As a follow up to last year’s exploration of the harmful taboo of menopause, we spoke to [l-r]: Eleanor Mills, award-winning journalist and founder of Noon, a research project and online community for women in midlife and home of the Queenager; Lori Meakin, an exec member of WACL, Co-Founder of Joint, Founder and CEO of The Others and Me; Megan Price, Co-Founder and MD of brand content production company Be The Fox and Helen Normoyle, woman’s wellness champion and Co-Founder of My Menopause Centre

How do you feel midlife women are represented in the advertising/media landscape? 

ELEANOR MILLS: older women are practically unseen in the mainstream, or certainly unseen in any kind of authentic way. The research that we did at Noon with Accenture last year is the biggest study yet of the cohort I call Queenagers, it showed that they are behind 90 percent of all consumer spending decisions yet they appear in less than ten percent of adverts. 

We’ve got all these incredible women moving into their prime at 50+, and yet we become invisible.

There are more midlife women in work than ever before; in 2019, women over 40 started out earning women under 40 for the first time ever. Yet the only time any brands ever depict anyone of our age realistically is if they’re trying to sell us incontinence pants or life insurance. 

We’ve got all these incredible women moving into their prime at 50+, and yet we become invisible. It puts a sell-by date on all women and makes younger women feel worried about their relevance.

TENA – #LastLonelyMenopause

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Tena’s last lonely menopause campaign from 2022 – still one of the very few authentic representations of menopausal woman

LORI MEAKIN: Considering their spending power, the invisibility of midlife women makes no sense. Except it does, when we realise it’s simply replicating biases that have dominated in our everyday lives for centuries. If we’re not actively working to counter them, of course they’ll replicate on screen. 

Millions of older women are more J-Lo than geriatric...

Post-menopausal women are often depicted as frail, sweet old ladies sweeping upstairs on a stairlift or grannies baking and smiling indulgently at grandchildren. 

HELEN NORMOYLE: I loved the story told in Tena’s Last Lonely Menopause campaign, and L’Oreal’s work with influencers aged age 45 to 84. So while the representation of midlife women in advertising and media is gradually improving, it's very much a work in progress  and the pace is slow. We need better representation of midlife women in the ad and media industry and clients who see the business benefit of this.

L’Oréal Paris addressed the age gap in social marketing by enlisting influencers aged 45-84 to promote its Age Perfect Rosy-Oil Serum.

MEGAN PRICE: Brands are starting to appreciate the spending power of midlife women so we are seeing more of them on screen but the portrayals are mostly one dimensional and feel rather tokenistic. I don’t have the stats, but I question the lived experience of the teams behind so many of the adverts. 

In books, on film and on TV, there’s been a recent rush of women talking unabashedly about midlife and the menopause... It’s time advertising caught up.

I also question the effectiveness. Good advertising should intimately understand its audience, speaking to them in a way that makes them feel heard. And what women want is for ageing to lose its stigma so we can continue to celebrate who we are throughout our lives. Nobody’s going to engage too enthusiastically with a brand that gets them so wrong.In books, on film and on TV, there’s been a recent rush of women talking unabashedly about midlife and the menopause, sharing all their lived experiences with an empowering honesty. It’s time advertising caught up.

What do you see are the main challenges facing midlife women working in advertising/media today? 

EM: Well 50+ women take up less than two percent of jobs in advertising and marketing. I think particularly in that industry, ‘cos there’s such a kind of premium on youth, and you feel like, as soon as you look any older, you’re going to be dispatched,

MP: Working in advertising requires energy and confidence.  Neither something you necessarily have as an abundance of as a midlife woman. Menopause can play havoc with how you see and believe in yourself. However!  As you move through midlife, there comes a point when you stop giving a shit.  And what suggests confidence more than that.  

We often had to ‘channel our inner blokes’ to get on – from 80’s power women to 90’s and noughties ladettes. Now, evidence is emerging that non-blokey qualities like vulnerability and collaboration make the most effective leaders.

What’s more, now you’re not constantly trying to fulfil everyone else’s expectation there’s the time to explore your real creative potential.  This metamorphosis quietly unleashes a power that can really  shake things up. Many other creative industries realise the power that comes with aging, adland just  hasn’t woken up to this fact yet. 

