, the waves pick up confidence, passion. Size. Driven along in spinning circles, over millions of sea-miles of water, evaporation and currents, the wind itself gets lungs. It becomes alive, twisting, engulfing, it’s sheer strength lifts the waves like beaten egg whites. The surface of the water builds into great long, rolling swells that crash and churn.

Say you’re on a 15 meter sloop set up for this sort of weather, with Satellite Navigation, Life Raft, rescue cable clipped to your life jacket. One second you’re sliding down the face of a wave like a giant surf-board slicing a hill, the next you’re cutting your way towards the sky in an effort to avoid turning turtle with the next on-rush of heaving, deadly water. Imagine yourself, stuck to the tiller-wheel. Wrestling it with freezing hands, battling the ocean. Wind blasting through your skin. Out on your own – only on a storm jib (not much bigger than a bed-sheet) and everyone but you below. Holding the lives of your comrades in your hands. One mistake and you all go under. Get it right and you crest the waves cleanly. Here you are, in the cock-pit of life. You can’t hear yourself think for the noise and the stress, but for some stupid reason, you’re grinning from ear to ear.

That’s the roaring forties and it’s how those years feel to many of us living them. “I’m on this constant roller-coaster of work, kids, house. Work, kids, house. I’m exhausted. But I’m happy in some ways, I suppose.”

In your twenties, life is more like that for those in the cabin below, bumped around by peers, family circumstances, fashions, hormones and fate. In your thirties, you are still often not in complete control – terribly time-strapped, feeling responsible, trying to be, but not yet fully empowered. Not yet at your peak career-wise, still have the odd free evening, still blame your Mum for your problems with fellow women etc.

In your forties you have no-one to blame but yourself for where you are and how you conduct yourself. Gone are any excuses about how you were brought up or bad luck that may have befallen you. At 40 plus you either are your own person, in control of your own world, or you are a fool.

If you haven’t made the incredibly stupid decision to do something boring for work, (you’d be highly unlikely to be reading this, we are, after all, marketers. Our lives are usually more exciting than other’s.) But even if you have made a boring decision about your career, in your 40’s, the rest of your life just isn’t. You are flat out running your life and sapped of time and often energy, because of the lack of time. You are efficient, because you simply have to get the task done. You are also cynical about many organizations and their motivations, but recognize there’s little you can do without taking your eye from the main game, that of doing your most for family and friends.

40’s people purchase much of this country’s goods in a huge variety of areas – industrial, educational, bigger or prettier cars, hardware, second houses, entertainment and household goods, finance etc.

In finances, many of my age group are way past the stage of fearing about paying off their home, they’re on to seconds, thirds as investments or escapes. 40’s people hold more than two-fifths of Australia’s household wealth. The wealthiest have half of their assets as equity in their own home, a quarter in superannuation and 10 per cent in family-owned businesses. (NBC News, 2004)

Your culture gives you your values. My generation, brought up on sixties, seventies and eighties songs, have values dictated by those songs and the hundreds of TV shows, films and books we’ve read. These values affect the way we see advertising, the way we react to marketer’s plans. The way we judge products. We remember Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Eagles, disco and punk. We see ourselves in the heroes of our day. So we judge and react to things often by how we’d expect James Bond or for that matter, Jackie Onassis to respond to a situation. This is a hard concept to explain to a 25 year old product manager, especially if they’ve never heard of Jackie O.

We’ve witnessed incredible moments in time; Man on the Moon, The Russian Wall coming down. JFK taking the head shot. Our lives are a floating sea of memories and experiences. These experiences deeply affect how we view the purchase process and how we operate as customers.

And we’ve witnessed the many waves of marketing fashions that have washed over our world. We’ve seen customer focus come and go. We’ve seen the marketers get the upper hand – when businesses bloom and people get decent service and feel satisfied. Then we’ve seen the accountants come in with their wrecking balls, breaking customer confidence, destroying brands and loyalties with their mean, short-term minds. (Why can you now buy a Hardy’s 1 litre bottle of good red for only $6.00? Because of the company with the same-name’s recalcitrant stance on Asbestos, they’ve stuffed up the reputation of the brand across the board – talk about proof for the concept of good-will?)

Don’t try to fool the 40 –50 year olds. We know what’s happening when you try to put one over on us.  We are the oldest end of the Generation X group, with all that implies. We are cynical, powerful, judgmental and experienced. We are, in the main, anti-advertising. Anti-marketing. We want the widgit for what it can do, not the bullshit you marketers surround it with.

Fundamentals of this age group

When you study 40-50 year olds, you get strong underlying themes that relate, funnily enough, to their life-circumstances and their experience. They are a predictable lot.

More focused

Because most 40 ish people are acutely aware of their responsibilities, they are more focused on what they want from marketers and their companies. They chose quickly and don’t forgive mistakes. They are therefore more likely to have developed strong brand loyalties because they don’t have time to shop around and don’t want things to break-down – from breakfast to birthdays we need certainty.

More your own person

Selectivity gives you a sense of self. You are a Marmite person. You eat only fruit before lunch. You drive a 4WD and you avoid mining stocks etc. etc. Aware of age limitations, many become set in their choice of music, film genre’s, banks. Preferring the tried and true to the risky. But their own person brings opportunities for marketers too. If you can get inside their head with an offer that sounds like them, their values talking, you can win them over. And as they are a hard customer to win, they also often remain loyal once won. Making them a profitable customer to own.

