In the modelling industry, youth is everything. But as Germany's population ages, advertisers are increasingly using older models to tap into a target group with money to spend -- seniors.
Older but wiser: the look of a successful senior model
In the headquarters of the Senior Models Berlin agency, there's a poster on the wall featuring a vampire-like figure, eyes glazed over in a startling light blue. "Senior Models is coming to get you," reads the caption below the zombie.
The poster sums up the business philosophy of the agency's owner, Nicola Siegel, who opened Senior Models Berlin last year.
"The trend (towards senior models) is just starting. Over the next 10 to 20 years, judging from the demographic statistics, it's only going to grow. It's good business," she told DW-WORLD.
German society is ageing
Germany is waking up to the fact that a demographic revolution is under way. With fewer babies being born and many young, qualified people moving abroad in search of jobs, experts predict that by the middle of the century, more than half the German population will be over the age of 65.
Siegel says companies would be well-advised to start targeting their advertising campaigns at the population segment that now has the greatest economic power in Germany -- senior citizens.
"The older people are the only generation with money in their pockets," she explained. "Younger people are afraid of losing their jobs and are holding on to their money. Years ago, it was different -- older people saved their money, and young people were out shopping and spending."
A model with Senior Models Berlin: Proof that older women are still sexy
On her desk, Siegel has a red leather binder filled with the set cards of her models. Around 70 percent are actors, she says, because in the senior models business, clients want faces with character, not blank canvases with perfect features. Twenty percent are professional models, and the rest are what she calls "new faces" -- ordinary people who flood her office with around 40 applications a day, looking to earn some extra cash as senior models.
Flipping through the set cards, there are some noticeable "senior" types -- people with grey hair and wrinkles around the eyes. But many don't look a day over 29. That's because they're not. In the youth-obsessed modelling industry, "senior" starts at 30.
"I have many attractive models from all over Germany who are around 30 and were looking for a big agency. They have good photos, but all the agencies told them they were too old. So these models are in my agency," Siegel said.
When looking for a model, advertisers generally want someone 10 years younger than their intended target group because, as Siegel explains, people like to see models who look the age they feel -- not the age they actually are.
Companies slow to react
But does that mean 50-, 60- and even 70-year-old models will start replacing their twenty-something colleagues on billboards and magazine covers?
"It's going to happen, but it's going to take quite a while," said Ulf Heuer of Senioragency, a network of agencies dedicated to the 50+ market. "One of the reasons is that, on average, people working in advertising agencies are much younger, so they're not in a position to think and feel the way older people do."
Heuer added that companies have been slow to respond to the demographic changes.
"They've snored away for years," Heuer said. "About a year ago, the media started catching on, reporting about the pensions crisis. Major manufacturers were interested in the topic, but when it came to the question of working with Senioragency, they hesitated, saying they didn't have money to split their brand or address this new target group."
Photo: Senior-Models-Berlin, 2004
Eventually though, companies and advertising agencies will go where the money is. And when that happens, Siegel predicts a redefinition of beauty ideals and the image of older people in German society.
"Ten or 15 years ago, people looked their age, but now, that's changed. That's one of my main problems with clients. I send them a 65-year-old model, and they call me up saying she looks too young," Siegel says. "I'm showing them that older people are still fit, still good-looking and still intelligent."