As a retired marketing professional, it is especially painful for me to see how today's marketers characterize older Americans. As I watch television or flip through magazines, I notice ads that incessantly pitch medications to the elderly, poke fun at aging or portray anyone with gray hair as a doddering, incompetent sedentary fool. Turns out that I am not making this up. A recent article in The New York Times reported on new AARP research that proves ageism is alive and well in American advertising.
To begin with, the research, which sampled more than 1,000 random images, indicated that Americans age 50 or older appeared in just 15 percent of the images, although that demographic makes up more than one third of the population. It gets worse. About one third of the workforce is 50 or older, but only 13 percent of the images showed older people working; they were most commonly shown at home, often with a partner or a medical professional. Young people, on the other hand, are often shown with co-workers. While over two thirds of Americans ages 55 to 73 own a smartphone, less than 5 percent of the images showed older Americans using technology, but over one third of the images showed younger folks using technology.
In the article, Martha Boudreau, chief communications and marketing officer of AARP, says, “Marketers reflect the culture and the conversation in our country. Stereotypes about the 55-plus demographic were really limiting people’s sense of what they could do with this half of their lives.”
The article goes on to discuss one interesting reason for ageism in advertising: The field itself is littered with "youngsters." In the U.S., over 80 percent of employees at ad and PR firms are younger than the age of 55. I ran my own direct marketing agency and also worked at a large ad agency -- and I can attest to that fact. Sure, one can always claim that marketing is a young person's business, but that's not a reasonable answer. The fact is the older demographic is growing more rapidly than any other segment in this country and globally. In addition, Boomers have accumulated and hold most of the wealth in the United States, so wouldn't you think marketers would be wise enough to create campaigns targeting us instead of maligning us?
I'm willing to bet that you've seen one or more ads that have looked upon people our age with thinly veiled scorn -- or you've noticed that the vast majority ads don't even acknowledge our existence.
Maybe it's time for all of us to take the advice of ex-TV anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 movie, Network, who said:
"You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'
"So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
"I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! "
HappilyRewired.com is a Top 75 Baby Boomer Blog.