Older people in advertising (And why are they nowhere to be seen?)

older people in advertising

“We need something fresher, something that appeals to our audience more, you know, something… older”. Said no marketer ever. The developed world is getting older and the marketing is missing out its chance to represent one of the biggest age groups in a way that is not condescending, patronizing or even, at times, offensive.

In 2020 we have hit a point when there are more 55 years old in the U.S. than 5 years old, so why is only 5% of U.S advertising targeted at people over 50? And why do 50-years-olds appear in only 15% of media images?

Today’s 50-years-olds are the 40-years-olds from 2010, the year of the release of Hunger Games and the first iPad. Their online presence is a fact and 68% of them shop online at least once a month, at the same time owning over 70% of all available U.S. income. Luxury brands should pay attention here. Some of them unofficially admit that only a fifth of their products are sold to people below 50.

For marketers market segmentation is a must and demographic segmentation by age, geography or gender seems to be a no-brainer. We, as a business, love segregating people by generations too – if we got a cent every time someone tried to capture who is a “millenial”, we would be a writing this article from a private island in the Carribeans. In 2020 it’s way too simplistic and creating segments focused on attitude or values seems to be more in place, as an adventurous 20 years old has more to do with an adventurous 60-year-old than with his future-fearing college friend.

By the way: When McCann’s research unit, Truth Central, asked respondents to envision a dystopian and a utopian future in the context of aging, one of the differences was age segregation – in the dystopian future, age groups were strictly segregated, while in the utopian one – they were living together in harmony.


Guidelines for age diversity

So what are the guidelines for marketers who want to make their ads more diverse and include the elderly? Here is our list:

  1. If your oldest audience segment is 50+, it means that it includes people who are 50+, 60+ and 70+. It’s like adding 16 and 36 year-olds into one segment. If you want to stick to the age groups in your segmentation – be laser-precise.
  2. Include the elderly as someone who is more than a grandma and grandpa. The elderly travel, consume, drive cars, watch movies, have sex, just like their children and grandchildren. Being a grandparent is just a part of their identity.
  3. Make the elderly a subject, not an object of your ad. They have an autonomy. Make them take action, make them outspoken and sassy if needed. They are not frail, they don’t lack capacity and they don’t need to be taken care of.

Fifth place: Allegro
In this ad, the main character is a grandpa who takes an effort to learn something new. It’s still an elderly person in a stereotypical role of a grandparent, but this grandparent is curious, active and tech-savvy and takes action because he cares. And he buys online using a Polish online e-commerce platform.

Fourth place: Volkswagen and the Golden Sisters
The Golden Sisters is an American documentary reality show created by Oprah Winfrey. The main characters are three old but very outspoken ladies, Mary, Josie and Teresa, who in this Volkswagen commercial confront popular myths about diesel cars.

Third place: Taco Bell – “Viva Young”
Here is an ad made by Taco Bell, showing a story of a mischievous group of friends who could solemnly swear they are up to no good. It was most likely made to appeal to the younger age group, but we appreciate the good job done showing the elderly in a completely different context.

Second place: IKEA – “Start something new”
In this happy-go-lucky commercial, an elderly gentleman uses an IKEA foldable chair as an excuse to change his life. Thumbs up for showing an adventurous 60+!

First place: Vodafone Czech Republic, “Seniors for seniors”
The main prize goes to Czech Vodafone, who started a whole social campaign for inclusion of the elderly. What is really worth mentioning here is that the elderly are not made to behave like millennials. Vodafone lets the senior citizens be themselves, using technology on their own terms.

Vodafone – Seniors for seniors from Razvan Capanescu on Vimeo.