Body -focus

Most people don’t get to 40 plus without having at least one or two good health-scares. Almost all see genuine proof that gravity wins in the end. Our bums curve downwards, as do our tits, our eye-lids and our chins. That’s why we are such a great market for plastic surgeons. Aside from lawyers and houses, the biggest single thing that divorcees spend money on is reconstruction of looks. I know a dentist in Brighton who makes a fortune from what he calls Settlement Caps – new sets of teeth written into the divorce contract along with the car and the fortnightly, 3 hour kid visits.


If the statistics are right, despite delayed marriage, and high divorce rates of some 40%, and remarriage, nearly two-thirds are currently married (Aus Stats). Still, that means at least a third of 40’s people have very deep scars from encounters with partners and more baggage than a 747 in terms of kids, hang-ups and prejudices. Relationships take on a whole new meaning when a couple of good nights sex can cost you several hundred-thousand dollars and limit your retirement options severely.

Women suffer terribly in terms of tiredness in this age-group if they have kept the kids (and most do) they must work, maintain the household infrastructure and be a mother and father. Often to teenagers….



Much has been said of the influence of teenagers in this magazine over the years.  These are the poor people who have to feed, clothe and manage them. Enough said.

Tail end of the Baby-boomers – optimistic

But adding to that they are living a fairly rational existence, 40-50 year olds have one great saving grace for us marketers. They see life through rose-colored glasses. They have been raised on a diet of Disney-type values. Get Smart, Hogan’s Hero’s, Mash, Dallas. The good guy gets the good girl in the end. They haven’t fought in a war. They haven’t known real poverty. They have seen things come and go but Australia remains a great country to live in and they feel a true sense of achievement that it is themselves who have had a hand in building it that way. So at least at this point in time, they are a more positive lot than any of the other major age group segments.

This is not just an Australian thing. Many researchers and scientists around the world studying this age group refer to this ‘agreeableness’ syndrome. They have identified an emotional ‘growth-spurt’ in late 30’s to early 50’s people. Some believe it’s due to 40-50 year olds gaining more control of their work environment, others that it comes from falling testosterone in both sexes around this age. Either way, this target group is happier than others.

How to hit 40-50 year olds

Hit em emotionally

The precondition of optimism which underwrites this age group makes them great suckers for an emotional sell. Give them guilt or dreams and they come running.

Concern for family/friends

Most 40-50 year olds have baggage. Which means they have to service it. That’s talking to ex-wives or to the teenagers in their rooms up-stairs or ringing old boyfriends who send you birthday cards if you’re not so straight or a chick. A sense of responsibility is an opportunity for marketers. Up their life or house insurance. Up-grade their home computer system so the kids can learn faster.

Re-kindle their desire for youth

There’s also the old rebel with a cause – herself. This is classic mid-life crisis period. The juiciest market for sports cars, Harleys, Malibu surf boards, dancing lessons, treks to Nepal….We think we’re active and energetic – even if we’d prefer to play golf on the computer.

Give them detail

They may seem pre–occupied and time-strapped, but most people over 40 give things attention when it is due, so please don’t skimp on necessary facts when the purchase process warrants it. Anything from cars to software, to tools, to newer foods needs detailed information as back-up.

Target by psychographic/life stage

When you research this market you get a lot of cute terms like ’adult tweenies’ (It’s fun finding out how real, sophisticated marketers gabble on in self-created marketing jargon) which is a woman who’s kids are just leaving home – she’s between being Mum and being an empty-nester. Then there’s the term ‘Pheonix’ which refers to the person who’s kids have left home and low and behold, they’ve suddenly discovered a whole new, uncomplicated life. Talk to your research company about which of the many sub-groups you should be targeting more directly.

Media – what’s on, son?


40-50 year olds often no longer have choice. Unless their kids let them flick during the ad break of The OC, they do not have control. When they do grab the remote, they’re selective. Apparently the News and The Simpson’s do well. A bit of sex, for nostalgia’s sake, like in ‘The Secret Life of Us’ or Desperate Housewives are worth buying slots in. I’m also a believer in early morning TV – the ratings don’t always show that they watch Sunrise or Today in big numbers, but if I ring someone of that age group between 6.30 – 8.30 am, they invariably have the box on.


They’re big listeners of radio, especially in the car and loyal to their stations. Mix and Gold are favorites with those wishing to re-live their own golden years. The ABC stations also do very well with this age group. Shame you can’t get an ad on them.


This is the last generation of real readers. Today’s 30 somethings have lost the knack. Broad appeal magazines do every well with the women, trade style or specific interest mags do OK with the men. Press as a medium is still a foundation stone for advertising your message to this group, especially the real-estate based weekly locals, if you’re targeting the higher income 40 somethings.

Direct Mail

Always good as you can measure results accurately. But make sure you personalize it so they think you care or they’re getting something really worthwhile. Shove a good, urgent incentive in to get them to bite.


They might not have much time to read outdoor if they have their kids with them, but this is a very effective vehicle for people who are often in their cars. Remember it’s not just what you sell, but how you present it.  Please be funny on Outdoor. I have to look at them too.


Becoming tech savvy, they need to continue educating themselves about new technology to maintain their career. And their children are teenagers and thus on the cutting edge of interactive communication etc. inevitably, 40 something’s learn from their kids. Google, due to its sheer ease of use, is big among this segment. Besides, it’s now virtually impossible to run a credible campaign without backing it up with a strong web presence. People check the details on the web before buying. You really have no choice but to do it well.

Under-targeted, genuine buyers

If you want richish, happy disposition customers who don’t have the time to cause your complaints department grief and who will be loyal once won, 40 somethings are a very nice segment. And a segment who hardly anybody really shoots at. Being one myself, I strongly recommend offering them incentives to switch brands. I’d like say 20% off, or a DVD player thrown in….

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