How do you rebrand ageing?

By Lucy Batley

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Graphic design Branding
White line drawing of a hand print on a black background.

We are delighted about the recent opening of the brand new Catalyst building, purpose built for the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in the heart of Newcastle Helix, a 24 acre vibrant innovation district. Co-located with two other centres of national expertise, the £50 million building also provides a brilliant collaborative space for businesses to take advantage of Newcastle University’s expertise, research facilities and services. The opening provides an excellent opportunity for us to reflect on the name and brand strategy that we created for the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, but more importantly for us to review the process we undertook to successfully deliver the project.


An ageing society

In the 1960s, life expectancy for men in England and Wales was just over 70 years of age. The age of retirement, at 65 years, was regarded as the transition to old age. Now, sixty years later, life expectancy in this country is, on average, nearly 80 years for men and 82 years for women; the fastest growing sector of our population are those aged 85 years and over. With life expectancy in the UK and elsewhere continuing to increase at the rate of more than 2 years per decade, living longer is inevitable.


The brief

JUMP was chosen through a national tender process to create a positive brand that helped to overcome the stigmatisation associated with ageing. Our first point of call was to fully understand exactly what the stigmatisation was as well as getting to grips with the economic and social impact of ageing. This set us off on a journey that resulted in being one of the most fascinating and rich projects of my career with the end result being a focus on the essence of ageing… which we came to understand was, in fact, life itself. The focus of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing is not to prolong life, but to help people to live a better and more fulfilled life, for longer.

When we received the initial brief, the working title for the Centre was the ‘National Centre for Ageing Sciences and Innovation’. A bit of a mouthful and we argued that it was confusing for the key target audiences who were not only researchers and academics but predominantly businesses and large corporates. Our interpretation of the brief was that the Centre would be a serious resource for the commercialisation of products and services related to ageing, but that it was also about social good; improving lives and making a global impact by creating networks and real economic value.

We worked closely with the Newcastle University communications team during the naming process and felt that both 'Ageing' and 'Innovation' should be emphasised from the outset. We also proposed that we age from the moment that we are born so there shouldn’t be a fixed aged when the ageing process starts, that is that ageing is significant to everyone, not just the elderly. Our brand strategy was therefore to communicate that the Centre should be accessible to all.


How do we remove the stigmas?

We looked not only at national, but also international competitors and examined the wide-ranging target audiences which included key businesses (small and corporate), stakeholder groups and partners, public institutions, other universities and individual academics and researchers, members of the public and VOICE members. The brilliant VOICE is a unique organisation, comprising a large network of citizens across the UK and internationally. Members contribute immense insights, experience, ideas and vision to identify unmet needs and opportunities, to drive innovation on ageing and improve health research. When we held a series of focus groups with VOICE members, one 86 year old gentleman kept repeatedly saying “when I get old” which was exactly the kind of attitude that we were trying to capture in the branding design process.

We decided that in order to rebrand ageing and remove the stigmas we needed to embrace ageing and change people’s attitudes towards it. We agreed to communicate the opportunities for a better quality of life through engagement and positivity. 

We looked at negative brands that were reinforcing the stereotypes with images of grannies in cardigans with blue rinses as well as reviewing images that were trying to portray positive images of elderly people jumping in the air and riding motorbikes whilst waving their arms about – not only highly dangerous, but totally unrealistic. We found dozens of examples of photography with elderly ladies looking out to sea presumably contemplating death!

However, we also found brands that were doing it well: personal care brand Dove celebrating that wrinkled is “wonderful” and the fabulous Age Friendly Manchester campaign committed to achieving an environment where people can “thrive”. Even the successful rebrand of Saga holidays (traditionally associated with only being for “old” people) now offering the “time of your life” at whatever stage of your life that may be.

In summary, we took an immersive view through deep research by not only understanding the target audiences, but also understanding the nuances of ageing. This research was then used to inform all the design decisions that we subsequently made. To quote the brilliant Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal:

“For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people's minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves… Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”

Click here for more information and to view our case study of the ageing brand strategy and naming project.

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