Advertising is everywhere. Whether we realize it or not, we are bombarded with thousands of brand messages every day – from the logo on our cereal box to TV ads during evening prime time. Most advertising lives within our blind spot, but every now and then something strikes a chord and we sit up and take notice.
For decades, ad agencies have projected a stereotype of older adults that is often divorced from reality. Older people were happy, harmless and the recipients of pitches for cruises and chairlifts. As our population ages and redefines what it means to get older, old tropes have been shattered. Companies are increasingly challenged to redefine their notion of their audience to survive, and that means treating them as regular humans and recognizing that adults of all ages bring purchasing power to the economy. In fact, boomers in the US spend over $3.2 trillion annually – more than the GDP of countries such as Russia, the UK and France.
This new approach to advertising can be seen in this spot from Gillette.
Every year, 8 million older American adults receive assistance with activities such as shaving. An interesting statistic in its own right, but with a realistic narrative it becomes special. Cue the son in his 50s caring for a father in his 80s. The magic derives from the accumulated life story and a tangible human relationship that resonates with the audience. The ad promotes a simple razor, but the extra information we’re delivered generates a charged narrative. The father was a tugboat captain with arms like Popeye; a stroke led to the need for the son and grandson to care for him: “I admired his physique, and now it’s a different story, but that’s the way it is,” says the son.
The ad doesn’t tell us much about the features of the razor, but it succeeds because the ties that bind are the most powerful. Relationships between the generations are fraught with memory and emotion, and when the son talks of helping his father as an honour, we all understand. The old stereotypes are shed, ultimately leaving us with an optimistic and caring view of aging. It resonates with both the carer and the cared, and scores an impressive hit with its target demographic.
A non-endorsed approach for Adidas by a student director renews the connection between a traditionally youth-focused product and an older audience.
In the commercial a retired marathon runner is wasting away in a retirement home until he rediscovers his perfect pair of Adidas sneakers. Time and again he tries his luck for a run out of the home, but is stopped by the powers that be, until the help and support of his peers allow him to break free. The traditional view of aging is of increased limitations and a shrinking world. This spot breaks down those barriers, providing hope and inspiration for the future.
Finally, let’s talk about one last commercial that draws on emotion to resonate with an aging audience.
In the wake of the Brexit referendum (in which the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union), hate crimes and discrimination toward non-British nationals rose, and immigrants were vilified as a drain on the country’s resources. Enter an ad for Polish auction site Allegro, which shows its protagonist as a Polish grandfather leaning English ahead of a trip to the UK so that he can speak to his British-born granddaughter. It’s emotional, it’s humanizing and it reminds us of the William Bernbach quote: “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” Likewise, a truer portray of older adults promises to reconnect us with products and may help shift perceptions of what it means to age.