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
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
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.