A seismic shift is underway, as women enter midlife with unprecedented resources and opportunities. This generation, unlike any before it, enjoys education and financial independence. They can sculpt their lives on their terms, in a way that’s never been seen before. This midlife reawakening sees women embarking on transformative journeys in their 40s and 50s: switching careers, embracing travel, prioritising health, fostering new relationships, or simply asserting their voices with newfound confidence. 

Amid this shift, many brands have faltered in their attempts to connect with this demographic. Midlife women are a diverse and complex demographic. And, while some brands have endeavoured to reach midlife women, their efforts often fall short, with patronising portrayals notably centering on menopause, and neglecting the multifaceted nature of midlife experiences. 

In our recent webinar “Invisibility or tokenism? The perils of marketing to midlife women”, Sue Benson, our MD and founder spoke with: 

  • Kate Dale, lead of Sport England’s award-winning campaign, This Girl Can
  • Sophie van Ettinger, former Global Brand Vice President of Dove
  • Gaele Lalahy, former COO of the fem-tech app, Balance

The discussion explored the ways in which brands can reach and represent midlife authentically without falling into the tokenism trap. Here, we follow four of the key points raised during the webinar: 

Listen to your audience

As Kate succinctly put: “We haven’t done it right all the time but when we’ve done it well, it’s when we’ve properly listened to women.” 

Listening should be lesson 101 in marketing, but this is where marketers targeting midlife women are stumbling at the first hurdle.

At 51% of the population, midlife women constitute a significant demographic. It’s both negligent and unproductive to generalise them. By failing to truly listen at the start of the creative process, brands are missing an opportunity to present a nuanced and diverse portrayal of women. 

“Don’t assume what your customers want and what they feel is representative or inspirational. Just go and do your homework and surface those inspiring, diverse stories,” said Gaele.

Midlife women are not being heard, not just in commercial spheres but also in healthcare, as illustrated by Gaele’s experiences at Balance.

Balance’s research revealed a concerning trend: numerous women were leaving the workforce because of undiagnosed or untreated menopause symptoms. 77% of women were unaware that they stemmed from hormonal changes. As a result women were being dismissed by their healthcare providers because of their poor understanding of the menopause. This failure to be heard and be listened to resulted in a gender health gap – the economic impact of which amounted to over a trillion dollars. It’s one of the reasons why Balance was started. 

The takeaway is clear: disregarding midlife women’s voices carries significant financial, social and economic consequences. In healthcare, where the implications are far more serious – women’s health and wellbeing is at stake. Nevertheless, even in commercial settings, brands failing to listen to women is creating huge missed opportunities.

Represent diverse stories

The panel compelled brands to represent midlife women authentically. The prevailing misrepresentation means women aren’t connecting with the portrayals they are seeing, at a time where they are actively seeking representation in their shopping choices. 

“I think the absolute diversity of the audience is one of the biggest things that we took away from[our research]. This amorphous mass doesn’t exist; there are really complicated segments that live within it,” said Sue. 

Brands are still using younger models to portray this age group or using models who no ‘everyday’ midlife woman would recognise. It might be one of the reasons why 54% feel ads target their insecurities.

Sue’s research revealed midlife is a pivotal time when women critically evaluate the brands they engage with, particularly in the health, beauty, well-being and retail space. This shift in shopping behaviour presents an opportunity for brands to fill the void by understanding their audience’s preferences. At the moment it’s a huge lost commercial opportunity. 

None of the panel could think of a brand that was authentically showcasing midlife women: “We see ourselves in the golden period of our lives and I don’t think any brand out there is representing us,” Sophie said. 

Kate also compelled brands to think of midlife women as a distinct audience: “We’re still seen as, if you make it cool for the young ones, us midlife women will latch onto it too.”

Involve midlife women in creative processes

Brands must prioritise placing women at the centre of the creative process to craft authentic campaigns, which begs the question: is the problem that marketing departments are too young?

“Midlife women need to have a voice and until they do, they are not going to be portrayed correctly,” Sophie stated.

Sophie explained she was not sure if brands and marketing teams knew how to portray midlife women. She highlighted instances where some of her younger colleagues had made some sweeping assumptions about women in their fifties, despite working at a beauty brand specifically targeting this demographic. 

While there have been improvements in midlife women’s representation in marketing roles, it remains evident that many top positions, especially in beauty brands, are occupied by men and younger individuals. Globally, women make up only 28% of the c-suite roles.

But unfortunately this issue goes beyond marketing. 

Gaele said the issue needs to be tackled at every level: “I think this is an everyone mission, this is not just the marketing department mission. It’s the research team, product development, marketing and insight…”

She rightly highlighted that at the startup level, most venture capitalists are men, and their investments often prioritise issues and products which resonate with them personally; women’s ageing is likely low on their agenda.

Provide evidence-based information

In a world where 69% of midlife women think ads exaggerate the benefits of products, and only 39% trust ads to provide accurate information, it’s in a brand’s interest to sell products which genuinely work, and can substantiate their claims with evidence. 

Brands have recognised a lucrative commercial opportunity within the health and menopause sector. However, this has occasionally led to the dissemination of misinformation by opportunists. 

While increased visibility of menopause may seem beneficial, brands operating in this space without evidence to support their claims are actually causing more harm than good. Women are looking for trustworthy products, so it is imperative for brands to establish credibility by providing evidence of their offerings.

Gaele observed that the brands excelling in this area prioritise providing genuine value and practical solutions.

“They are putting women at the heart of product development and of everything they do,” she noted

“That’s the important thing; what are you doing as a brand to advance the cause, not what are you putting on posters and social media?” 

As women in their forties and fifties seek authentic portrayals and trustworthy products, brands must heed their voices and experiences. From listening to diverse stories, to involving midlife women in creative processes, and providing evidence-based information, the imperative is clear: women demand and deserve genuine recognition, representation, and solutions. 

This is not just the role of the marketing department – it’s a collective endeavour across all levels of brands and industries. Only through genuine understanding, collaboration, and action can brands truly serve and empower midlife women in the ways they deserve.