The Beatles and U2? Middle-aged women are more complex than that

We’re slippery fish: unpredictable and difficult to categorise

As it happens, I trotted along the seafront this morning with Sergeant Pepper’s blasting into my shell-likes, but only because I don’t understand the shagging phone

As it happens, I trotted along the seafront this morning with Sergeant Pepper’s blasting into my shell-likes, but only because I don’t understand the shagging phone


The managing director of an Irish advertising agency recently asked his “creative team” to imagine the playlist an “average middle-aged woman” might have on her smartphone. The creatives put their clever little noggins together and came up with The Beatles and U2.

Now, as it happens, I trotted along the seafront this morning (actually, palely shuffled would be a more accurate description) with Sergeant Pepper’s blasting into my shell-likes, but only because I don’t understand the shagging phone and the last time I pressed something different a lot of random hip-hop blasted out and I got demoralised by the poetry of bitch’n’ho (failing to detect the irony, presumably) and ended up walking home.

However, if I did understand the technology and knew how to download, my playlist would certainly be far more eclectic.

Someone once told me that, in marketing terms, women in and around their 50s are damn hard to hook.

We’re slippery fish, apparently; unpredictable and difficult to categorise. To find out why, I took a train to the southside to meet a woman with a long career in advertising and analysis of consumer behaviour behind her.

Journey of discovery
I enjoyed the journey. Dublin Bay was glittering like an ingenue, all dappled and sun-kissed. Purple clouds smudged the horizon, warlocks over a cauldron, heralding the gales that would later batter the coast, flinging up milk containers and cider flagons and torn nappies and all manner of non-degradable ghosts.

I disembarked at a pretty town that seemed honed, packaged and marketed for quinquagenarian women, especially those with a few bob in their cashmere pockets. There were cafes stocked with dried cranberries and vegan cheeses, a patrician pharmacy that smelt like discretion, a gaggle of lofty boutiques peddling soft lilac wools to ladies with delicate ankles and time on their hands.

In the bar where we had arranged to meet, cabals of women bent towards each other in lettuce-fuelled conversation. Later, my marketing mate told me that in an industry generally staffed by creatives in their 30s and directors in their 40s, nobody relishes the task of advertising to women in their 50s who, unlike men, are perceived as being undynamic.

Men, it seems, still need sexy watches, good coffee and low-slung, growling cars (maybe so they can time sex with younger dynamos and sober up before they race home with the top down).

Women in midlife, on the other hand, are seen as wanting little more than a comfortable pair of insoles, a bus tour of the Rhine valley and a packet of slimming biscuits. Around us, the well-heeled women whispered into their chowders. I’d like to have asked them what they wanted out of life now that their roots were sorted, but I was worried that they would send me into the kitchen for a clean knife or up to the bar for another slimline tonic.

“Women are resilient, resourceful and reliable and this isn’t reflected in the industry,” said my companion.

I was thinking about this on the way home on the train to the groggy northside, past billboards of enchanting young women with glacial teeth peddling ski insurance.

I disagree with the industry perception of middle-aged women – and men for that matter. If you have managed to negotiate your way through 50 years of this country’s labyrinthine, at times acrobatic, thinking, you’re a master of creativity and contradiction and probably open to all sorts of dynamic offers.

Ours is a flexible generation. We learned to perch above damnation and not look down. We learned that daddy was ag obair and that mammy was in the cistín in her big frilly apron decanting the gin from the washing-up-liquid bottle.

We were spawned in an era of wimples and Cortinas and powder-blue eye shadow, at a time of black-and-white television and an equally monochrome morality, when unmarried sex was sinful, and you could whistle for a packet of condoms, and singing priests warbled mildewed tunes about purity while procreating with their housekeepers.

I stood in more than one pew in my borrowed court shoes in the 1980s, watching my schoolfriends take their vows in tiered white dresses.

None of them have lived straightforward, easy or predictable lives.

If the advertising industry has failed to identify, to pigeonhole, to weigh and measure, to calibrate and nominate my generation, I think that’s a significant achievement for us.

After all, who wants to be reduced to the manic Mrs Shake ’n’ Vac?

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