Ageism in advertising: serve my interest, not your lazy profiles


We’re the generation who invented rave culture, but advertising thinks we’re cholesterol-riddle harpies who can eat only soft food.

Vicky Maguire per Campaign – CEO of Grey London, Advertising & Communication

Five TV anchorwomen in the US have slapped a lawsuit on news channel NY1 because it’s pushing them out in favour of – you guessed it – younger hosts. The women in their fifties were deemed not relevant, so they’re taking their employer to the cleaners. And I, for one, hope they get a handsome pay-off for every grey hair they have.

Did you watch Glasto? Nenah Cherry is 55. Kylie 51. Nick Cave is SIXTY- FUCKING-ONE, I shit you not. But the brands creeping into my social feeds like spider veins have me tea-dancing at adult-only hotels and pissing myself when I laugh.

I’m not here to make a cynical financial argument about the trillions of dollars the over-50s are sitting on.

Yes, someone in their fifties still has decades of new underwear, new phones and new cars to buy, and is more likely to have the money to buy them than a cool-but- broke millennial or Gen Z. But, more importantly, the 50-plus have a whole past that gets forgotten when they are blanket-targeted. We’re the generation who invented rave culture. Marched with the miners. Fought for Aids funding. But advertising has got us down as a bunch of cholesterol-riddled harpies who can eat only soft food.

When we as an industry brief, we brief bad. Target audience is usually age-led. But age is a blunt instrument by which to target, let alone place, media.

As a fifty-something woman, you serve me up hearing aids when I’m dropping hundreds on ear buds and cushioned insoles when I’m wearing Air Max. And how about sixty-somethings? Well, they must like cardigans, leisure slacks and soft toffees, don’t they? Hold on, let’s ask Madonna, who’s partial to a suede elbow patch and a Werther’s Original. And, no, it’s not a London thing. Fact is, those people you’re targeting with your tea-dance cruises were queueing at The Haçienda to get off their tits.

No wonder I’m shunning such blanket targeting and turning to brands that serve my interests, not their lazy profiles.

Ads tell me older people are not cool and not relevant to the pop culture we love to plunder. But that’s just not true any more. Patti Smith is as popular as Ariana Grande on Apple Music. “Young” people are discovering “old” music through Spotify playlists. And “old” people are discovering “young” music through their kids, 6 Music or social media. Age doesn’t tell you much about a person. Because many under- 30s want to veg on the sofa and plenty of over-50s go out and get off their faces.

In advertising, older people are generally signed up only to sell stuff to their own age group… or what marketing perceives that age group would be interested in. But they really shouldn’t be limited in this way. A recent ad by Grey China for Braun, featuring an 80-year-old man who’d been using the same shaver for 40 years, shows you why. YouTube comments alone on this film show young people appreciate its emotional power.

TV news might be binning the mature presenters, but TV drama is waking up to the fact that “older” people are not necessarily a turn-off for younger audiences. British director Andrea Arnold (58) is working with Meryl Streep (70) and Nicole Kidman (52) on the second series of Big Little Lies. Killing Eve stars Sandra Oh (47) and Fiona Shaw (60). Sex Education stars Gillian Anderson (50). And Emma Thompson (60) starred as the British prime minister in Years and Years.

So, if you ask me, the station that sacked those news anchors is missing a trick. Far from being over the hill, those women are just getting started.



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