Yes, we're only a smidge into the new year, but here are two ageist ads that can't be beat, plus some advice to marketers who would prefer to inspire rather than revile this key demographic.
Ad Number One: Tostitos chips' Bring the Party Now
Frito-Lay Tostitos chips' despicable Bring the Party Now campaign is so bad and mean-spirited it literally made me weep.
In the ad, the Tostitos repair crew comes to the aid of a young man throwing a "broken" and "foul" party. Of course, and it makes sense, they replace inferior snacks with their own upgraded chips. But they also provide "unwanted relative removal." One of the crew members, dressed in blue uniform and yellow safety helmet, is shown pushing a hand truck on which an immobilized elderly woman is strapped and wrapped in moving blankets, like a piece of discarded furniture. A disclaimer subtly runs across the bottom of the screen: "Not responsible for damaged relatives." To make it worse, it appears that the woman is smiling innocently, which could only be the case if she were cognitively impaired in some way.
Don't get me wrong. I have a great sense of humor. And I believe young people have the right not to invite "unwanted relatives" to their party. However, if you replaced the image of the older woman with someone who is from a minority group, a gay person or somebody physically impaired, there would be a national outrage.
How about us? Do we let marketers ridicule us, exploit those amongst us with cognitive impairment, reinforce images of the elderly as things, no more valuable than unwanted furniture, not even worthy of our being responsible for collateral damage to them just to sell a chip?
Ad Number Two: Perricone MD's Don't let your neck reveal your age
Why is this ageist? Just listen to your neck! (I'm doing the translating...)
"You: Okay, Neck -- You listen up good: do not under any circumstances reveal my age!
Neck: Heh Heh. Just try me, you old hag! You may look okay from the chin up, but I've got the real goods on you and I'm going to spill it if you don't buy me this product.
You: That's blackmail!
Neck: No, not blackmail -- just telling the truth about you. You really want the whole world to know you're (x) years old? You know what that means, don't you?
You: Yes. I know. Nobody will love me anymore, or take me seriously. I will be a reviled, invisible, marginalized thing. Please, please, I'll do anything. Just please don't reveal my real age!
Neck: Look, this product has been formulated to address ALL the signs of aging. I know it costs a lot -- but hey, I can help you pass as a younger person and maybe you'll keep your job so that you can keep buying all those anti-aging products. Trust me, just hand over your credit card to these people, and you can count on me to keep mum."
So, is it just me -- a seasoned 60+ marketer who is feeling overly sensitive about not being welcome at parties any more, and embarrassed by my neck? Not by a long shot. The social media (yes, indeed, not all contributors to the web are "mommy bloggers") is abuzz with disaffected Boomers whose wealth of age is equaled only by the heft of their pocketbooks.
Here's a sampling: "If I see one more 35-year-old model advertising anti-aging cream I am going to scream!... Knowing that I might be an exception, I asked the 40,000 women in the Sixty and Me community what they felt about the way that companies advertise to them. Their responses were equally strong and highlight the challenges that companies face when trying to market to women of my generation. Specifically, the women in the community felt that much of the marketing directed at them was dishonest, inauthentic, one-directional and just plain boring." So wrote Margaret Manning in a recent Huffington Post blog.
In her blog Refined by Age, Kathy Sporre calls for "a boycott of products that are marketed in an ageist way or deliver an ageist message. Don't watch those TV shows that depict older adults as helpless, forgetful or in other stereotypical ways. Don't purchase ageist birthday cards or paraphernalia that was meant to be funny, but missed the mark completely. Don't let yourself be graywashed by purchasing products that make false claims to put aging 'on hold.'"
My own blog for marketers who resonate with the notion of respecting rather than denigrating age has met with an enthusiastic response--not necessarily with marketers, mind you, but certainly with the increasing number of Boomers who are fed up with not only professionals in the marketing field, but the brands they represent.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. It's not rocket science to effectively market to Boomers. All it takes is respect. Here are my Five Flags against which marketers should test all marketing messages:
1. Comments, satire or jokes, including asides, that revile, infantilize or marginalize aging and old people.
2. Youth-centric language, as in "young at heart," or "youthful." Replace it with age-neutral words such as "vital," and "passionate."
3. Separating one out from peers, as in: "Can you believe she's 60 years old?"or "60 is the new 30."
Do this, and you are actually saying that your expectation of 60 is that 60 normally looks decrepit and that all others who are 60 look worse.
4. Definitions of successful aging that are based solely or primarily on your target having attributes normally associated with individuals younger than your own age.
5. Romanticizing or sanitizing images of aging
Watch for formulations that whitewash the shadow side of aging. Of course, you can appeal to aspirations regarding the best case scenario. But Boomers appreciate authenticity above all. They will be increasingly on the alert for sanitized projections and fantasies designed to make them feel good at the expense of the broader spectrum of addressing realistic and ultimate concerns.