I cheered when I read well-known aging expert Ken Dychtwald's recent article for AARP entitled "Ageism Is Alive and Well in Advertising." In it, Dychtwald uses several excellent examples of "Ageist" vs. "Respectful" ads, largely created by marketing agencies for their clients. As you can intuit, the "Ageist" examples debase seniors in a variety of ways, often ridiculing their age and negatively portraying them. This is not an occasional transgression -- it is an all-too-common practice among ad agencies, typically peopled by younger generations, who routinely make fun of the 50-plus crowd. I know, because for a time I worked in a large ad agency where I was clearly an elder statesman in my fifties.
In the article, Dychtwald writes that "advertising is still far too often out of sync with the reality of today's older, more seasoned buyer." He quotes Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, who agrees: “Many ads are viewed by the older population as stereotypical and patronizing. Most advertisers receive a failing grade in their efforts to understand and relate to older adults.”
As Dychtwald cites in his article, ageism in advertising is not a wise marketing strategy, because the 55-plus audience controls 70 percent of all personal wealth in the United States, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. What's more Boomers resent it -- in a 2121 AARP survey, 62 percent of consumers age 50-plus agreed with the statement, "I wish ads had more realistic images of people my age." Nearly half (47 percent) agreed that "ads of people my age reinforce outdated stereotypes." That doesn't bode well for advertisers who continue to propagate ads that bash Boomers.
I wrote about this very issue exactly two years ago in my post, "Marketing the Old Age Myth:"
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.
Here we are two years later and, as Dychtwald points out, things haven't gotten all that much better. Thankfully, Dychtwald writes, there are some marketers who are more enlightened today and treat seniors with respect. But not enough of them do so. That isn't just bad for the advertising business, it's bad for our society in general.