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The appearance of more mature female models in a slew of recent high profile ad campaigns, from esteemed writer Joan Didion (80) in Célene ads to singing icon Joni Mitchell (71) in Saint Laurent to the trio of Italian ‘nonnas’ in the recent Dolce & Gabbana ads is fascinating. Yes, on one hand, this is just the latest expression of the fashion industry’s need to shock, and some criticise these ads for presenting a rose-tinted picture of old age and just extending the objectification of women. But these thought-provoking faces reflect broader cultural trends such as the growing emphasis on the consumption of experiences and a more caring zeitgeist, as well as the growing recognition of an ageing world, and are more than a fad.
By using these mature models, brands are really saluting the ageless aspirations of baby boomers who refuse to ‘age gracefully’, with many wanting and needing to stay working for longer. Brands, particularly the luxury brands engaging these older models in their ad campaigns, are aware that many boomers, the oldest just hitting traditional retirement age, are also quite comfortably off, much more so than Millennials, who are having to postpone life’s milestones due to reduced work opportunities – so the demographic more likely to buy luxury products now sees itself reflected in luxury ads. These brands are trying to attract an older demographic here by showing that maturity can be cool. Times have changed. There have been fewer teens in anti-ageing cream ads for a while and an older, confident Twiggy has been the face of UK multinational retailer M&S for several years. Established ‘middle youth’ celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba are profiting from their own lifestyle brands too.
While some of these more mature models are well known beauties and so these ads, like the new campaign from US luxury store chain Barneys showing groups of young men captivated by Christie Brinkley and others, celebrate the durability of allure, many of these older models are famous for their substance – their creative achievements and not just their looks. This idea that glamour can go hand in hand with purpose is behind the recent London exhibition: “Women Fashion Power”. This whole development resonates with the current interest in the consumption of experiences and a reduced materialism, evident in things like the sharing economy.
This is a more caring zeitgeist that makes people and faces with wrinkles and fat more able to claim their place on Instagram and in glossy magazines. To be cool today, you need some character, something honed from life experience. This lies behind the success of vloggers as influencers of younger consumers after all. This all fits well with the trend I call consumption as a route to progress, which sees positive change expressed in things like ‘brand activism’. I think using mature models in ads is a significant reflection of this trend. These ‘mature movement’ models represent female empowerment, and the idea that you don’t have to become invisible as you age – a clear message of hope for Millennials as well as boomer consumers.