Ask anyone over 55 how they see themselves reflected in TV or other advertising and the answer is likely to be the same: we’re invisible.
Advertising booking schedules provide clients with statistics on the sort of reach they’re likely to get with each demographic age group. But there’s just one problem: the top age for targeting advertising is 54. Same with radio audience shares. Over that age, they don’t want to know you. We don’t exist.
Unless, of course, the ads are selling retirement villages, funeral insurance, pre-paying for funerals or anti-ageing creams. But even then, the models tend to be much younger than we are, or photo-shopped to look that way.
Not all that long ago, I used to run ads for funeral homes promoting pre-paid funerals and funerals in general. But I always chose photos of people who were easily in their 70s, and I hardly ever had them walking down a beach holding hands staring out to sea, as the stereotype has now become. Yes, I’m admitting it: I may have been a teensie bit patronising in my use of stereotypical older models. But nowhere near as bad as the incredibly patronising TV ad by an American fundraising organisation showing a heartless kid hitting up his grandmother he hasn’t seen in a couple of years for some money to donate because, he says, grannies are good for free money. And his gormless gran falls for it.
Even when the agencies come up with ads featuring older people, they find it hard not to patronise. There’s a Nike ad featuring an 86-year-old nun, Sister Madonna Buder, but the narrator is so overly familiar and condescending it really grates – to anyone over 65 anyway. Besides, ads featuring genuinely older people, people over 65 or even over 75, are so rare, the industry holds them up as a stunning example of how it’s maturing. There are the obvious ads featuring Helen Mirren (age 72), Dame Judy Dench (82), and Iris Apfel (96) – again the exception and nowhere near the rule. The rule, instead, is promote a product that older women might use, like anti-ageing creams, and use models in their 40s for a cream intended for a woman in her 60s. Or use soft-focus so most of the wrinkles have faded away.
It’s hardly surprising, though. Society’s obsession with youth is reflected in the average age of people in the advertising agencies that make most of the ads we see. In the UK, that average age is 34 and chances are it’s much the same here. They simply don’t understand us. And older people in ad agencies, especially women, are sometimes sidelined or let go in homage to the supposed youthquake.
Silly thing is, the ad-people are missing out on a fast-growing market of us Baby Boomers who have more disposable income and are more discerning in what we buy. Currently we’re 14% of the population of NZ – in 15 years we’ll make up 22% and that means close on one million of us. In the United States, Baby Boomers account for 60% of consumer spending, and it’s likely to be similar here.
Most of us are online savvy, being heavy users of Facebook and some of the other online platforms. How hard would it be to target us with age-appealing Facebook ads promoting the sort of things that would tempt us to buy? Imagine if all the ads for retirement villages were replaced by a Facebook video ad for a resthome where the women steal the nurses’ uniforms from the laundry for night-time high-jinx, or where the residents take part in Hip-Hoperation-style dance routines to loud, driving music.
The crazy thing is that we’re targeted by advertisers for funerals, cruises, retirement villages, hearing loss, stair-lifts, adult nappies and cosmetics to make us look younger. Whereas what we are looking to buy are gym memberships, trips that involve lots of activity (at home and abroad), hiking and cycling gear, cars, and entertainment. And you can be sure that the music we’ll be listening to will be closer to Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin than Dean Martin or Dame Vera Lynn (who turned 100 this year). We are, after all, the generation that thrived in the 1960s and 70s, that rocked to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, that has always pursued adventure and being just a little bit different: biking is the new bowls.