ANALYSIS: COMMENT - Rejection of older consumer reveals ad industry failing

For an industry that prides itself on being at the cutting edge, it’s remarkable how often the same issues keep turning up in adland - so often, in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Groundhog Day. But, no, I’m not talking about hardy annual subjects for debate such as Trevor Beattie’s hair or even the more marginal matters of effectiveness, integration and fees versus commission.

For an industry that prides itself on being at the cutting edge,

it’s remarkable how often the same issues keep turning up in adland - so

often, in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Groundhog

Day. But, no, I’m not talking about hardy annual subjects for debate

such as Trevor Beattie’s hair or even the more marginal matters of

effectiveness, integration and fees versus commission.



No, I’m referring to something much more fundamental: advertising’s view

of old people. According to a fascinating survey by Carat Insight

(Campaign, last week), over-55s are increasingly disenfranchised by

British advertising.



Many, the report says, are turned off by ’clever’ ads that aren’t aimed

at them. This is not the first time I’ve read such material, and nor

will it be the last. Indeed, it is entirely unsurprising, except for the

fact that given demographic trends (the number of over-55s could grow by

55 per cent during the next 30 years) it seems a rather short-sighted

attitude.



Nevertheless, in adland this translates into a simplistic equation:

young people equals good, old people equals bad. Of course, it is unfair

simply to blame ad agencies for this. A media culture that worships at

the altar of youth must take its share of responsibility. But clients

stuck in a mode of thinking that says old people’s brand habits are

fixed - and, therefore, not worth targeting - are the cause of the

problem. Ad agencies that then create advertising that ignores this

target audience merely perpetuate this line. How can we then be

surprised when this turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy - in other

words, if advertising ignores or alienates older people, isn’t it

inevitable that it doesn’t change their brand habits?



But let’s say you don’t buy that argument. Here’s the obverse: a

consumer who doesn’t change his or her brand habits is also, by

definition, a loyal customer. If some advertising is as much about

promoting loyalty as it is encouraging trial, why then is this older age

group still disenfranchised by what they see on their screens and in the

press they read? Why has this come about and what can we do about it?

You could argue that advertising’s attitude to age only reflects that of

general society. A wise person once told me he thought you could measure

any society’s values or civilisation by its attitude to the elderly. In

Asia and Mediterranean Europe, for example, the elderly are venerated.

In Anglo-Saxon societies such as the UK, old people are, well, in the

way and therefore irrelevant.



As to how we can change adland’s attitude, I suspect nothing will happen

until someone wakes up and wonders why advertising is becoming less

effective. When they’ve worked out that it might be because a large

chunk of the population is alienated, only then might something be done.



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