The problem of ageism in advertising

Credit: Nina Hill via Unsplash

Diversity is a hot topic for marketers in 2022, but advertisers might have a problem when it comes to older consumers.

The grizzled brigade cannot be ignored. In Australia, almost half of the voting public and those with spare capacity in their personal budget are aged 50 and over.

But marketers always fall back on clichés – older people are frail, isolated or lonely.

UN support Alliance without stereotypesurveyed over 100 brands, agencies and internal marketers in the UK, and found that while 70% of respondents planned to feature more diversity in their campaigns, 64% said fear of “getting it wrong “prevented them from creating content that better reflected the real society.

Nearly half (47%) said a lack of experience representing diverse communities was the second biggest barrier and 36% said a lack of diverse talent on agency or brand teams.

The essence of academic research shows that older people are underrepresented in mainstream media and when portrayed, they are portrayed in a stereotypical or disempowering way.

Lee StephensCEO of Switch Digital, said AdNews“Ageism is alive and well”.

And Kiranpreet KaurHead of Client and Strategic Services, Archibald William said: “As an industry, we are flocking to and putting more effort into the ‘next’ generation – millennials, millennials, millennials, gen z etc. a bulk bucket of 55+.

“Usually the strategy behind targeting new generations is to acquire new audiences, as well as to develop brand relationships and loyalty at an early stage – they have their whole lives ahead of them, after all.”

But a closer look will reveal that the potential returns on investment for older audiences are immense.

The 55+ age group is by far the largest demographic group with the the average lifespan is increasing and populations around the world are aging at a faster rate.

Older generations also have trillions in purchasing power, far higher than younger segments, and their buying habits are less utilitarian since most are debt-free and own assets.

What are the main factors that contribute to the ageist approach?

Kaur said: “We don’t see the older generation as much in advertising these days, and when we do see it, it’s either the same trendy shot of gray hair or a comedic approach that shows them in these “young” scenarios in a funny way.

“While society places additional value on youth, the tone of advertising has largely become much younger. Our goal is to be wry, funny and witty in a way that relates to today’s mainstream youth culture.

“In my opinion, three key factors contribute to this existing approach:

“1. We see a lot of publicity around new services and products that simply didn’t exist before and are no longer relevant to the older generation (the 55+ category grew up in a pre-internet world, after all).

“2. Media metrics have evolved with new channels and behaviors – i.e. TikTok, Spotify, YouTube, etc. These platforms have metrics that are measured in higher volumes (millions of impressions, clicks, views…), and are a bigger consideration in KPIs for marketers. These channels are also geared toward younger audiences, so this approach naturally shifts advertising efforts toward younger audiences and behaviors.

“3. Staff in the advertising industry, in general, are younger, so there’s not enough lived experience among enough people doing the ads.

“In a nutshell, there’s a strategic and business problem to solve, before trying to crack the creative problem for this audience.”

A more considered approach: the solution?

A recent Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Study identified several aging trends in media reporting across 13 Australian media outlets.

And from there, ethical guidelines were developed. Originally developed for journalists, AdNews spoke to Dr. TJ Thomsonthe study’s lead researcher and senior lecturer at QUT, who says the news agenda feature may have side effects on other types of media.

“If journalists underrepresent older people or portray them in superficial and problematic ways, it is more likely that other types of communications professionals will unwittingly reflect these practices as well.

“The messages we see about aging and older people – whether on billboards or television spots – inform our perception of how older people should behave, be treated and be seen.

“Advertisers and marketers share this responsibility to ensure that the representations they create are ethical and appropriate.

“Marketers can build audience loyalty by [following these considerations and] create more inclusive campaigns.

“People don’t like to be locked into restrictive categories, ignored, silenced or made invisible.

“Campaigns that recognize this and seek to address these feelings of isolation and exclusion can be powerful vehicles for inspiring engagement and brand loyalty.”

The nine ethical considerations:

1. To what extent do you present the elderly as fragile, isolated or lonely? Media coverage can shape how seniors perceive themselves as well as how the general population perceives them. Is your coverage representative of the connections older people have with family members, friends and caregivers, or does it portray them as isolated or lonely?

2. To what extent do you focus on the financial or political implications of an aging population entering elderly care? Are you doing this at the expense of stories about the social implications for individuals, families and communities?

3. How prevalent are the views, images and stories of older people in your coverage? Is it representative of your audience demographics?

4. Does your cover humanize older people and cultivate empathy and compassion for them, or portray them as depersonalized? Our ability to empathize with older people can be hampered or entirely prevented when we view them not as individuals with unique histories and histories, but rather as depersonalized statistics or personas.

5. Does your coverage rely on disembodied visual clichés, such as clasped hands, mobility aids (canes, wheelchairs) or the dispensing of pills? The use of specific images, such as images of seniors interacting with family members or caregivers, or participating in activities or hobbies, as well as specific details such as their favorite possessions in their bedroom and family photos, is more engaging and helps to humanize older people and build empathy for them

6. How egalitarian are your sources? Do you tend to over-rely on elite sources, such as high-level bodies, politicians, businesspeople, or experts, to the detriment of ordinary people in your coverage of older people and related topics? Have you researched the views of older people, their caregivers, nurses, family members and advocates?

7. How inclusive is your coverage of marginal composite identities? For example, does this include seniors who are also queer or Indigenous? These groups tend to be underrepresented in mainstream news and doubly so when multiple marginalized identities, such as age and indigenousness, are combined.

8. How generic are your representations? About 20% of images accompanying coverage related to elder care from 2018 to 2021 were stock photography. Without concrete context or specificity, these archival images depersonalize the issues of aging and elder care, and make them appear less important or serious than they are.

9. To what extent do you rely on the value of sounding news and reinforce existing stereotypes rather than disrupt them? For example, are you perpetuating the myth that older people are not users of digital technology or are you disrupting that?

A case study

Cameron LawGroup Chief Strategy Officer, Carat Brisbane, said AdNews: “The first step [when targeting] any audience really should shut up and listen, it’s no different when talking to older Australians! “.

“We are in our second year of partnering with the Aveo Group, a provider of Retirement Living that helps guide emotionally charged conversations between aging parents and their families.

“One thing we’ve been focused on is rejecting the false ‘everything is great’ images you typically see in retirement residence communications.

“This authenticity is based on a real understanding throughout the customer journey, which can often span several years.

” And it works ! This year we saw continued strong business results for them, showing that this mix of authentic messaging and real customer journey touchpoints is resonating with audiences of older Australians and their families.

Do you have anything to say about this? Share your opinions in the comments section below. Or if you have any news or a tip, email us at [email protected]

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