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BizReport : Advertising : August 22, 2014

Seniors unhappy with stereotypes used in advertising

The portrayal of seniors in advertising is not going down well with that target audience, according to new research conducted by marketing communications agency GlynnDevins.

by Helen Leggatt

When targeting a specific age group in advertising it pays to use imagery that resonates with that group. This isn't the case for much advertising to seniors, according to GlynnDevins' survey of 400 seniors age 70 and over.

Sixty percent of those surveyed said seniors featured in advertising were awash with stereotypes - and not good ones at that.

When asked if they liked the way seniors were portrayed in various ad categories, few answered in the affirmative:

- 8% agreed with the portrayal of seniors in pharmaceutical ads;
- 15% agreed with portrayal in financial services ads;
- 20% agreed with portrayal in ads for senior living communities.

The major gripes were that seniors were portrayed at two extremes - either 'too good to be true' or 'too bad to be true' leaving just 37% being able to identify with the subjects.

In relation to the 'too good to be true' portrayals the stereotypes were seen to be too active, too perky, too affluent, too well dressed, too attractive and too happy. In other words, the epitome of the catalog-esque shots of tanned, designer linen-clad couples frolicking on golden beaches.

When it comes to the other end of the scale, the 'too bad to be true', seniors felt they were portrayed as stupid, sick, clueless, feeble and disabled.

"Avoid the trap of stock images that play to the stereotypes," advises GlynnDevins, talking specifically about senior living communities. "Invest in original photography to use in your communication, then fill your website and social media and printed materials with images of daily life featuring the residents. Everything you need to be authentic is at hand; use it and your audience will take notice."

Earlier this year a survey of 1,305 people between the age of 50 and 64 conducted by High50, a online global community designed for people over the age of 50, found that two-thirds feel that brands are 'not at all' or 'barely' interested in targeting them. A fifth believes they are totally excluded from brand marketing.

"Our most economically powerful generation is one that is largely ignored by advertisers," said James Burrows, CEO of High50. "It is clear that existing preconceptions about the over fifties is significantly out-dated, and it's time we acknowledged that for many, becoming 50 is the start of the better half of their lives."

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: advertising, research, seniors

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  • This is not new. Half a century ago, David Ogilvy wrote that "The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife." And while that statement has its own problems -- presuming that men weren't consumers, as well -- it highlights an enduring dilemma in advertising.

    Any time an agency (or a client) doesn't take a first-hand look at its customers, it's likely to misrepresent them. It's happened with middle-aged men portrayed as idiots who can't do laundry, young working moms characterized as having their lives totally in balance, or seniors shown as either doddering or rich enough to buy Montana.

    Do the research. Find out what people really care about... and look like. Then build a story -- a campaign -- around that. The notion that consumers want to see aspirational or inspirational portrayals of themselves or want to feel superior to characters who might resemble a neighbor they don't like is just that -- a notion. And it's usually held by someone who isn't part of the target market.



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