Middle-aged men: The last frontier

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Middle-aged men: The last frontier


For nearly 10 years, one consumer group has been praised as an emerging market power. They’re men seeking to avoid the label of ajeossi, which is given to all middle-aged males in Korea but is also often associated with things like soju breath and a lack of manners. The group calls itself “No More Uncles.” Its members keep well-groomed, prefer brands that target younger people, enjoy their hobbies and seek personal development.

Recently, the Korea Chamber of Commerce released a report on consumer awareness of the anti-aging industry that once again sparked interests in this group. In the poll, 24 percent of male respondents said they use BB (blemish balm) cream to cover blemishes, and 15.7 percent said they frequently visit fitness centers or aesthetics clinics. The study again professed that middle-aged Korean men are emerging as a significant force in the beauty and health sectors. It sounds great that the quest of the nation’s workaholic middle-aged men to redefine themselves is boosting the consumer market.

But is that really happening? I’m skeptical. The term “No More Uncles” was first coined around 2004, but they’re still described as an “emerging” consumer group. They’ve never had a major impact on the market. Perhaps, all this talk reflects wishful thinking of the industry about potential spending sprees by such men.

Of course, their spending patterns have certainly changed. A friend in the retail industry told me that these guys aren’t buying as many suits, instead opting for expensive outdoor goods and cosmetics products. But increased purchases of cosmetics may just be a result of a social atmosphere that puts a premium on appearance. It could be a kind of survival strategy.

The potential of the middle-aged male market can be found elsewhere. According to a recent report by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, single-person households of men in their 40s and 50s accounts for 16.3 percent of the total. That’s risen 5.1 percent over the past decade due to growing rates of singlehood and divorce. Therefore, the beauty industry can target its marketing campaigns at middle-aged singles if they really want to open up new revenue streams.

Middle-aged guys with a stable income may be the last new horizon for the consumer market to focus on, but despite the persistent courtship of a range of industries, this group has not made any really big spending shifts.

In fact, their spending style is rather stingy. “Middle-aged men have been too busy supporting their families to learn how to spend money on themselves,” an older male coworker told me. Instead of urging them to consume like they’re going through a midlife crisis, we can start by helping them in their search for self and teaching them how to treat themselves.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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