The fashion and beauty world’s new ‘It’ girls?

The fashion world has found a new look for its “It” girls, and they are not your typical Taylor Swift look-a-likes.

In recent years, we are seeing more and more brands bringing on board an older demographic to front their ad campaigns.

This trend made its mark when American Apparel used the then 62-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy as an underwear model to promote its lingerie line. An image of O’Shaughnessy, who began modelling for the clothing giant in 2011, barely clothed in a see-through lace bandeau bra and kickers, was posted on the brand’s Facebook page and Instagram account. The caption boldly read: “Sexy has no expiration date.”

When launched, the ad resulted in split views from the public. But being American Apparel, it was no surprise the brand would make such a bold move in its marketing campaigns.

However, soon after, the fashion and marketing world saw more conservative brands such as Céline, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, L’Oréal and others follow suit and embrace the silver generation. Earlier this year, we saw the cosmetic brand YSL Beauté in Hong Kong putting 80-year-old actress Helena Law Lan at the centre of its campaign.

This then begs the question: Is the fashion and marketing world, generally obsessed with the young, finally evolving? Or is this another flash in the pan trend?

In a conversation with Marketing, Cynthia Erland, SVP of marketing at American Apparel, said that when the team first launched the campaign with O’Shaughnessy fronting it, its thoughts simply revolved around the fact she embodied qualities that resonated with the ideal American Apparel woman.

“She is confident, sexy and smart, and age is not a factor. We didn’t even think twice about it when we cast her,” she said. She added that ultimately this trend picked up because consumers were the ones acknowledging this trend and really admiring the strength of these women through the ads.

When Marketing initially wrote the article on O’Shaughnessy being the face of the campaign, consumers seemed rather split on the decision. Erland, however, stated that as the campaign progressed the reactions were “very positive” and benefited the brand by breaking down age barriers.

As for the younger demographic, she added, rather than alienate them, using O’Shaughnessy as the face of the campaign resulted in also empowering the young generation – showing them that age is just a number.

“American Apparel is proud to be one of the first pioneers in hiring women of all ages and beauty. There is an importance and a void to portray a woman’s beauty at any age. We feel that beauty lies more in the spirit of the woman than age,” she said.

J. Walter Thompson’s Marie Stafford, European director of The Innovation Group, added the over-50s audience was a force to be reckoned with because they wielded unprecedented financial power and account for 48% of all consumer spending.

“The benefits of featuring older women in such campaigns are manifold. They should be a marketer’s dream,” she said.

Recently, J. Walter Thompson London also published a report on the “The Elastic Generation” – to describe the potential energy of 50 to 69-year-olds and their knack of stretching preconceived notions of ageing.

According to the survey of British consumers aged 50-69, 65% agreed the fashion industry ignored people of their age.

“This presents an enormous opportunity for fashion and beauty brands – one to which they are only now slowly waking up to,” Stafford said.

Like Erland, Stafford agreed that younger consumers were far from being put off and, in fact, might be attracted to the authenticity that comes with experience. The research also found this age group were at the peak of self-confidence with 82% less concerned about what others think of them, now that they were older.

“They have found their own style; their fashion and beauty choices are at their most individual, unfettered by passing trends and public opinion. Almost 90% believe style is not defined by age, and over two-thirds feel more confident than ever about their own style. This makes their endorsement of any brand a stronger statement than at any other age,” Stafford said.

A word of caution

Owen Dowling, head of planning for Social@Ogilvy Asia Pacific, added that when executed poorly, the marketing world could expect many faux pas from these campaigns.

“What we’re seeing now in fashion culture is a generation of new beauty codes that will take time to filter down into mainstream culture and advertising,” he said.

“And when they do filter down, there will be hideous mistakes. There’s a big difference between insightful communications intended to make older women feel something, and ones that beam down a symbolic version of them.”

Executing a campaign using an older woman should not be done for the sake of it. There needs to be an actual purpose.

He added that if brands do make ads in a patronising way where a product is somehow saving a woman’s life, or the ad projects a glib lifestyle way, then the brand can expect not to reap any benefits from using this demographic.

He also said that some brands likened using the older demographic to a “torture test” – because if it works for their generation, youths might feel as though it would work for them; much like how fabric conditioners are marketed as being soft using baby’s comfort as a proof point even though a large part of their target base are adults.

“However, brands need to remember that people are people and they can evaluate what you are selling without having to see their own mug in the visuals,” he said.

“Despite this year’s edgy fashion visuals, despite the fact we are told we live in a world where marketing feedback should be influencing product design, very few brands are going to take the risk to change a flagship product to feel older. Rejuvenation is the normal narrative of a brand. Not happy maturity.”