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Why Gen Z loves middle-aged celebrities

As in every respectable relationship, it's all about trust

Why Gen Z loves middle-aged celebrities  As in every respectable relationship, it's all about trust

Imagine Yellowjackets actress Melanie Lynskey (45), Julianne Moore (61) and 76-year-old Diane Keaton in the same room, it might look like a gathering of middle-aged girlfriends or a boring Sunday book club, but instead, they are the stars of J.Crew's latest campaign. After years of decline, marked by complaints of declining garment quality and endless attempts at exhumation culminating in the filing for bankruptcy in 2020, the brand is in fact experiencing an unexpected moment of momentum. Thanks to Brendon Babenzien, the new creative director for menswear and founder of the streetwear brand Noah, and Olympia Gayot for the women's counterpart, the brand's garments are finally a revival of the 'old J.Crew' that consumers wanted and loved so much in the 1990s. But why is it that a brand attempting to rise from the ashes and attract a broader, younger target customer base chooses the agé actresses and icons of bygone years as testimonials rather than some comely representative of Gen Z? Because, in the world of advertising, age is not just a number. Long gone are the days when the prerequisites for a successful campaign were toned bodies and baby faces when a plethora of girls competed with each other for attractiveness; today, regardless of the age group targeted for a given product, stars in their teens and twenties do not enjoy the same consumer trust as their older counterparts.

In 2018, a survey by Spotted reported by Variety ranked actors according to their appeal as the face of advertising campaigns: the favorites had an average age of 40, the worst just 28. A study was conducted on 300 US participants of all ages who were asked about their favorite celebrities for likability, relatability, attractiveness, reliability, authenticity, and for facial, name, and voice recognition among more than 400 actors. At the top of the list was Dwayne 'The Rock Johnson, then 46, now 50, for Under Armour, a shoe line that sold out in just 30 minutes. Mark Wahlberg, 51, for AT&T, ranked second, while third place went to Kristen Bell, 42, for Old Navy, followed by Reese Witherspoon, 46, for Crate and Barrel and Drew Barrymore, 47, for Crocs. After some time, the trend has not changed at all; on the contrary, the list of 'mature' and successful brand ambassadors is only getting longer. As WWD points out, this is the case of 53-year-old Jennifer Lopez for Coach and 66-year-old Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall for Farfetch. In 2017 Covergirl chose Maye Musk (Elon's mother), then 69 years old, as the face of the brand, in 2015 Celine entrusted the campaign to the late writer Joan Didion, then 81 years old, as an icon of timeless elegance, while Prada's FW22 campaign features a very elegant Jeff Goldblum and, in the music sphere, Diane Keaton with her 76 years was chosen as the protagonist of the video clip of Ghost by Justin Bieber. J.Crew has also used this tactic in the past: in 2010, the then 68-year-old Lauren Hutton starred in an advertising campaign, while last autumn, 49-year-old Tracee Ellis Ross appeared in a commercial for the retailer. But how to justify this unexpected confidence that leads us to buy brands notoriously associated with middle-aged stars and beyond?

In part, it is because of that nostalgia, as visceral as it is inexplicable, that new generations feel for bygone eras and the icons that define them, the same sentiment that has brought Y2K back onto brand catwalks for more than two years and which Marc Jacobs leverages in his latest marketing strategies. With its campaign for autumn-winter 2022, Heaven by Marc Jacobs evokes the spirit of the nineties with Kyle MacLachlan and Pamela Anderson, creating a connection between fashion, art, television, and film, both in the range of products available on the e-shop (which also includes magazines and film posters) and in the communication strategies. Similarly, Winona Ryder's images for the brand's main line on the occasion of the launch of the new it bag explore the theme of nostalgia but also ensure continuity between the brand's past and future, choosing a face that is already well-known and was already immortalized by Juergen Teller in the 2012 campaign. Continuity is the principle that guides the ten-year partnership between Charlize Theron and Dior, a testimonial of the J'adore fragrance since 2004. According to Janet Comenos, CEO and co-founder of Spotted, one of the reasons why older performers resonate more than younger ones is that the volume of work of the former gives them more exposure: « If you've only been famous for a few years and have starred in a few films, there are fewer consumers to whom you've been exposed than those who have starred in 50 films and have come to know you over time.» It is somewhat counterintuitive, but brands choose older celebrities to demonstrate multi-generational appeal and to give their product an aspirational allure. Who wouldn't want to be like Julianne Moore at 61?