Cougars come out of the wild and into the urban jungle

October 1, 2013


I was a bit alarmed by an ad I saw on prime time TV recently, for dating site It was not the ad itself that concerned me (OK, maybe a little bit) – this has been the territory of late night viewing for years – but the fact that it was shown prime time during a popular TV show, when kiddies are likely to be watching. Which prompted me to ask the question: When did Cougars become mainstream?

Celeb culture

In our celebrity obsessed culture, it was really the post-marriage breakdown and very public relationships of the likes of Madonna and Demi Moore that brought the Cougar into mainstream consciousness, beyond just a character in The Graduate. This has since been reflected in a growing number of pop culture references to Femina Magnus, most notably in the sitcom Cougar Town. The Cougar is even an aspirational female target for many young guys (think Stifler’s Mom in American Pie), as she offers fun and experience, usually minus the emotional demands of a younger lady.

What’s really driving this?

As women have gradually gained more economic power over the last 40 or so years, many have adopted more traditionally masculine qualities like assertiveness and independence. According to Hannah Rosin, author of controversial book “The End of Men”, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards. They are more self sufficient and confident, and they know what they want often based on past relationship experience.

Women say a younger man carries less emotional baggage, tries harder at romance, and exhibits refreshingly equitable views on gender roles. ("He does his own dishes!") Men say they love that older women don't play mind games.” (source: Maridel Reyes, Field Guide to the Cougar,

The term Cougar used to be something to describe a desperate older woman (think fake boobs and leopard print), but these days it is more about secure, confident and independent women, reflecting a wider social and economic shift amongst women in general.

The experience of a more mature woman is attractive to younger men from both a sexual and emotional standpoint. Some have gone so far to suggest that it is desperate younger men that are the gold diggers and latching onto wealthy older women, but in the end it is not really about who holds the power. Whatever the arrangement is, it seems to be more about finding a balance that is mutually agreeable in terms of what each party wants from the relationship.

What does this mean for brands?

If your brand speaks to ladies in the 40 plus age group, it is worth recognising that women are generally happier and more confident in both their abilities and their physical appearance than at any other life stage. They are enjoying a vital, colourful life, and are confident and independent. This can be reflected by staying away from traditional gender role stereotypes, and representing this age group as fun and full of life. If your brand only targets younger women, then perhaps there is an opportunity here?