LM: Something that was a challenge for many midlife women in our younger days [in the industry] that we often had to ‘channel our inner blokes’ to get on – from 80’s power women to 90’s and noughties ladettes. Now, evidence is emerging that non-blokey qualities like vulnerability and collaboration make the most effective leaders. Hopefully that will enable businesses to create more gender-equal cultures.

I thought we’d be more equal by now, but we’re going backwards. And the anti-feminist backlash is worse amongst Gen Z than it is among men of my generation. This damaging ‘menemies’* mindset pits women against men, as if it’s a competition. And that’s incorrect - there’s so much evidence that more gender-equal workplaces, societies and relationships benefit everyone in them, not just the women. 

Do you think brands and marketers are getting it right in the way they promote menopause products?

EM: There’s been a bit of a hot pink menopause goldrush in advertising, but also 85 percent of our women don’t want to be seen through a menopausal lens, and they’re resistant to menopause branded products. They don’t want a thing in their shower which says ‘menopause shampoo’. 

Beauty companies are not always women’s best friends, they kind of try to put us in boxes and it doesn’t work. So, when I talk to brands, I explain the Queenager opportunity is much more broad. It’s about authentic representation and it’s about actually seeing 50+ women’s power and possibility.

So much of the marketing of menopause products feels like it’s four decades old – it’s all playing into women needing to better themselves, and often that is with reference to appearance.

LM: We mostly see ads targeting midlife women focusing on ‘fixing’ us: managing our weight, the thickness of our hair, the plumpness of our skin, our mood, our sex drive. Of course, when this comes from a brand that feels supportive, and it’s fixing something that’s a genuine concern to women, rather than judging them, then great. But too often, the tone and the sheer volume of these kinds of ads just screams ‘don’t let yourself go!’. As if performing for others is the important thing, not feeling great about ourselves. 

HN: It’s great to see the investment and innovation that brands and marketers are making in menopause products that help women manage symptoms. Some get it more right than others! Transparency and sensitivity to the experiences of menopausal women are key.

MP:  So much of the marketing of menopause products feels like it’s four decades old – it’s all playing into women needing to better themselves, and often that is with reference to appearance. In some instances, brands do get it right – like the JD Williams “admit it, this age thing suits you” which depicts the opportunity of reinventing yourself in midlife and feels respectful and positive. I think there’s a need for more humble advertising placing emphasis on how products can support women rather than suggesting the only way women can be “okay again” is by using their product. 

A senior executive in the media for many years, as editorial director of the Sunday Times and chair of Women in Journalism, Eleanor Mills witnessed the scale of gendered ageism in the industry. She founded the Noon project to celebrate the rise of what she calls Queenagers, the 50+ women whose flourishing creativity, purpose and wisdom is unappreciated in our culture. The Noon Research Project – the most in-depth study of ABC1 women aged 45-60 undertaken in Britain – revealed that this financially solvent cohort drives 93 per cent of consumer decisions yet is underrepresented in advertising. 

Lori Meakin’s book No More Menemies: Getting beyond the fear and frustration of the gender wars, was the result of her quest to discover why more men don’t work to accelerate gender equality, when it benefits them too. In it she interviewed all kinds of men (old and young, gay and straight, cis and trans+, of different race and ethnicities) to understand their point of view. Reaching the optimistic conclusion that curious, compassionate and open conversations can heal gender divisions. 

Meg Price exec produced a series that Be The Fox created for Hearst called ReWriting Midlife, part of QVC’s 'Turn to Face the Change' campaign. The upbeat films featured Jo Whiley, Gabby Logan and Anita Rani talking candidly about their midlife journeys, including menopause, and the joy and confidence they discovered in their 40s and 50s. It was created by a 60 per cent female crew with more than 35 per cent of whom were over 40. 

Helen Normoyle, who has held CMO roles in a range of sectors, embarked on her mission to raise awareness of menopause when she found it hard to find information and advice about her own symptoms. She co-founded My Menopause Centre with GP and menopause specialist Dr Clare Spencer & Helen Normoyle, to offer women access to medical and psychological support and treatment and employers understand the benefits of having a positive menopause policy.