Until earlier this week I was the proud editorial director of London Live, the new 24/7 general entertainment channel for the capital, that launched last month. It’s owned by the entrepreneurial Russian Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Evening Standard, the Independent and i, of which I was the launch editor.
Over the past decade I’ve become something of a launch junkie, having been the first editor of both Metro New York and News International’s thelondonpaper too.
The time is ripe for a new celebratory conversation about being 50-something
However, each of those was part of a large corporation, and aimed at 16-34s. high50 is a bona fide start-up, the brainchild of the adman Robert Campbell, which has just secured significant first-round funding.
Robert had an epiphany the month he turned 50, in the company of Prince, Madonna and the late Michael Jackson. Sure, our children will still view us as old, but beyond that perennial generational divide, 50 today really isn’t like our parents’ 50.
The generation that was 50 when we were children came from a different place, one where their attitudes and habits were still very much forged in the context of post-war austerity. They were ignored at 50-plus in the headlong rush to target 16-34 year-olds, based on the twin belief that they had disposable income and that once loyal to a brand, they would never switch.
Well that, as Robert saw clearly, was then.
The change began with shifting demographics that are impossible to ignore, evolved through a staggering, continuing improvement in health and life expectancy and found its fullest expression in a post-recession environment in which the young are saddled with huge post-education debts and terrifying accommodation costs.
Meanwhile 35-49 year-olds have become the true sandwich generation, with children dependent upon them to a greater degree and for a longer period of time, as their mortgages suffocate them and ageing parents becoming a financial and emotional challenge that previous generations would not recognise.
Don’t just take my word for it
First, the demographics: 106million of 314 million Americans, 340million of 1.3billion Chinese and 23million of 63million Britons are now over 50. By the year 2020 more than 50% of the UK’s population will be over the age of 50.
And, the economics: those over 50 control 89% of all disposable wealth in the UK. The same group accounted for £320billion (48%) of UK household expenditure in 2012. They spend more than any other group on culture.
Take a random category: 50-plus women account for 68% of cosmetics purchases per year. Or more than 70% of the luxury travel market.
The average age of a Porsche buyer? 51. And it’s not going to change any time soon: someone turns 50 every 40 seconds in the UK.
The pensions crisis is only getting worse, and for many over 50 retirement is no longer an option. Oh, and we all switch brands.
So what do the the following have in common: Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Elle McPherson? Yep, they’re all 50. Courtney Cox, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves? They will be 50 sometime this year.
An invisible age?
And yet… Survey after survey finds that the 50-plus feel they are being ignored. Advertisers and the media industry obsess about the 16-34 year-old demographic, apparently oblivious to the shift in disposable spending power.
Ageism abounds, particularly on television and in Hollywood, and especially for women.
And ‘they’ are constantly being patronised. Do ‘they’ understand modern technology? Well, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee and Eric Schmidt (all born in 1955) gave us modern technology. It’s Generation high50 that shaped modern culture and attitudes.
It is also a generation that feels a little bit guilty. They have had it “pretty good, pretty, pretty good” compared to those before and after them? Once thoughtless, they are now mindful consumers who want to give back, even bankroll.
They also generally resist classification. Perhaps that’s why they are so often ignored. They are hard work; a rare unifying characteristic of the contemporary 50-plus being this resistance to being stereotyped.
What’s startlingly clear to me as I contemplate joining their ranks is that the time is ripe for a new celebratory conversation about being 50-something, one based on attitude not age.
And, if you don’t agree, I don’t really care. Because that renewed, liberating confidence that comes with rebooting my life is one of the many ways in which it is clear to me that age has its benefits.
• A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post