By Leah S. Dunaief
Ageism is a bias just as much as racism and religious intolerance. And just like other bigotries beget those who are fighting to correct such attitudes, there is an effort underway to counteract ageism. One arena being targeted in that regard is the advertising world, as at the Advertising Week conference which is being held in New York this week.
Now, remember, older people hold the bulk of the wealth in this and every other country and make up a growing segment of the global population. According to The New York Times, in an article by Tiffany Hsu Sept. 23, more than a third of the American population is over 50, yet that segment is portrayed “in only 15 percent of media images, according to research from AARP, the powerful advocacy organization” for older Americans.
We all know that marketing and advertising are powerful influencers in our lives. Martha Boudreau, AARP chief communications and marketing officer, is quoted as saying that “many advertising agencies had never dealt with marketing campaigns targeting older consumers. Recent ads have described being 50 years old as being ‘basically dead’ and characterized older people as selfish and out of touch.”
In fact, it is the older generation that is helping their younger family members to attend college and get a start in their careers to an unprecedented degree because the older generation is richer today than at any other time in history.
So why would that attitude persist? Here’s a likely explanation. There is rampant ageism in the offices of advertising agencies. Again, according to The Times, at advertising, public relations and related companies in the United States, “more than 81 percent of employees are younger than 55. And just for an interesting comparison, in Britain, the average age of advertising employees is “not quite 34.” In trade publications for the advertising agencies, employees have described the industry as a “Peter Pan,” Few last long enough for a retirement party and there have been lawsuits charging age discrimination.
Yes, someday those same employees will be 50 years and older, and their perspectives will change, but we are dealing with the here and now.
Here are some more details from a report involving 1,116 images reviewed by AARP. More than 53 million people older than 50 are employed in the United States, but only 13 percent of the images showed older people working. Those photographed were pictured mainly at home, with a partner or a medical professional.
The numbers get worse. Not even 5 percent of the images showed older folks handling technology, although the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of people in the age group of 55-73, according to The Times, owned a smartphone. But more than a third of the images showed younger people with technology.
AARP’s Boudreau commented for The Times, “Marketers reflect the culture and the conversation in our country. Stereotypes about the 55-plus demographic were really limiting people’s sense of what they could do with this half of their lives.” The group collected 1,400 images for conference attendees showing older people running businesses, playing basketball and hanging out with younger generations.
“McCann, which runs a network of advertising agencies, suggested in a report last year that marketing campaigns consider perspectives of aging as ‘a journey of limitless opportunities and personal growth’ rather than ‘as a time of anxiety and uncertainty,’ according to The Times.
There has been some progress in changing perceptions. A decade ago the best-selling image from Getty, the stock media supplier of images, was of an older couple in sweaters embracing on a beach. In June with an increase of 151 percent in customer searches of “seniors” from a year earlier, the most popular image in the category shows a group of women in T-shirts practicing yoga.
For our part, here at TBR News Media, we welcome older applicants for positions just as we do those of any age. All we are interested in is the best possible talent and judgment to serve our mission each week.