Ageism In Advertising: Common Stereotypes And How To Avoid Them – Forbes

Depictions of older adults as frail or helpless can reinforce stereotypes.
Results of two new surveys of individuals 55 years old and over show that ageism persists in advertising, in spite of consumers in this group representing a large and attractive market. The studies, which each included more than 750 respondents, were conducted by Age of Majority, specialists in marketing to older consumers, who asked consumers to share their thoughts on ageist stereotypes in advertising and marketing.
According to Jeff Weiss, CEO of Age of Majority, the survey findings reinforce the idea that marketing to older consumers can be improved. “While we are starting to see more authentic representations of the older audience in marketing, it is clear that there is much work to be done, with ‘old’ stereotypes still prevailing.”
Jeff Weiss, CEO, Age of Majority
Three-quarters of consumers ages 55+ can be categorized as “Active Agers,” representing older adults who are mentally, socially, and digitally active. With this group consisting of approximately 75 million consumers who control 70% of the wealth in the U.S. and account for over 40% of all consumer expenditures, it is important for marketers to understand how to avoid ageist stereotypes in advertising. Yet, the surveys show that approximately two-thirds of Active Agers agree that adults age 55+ are still represented in unfair ways in advertising and marketing.
Data from the surveys show that three specific stereotypes of older consumers stand out: a lack of ability to use technology, physical weakness, and mental inferiority. These stereotypes are actually myths. Nonetheless, they persist:
Stereotype 1: Lacking technological skills
The surveys found that more than 2/3rd (68.9%) of Active Agers found a lack of ability to use technology to be a commonly portrayed stereotype in ads or marketing. In reality, most Active Agers have some level of technological sophistication, and many are heavy online shoppers.
Stereotype 2: Physically weak
The surveys found that 52.6% of Active Agers still see a depiction of older consumers as frail and/or feeble in ads or marketing materials. In reality, 95% of Active Agers exercise at least weekly, with 29% exercising daily and 45% doing so at least a few times per week.
Stereotype 3: Mental inferiority/ forgetfulness
Close to half (45.5%) of survey respondents reported that they have observed a portrayal of older consumers as being mentally inferior. As this is a particularly negative stereotype, one might think it would normally be useful to marketers to avoid it in general, yet Active Agers still report its existence.
Weiss emphasizes that avoiding these portrayals can make a real difference for marketers. “Active Agers are ready to engage with your brand and to spend, if you make the effort to represent them in authentic ways,” says Weiss. “Relying on ageist stereotypes is ‘old’ thinking and bad marketing. Using the tech category as an example, imagine how much revenue you are missing out by not showing how Active Agers are active and adept users of products like smartphones and wearables.”
The study showed that the product/service areas perceived to have the most stereotypical portrayals of older consumers include health and wellness, technology, beauty and personal care, sexual health and travel and tourism. Comments from survey respondents also reflected common complaints around portrayals of older adults that make their appearance look too young or too old/unhealthy, that overemphasize health problems and/or that reveal an overall lack of representation.
The study also examined the types of marketing efforts that would make Active Agers more likely to consider purchasing a specific brand. Two predominant ideas emerged: “updating products of services to better meet the needs of people like me (my age),” cited by 57.2% of respondents and “being more authentic/realistic when portraying people my age,” cited by 54.9% of respondents.
In their open-ended responses, Active Agers also emphasized that marketers should realize that they are not trying to look young and that they prefer honesty in messaging over gimmicks. Many also emphasized that they do not want to see political and social messages, though they do welcome environmental impact statements.
This photo is more reflective of today’s Active Agers.
Clearly, authenticity is valued in how Active Agers are portrayed. As one respondent commented in response to a question about what marketers could do better when appealing to the 55+ group, “Everything focuses on diapers and medication with people over 55! Come on…most of us don’t use that. Stop!” Another added, “They could show more active adults not being hearing impaired, mobility impaired, or lost.” Such comments should not be too surprising, given that most groups marketers target respond better to portrayals they see as realistic.
Weiss sees special opportunities for marketers in the health and wellness area and for products pertaining to sexual health. “Surprise — we don’t stop taking care of ourselves, having fun or being adventurous after turning 55,” says Weiss. “Follow the facts and follow the money when it comes to the lifestyle trends of Active Agers and avoid the fiction of old stereotypes.”
On balance, the surveys provide significant insight into how to more effectively (and realistically) portray consumers.

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