An Appreciation for Ageing: How Advertising Can Celebrate and Entertain Older People
Our guide for engaging the older population through advertising helps brands build fame among this important segment
At what age are we considered “old”? For some, 40 signals a departure from the more youthful and carefree days of the past. For others, it’s when they become grandparents or hit retirement age. And yet, many of us never truly feel our age – we keep kicking the label of “old” further down the road. After all, people are living longer today. Fifty is the new 40 and 65 means we’re entering life’s rewarding third chapter, with many wonderful years ahead.
But does adland view age in the same light?
Our 2021 Feeling Seen study on diversity and inclusion in advertising included some testing among a custom sample of those 55 years and older to see how they felt about ads that feature older people. Given that this segment of the population accounts for 65% of TV impressions, we wanted to understand the full picture of age representation for our next report.
Wise Up!, the sequel to our Feeling Seen guide, explores the scope of the issue. Created in partnership with ITV, it asks what advertisers are doing to represent older people – and also spotlights ways brands are getting it right and making effective ads that resonate with the older audience.
An Analysis on Age
For Wise Up!, we looked at 2021’s top 1,000 ads by media spend in the UK, representing creative work from more than 420 brands across various categories like retail, technology, charity, travel and more. We coded them for age and gender to determine how many feature people 55 years and older, and whether the split between female and male characters was balanced.
The analysis found that older people are greatly underrepresented in ads. Only 23% of ads feature people aged 55 and older. Our previous research proved that feeling seen feels good, so how would older audiences react when they’re shown ads that either feature or target older people?
We selected 56 ads from our Test Your Ad database that do just that. To see whether an ad’s performance varies among the older demographic, we tested each ad among the general public as well as custom samples such as 55+, 65+ and 55+ women, depending on which was most appropriate based on the subject matter.
We were looking for a “diversity dividend” – evidence of improved performance among demographic groups when they see themselves represented in ads. In Feeling Seen, we saw this uplift among Black British, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and others. But among older people, “diversity dividends” are far rarer.
While increased representation is key, this alone doesn’t guarantee that older adults will like creative, let alone pay attention to it. Ads need to entertain to be effective. This creates additional questions for marketers – how do you make ads that older people will enjoy to ultimately drive brand growth?
Is there hope that more brands are moving in the right direction?
I find it fascinating that an increasing number of brands are creating work that is targeted at mid-life women. I love that rebranding of this segment of the population. It’s not middle-aged, it’s mid-life. And of course, if you look at life expectancy, a woman approaching her fifties has just about as many years ahead of her as she does behind her.
These mid-life years are a time when women are feeling more powerful and are more powerful in terms of the influence, spending power and control they have over their lives. Yet women have typically disappeared and felt less seen in advertising as they age. A study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that men got seven times as many speaking roles as women. Creating roles that not only feature women but give them a voice are crucial, and it’s the responsibility of advertisers and agencies to dispel the outdated misconceptions that we see too often on television.
Don’t Dumb Down your Creative; Wise Up!
Stereotyped and patronizing storylines aren’t the way to win over older viewers. Those 55 and older are cultured, smart and opinionated. Ads should celebrate the beautiful parts of ageing.
With Wise Up!, we not only dive deeper into the state of age representation in the advertising industry, but we also present six themes that brands and agencies can leverage to create winning ads for people of all ages. Additionally, the report includes numerous “Star Performers,” ads which do an exceptional job of portraying older people and entertaining them.