Addressing Advertising’s Ageism Problem

Friday 8th November, 2019

Described as the ‘last great taboo’, ageism is still apparent in advertising. A few weeks ago we joined Gransnet, the social networking site for the over 50s, at this year’s Festival of Marketing to get their thoughts on the scale of the problem and how brands can initiate genuine change.

Let’s start with a few key stats as an overview:

  • Research shows that men and women start to feel ‘invisible’ in advertising from the age of 52 (women) and 63 (men)
  • 79% of Gransnet users say they feel patronised by advertising
  • 78% say they often or occasionally see token old people in advertising, which is not an authentic message for the brand to push
  • 61% say men in adverts tend to be accurately depicted age-wise but younger-looking women tend to be used instead, which was reported to feed into the stereotype that men age well while women don’t

Despite these stats, the panel stated that ignoring the 50+ market is certainly not a deliberate move. The marketing industry is generally quite young; perhaps marketers simply don’t know how to target this age group, or they’re anxious about getting older so choose to distance themselves?

Over-50s dating app, Lumen, wants the advertising world to wake up and do something about these issues. The company launched its ‘Do You See Us Now’ campaign in which three men and three women between the ages of 50 and 65 appeared naked behind placards, with individual slogans such as ‘Grey hair don’t care’, ‘Nobody puts Granny in the corner’ and ‘It’s our time to be seen’. Charly Lester, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Lumen, remarked: “The fact that almost nine in 10 over-50s think that advertising aimed at them needs to change should be a real wake-up call to the industry about the ‘everyday ageism’ all around us. Not only is it a case of underrepresentation, but heavily edited images are making older people feel like it’s not ok to be themselves.”

This campaign was a breath of fresh air, however, another of Lumen’s campaigns proved to be less successful when 58-year-old model Paul Orchard appeared topless on tube adverts as the ‘UK’s Sexiest Santa’. With the tagline ‘Pull a Cracker This Christmas’, the advert was banned after critics claimed it sexually objectified him. Charly Lester said she was surprised the light-hearted ad was banned; “Our app is all about anti-ageism, body confidence and being yourself, so to have this banned is a bit depressing. It’s ridiculous and absurd.” Even more ridiculous when you consider that their banned ad appeared next to an advert promoting the new Aquaman film (hint: no one had any issues with this actor modelling topless).

A campaign that’s got us talking here at Big Cat is Coke’s ‘You Do You’. The campaign includes two new TV ads that see people ‘unashamedly embracing mainstream trends’. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not quite… One advert shows two elderly women chatting to men on a dating app, with one commenting that she’s ‘not looking for long-term, am I babes’. Both us Cats and the Festival of Marketing panellists agreed that this is incredibly patronising to the older generation and certainly doesn’t appeal to that demographic in any way.

The panellists were praising Sweaty Betty, however. One of the brand’s models is Yazemeenah Rossi, a 63 year old grandmother who has an interview piece on the brand’s website and is a wonderfully real, authentic and aspirational older woman who actually looks her age rather than a 30 year old model. So why is this authenticity and visibility important?

There’s no hiding it; the spending power of the 50+ market is HUGE and brands are silly not to cater to this age group properly. This valuable and supposed ‘niche’ audience is made up of 23.6 million consumers. Advertising currently treats this audience as the minority, which they certainly are not. 80% of the UK’s disposable income is controlled by the over-50s; the average savings among the over-55s is £47,237, whilst this drops to £8,384 among millennials. The 50+ market is incredibly loyal to brands, but only if they’re engaged properly. The panellists commented that they actively disengage with brands that patronise and exclude them, choosing to ‘vote with their purse’. Brands certainly can’t afford to keep ignoring this valuable demographic for much longer.

Written by Tabitha Ives Marcomms Account Executive

Friday 8th November, 2019

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