Those Dove Commercials…Again
Elder Joke: Memory

Chuck Nyren on Advertising and Elders

Category_bug_interview We spend a lot of space on this blog discussing the impact of advertising on the perception of elders and that old people are mostly invisible in print ads and television commercials except for products to relieve pain and suffering.

Because advertisers’ job is to create as many sales as possible, it puzzles me that they ignore – and sometimes alienate – millions of older consumers. So I decided to ask an expert.

Chuck Nyren, founder of nyrenagency, is an award-winning advertising video producer, creative strategist, consultant, and copywriter focusing on the baby boomer market. He runs a lively blog at Advertising to Baby Boomers and the newly updated, revised version of his book, Advertising to Baby Boomers has just been released. Please make him welcome.

1. What do you think is the importance, if any, of the new Dove campaign featuring over-50 women? Is it an inroad? Will it lead to more elder models being used to advertise other kinds of products?
That’s the big question. I hope it’s a watershed campaign. I love it. We’ll have to wait and see. A few years ago I predicted that there would be a watershed campaign. Perhaps this will be it.

2. One of the things that ticks me off big time is advertisers and media writers who use the phrase “baby boomers” when they mean all older people. Some real-life headline examples [with my comments]:

  • New Electric Trike For Baby Boomers [Do they card you before purchase?]
  • Skin Care For Natural, Radiant Baby Boomers [Formulated to work only on people 43 to 61]
  • Baby Boomers Are Big Targets For Fraud [Everyone knows older people are too smart to be taken in by con men]

I am undoubtedly in the extreme, but I make a point of not buying brands that are advertised to baby boomers in this way. Here is what baffles me: why do corporations cut out 46 million people older than 60, either by name or with images, from their potential revenue pie?
Ronni, I try not to comment on the press – although I do every so often. I try to limit my observations and opinions to advertising and marketing.

Using the term “Baby Boomers” in news articles doesn’t bother me much (except that I’m getting sick of so many news stories lately). But using it in advertising (“Hey, Baby Boomers! Here’s the product for you!”) is pretty dumb. You don’t want to talk at people by defining who they are. This is insulting. Just tell me about the product, tell a story about it – and do this with the sensibility of the generation that you are targeting.

The problem is that in most cases the copywriters and creative folk are in their twenties and thirties. I talk about this in my book, on my blog, when I consult and speak.

And the reverse is true. You wouldn’t want someone 50 or 60 coming up with a campaign for people in their late teens/twenties. They would talk at’them. As I say in this blog post,

“It wouldn't be too bright to trust my gut to come up with a campaign for a product aimed at twentysomethings. My gut would tell me, ‘… Ummm ... ummm ... Wait! I got it! We get some twentysomething girl an' spike her hair an' give'er tattoos and a nose ring an' put an iPod on her head an’ bed some hip-hop music an' have her hold up the toothpaste! Yeah! They'll buy it! They'll buy it!’”

Cutting out people older than Baby Boomers: I’ll answer that in question 3.

3. There are 46 million people in the U.S. (one-sixth of the population) who are older than 60. Yet marketers and advertisers refuse to acknowledge that we exist except in commercials for pain and suffering remedies. There are no commercials for new cars, iPods or even laundry detergent that feature elders. Why?
It’s ageism. Something you write about almost everyday on your blog.

I get a bit queasy talking about ageism and racism as being too closely related. Racism was and is an issue that has affected and destroyed millions of people in this country since its founding. However, in the broadest senses of the terms – and in advertising – they are related.

Forty, 50, 100 years ago, the conventional wisdom was, “Why advertise to Negroes? They buy products anyway. And do we really want to associate our product with this group?” That’s what’s happening now with ageism and advertising.

4. Older baby boomers (let’s say 55-plus) have more in common with people my age (65) than with younger boomers in their forties, yet marketers lump all boomers together and ignore elders. How does this make sense in terms of targeting the right market for products?
I agree completely and I’ve written about this at greater length here.

I also agree that it doesn’t make much sense. However, even targeting people over forty is something new for advertising. Actually, most advertising was age-neutral before 1970, but since then the 18-34 demographic has ruled – and still does. It’s silly and shortsighted.

So my point is this: At the moment, just targeting anybody over forty is good news. Eventually, there will be more focused targeting. (Or at least I hope so.)

5. I’ve read that there are few creative types in ad agencies who are older than 40. If that is so, I think it has much to do with how off-kilter and tone-deaf advertising is when it does target older people. This must be reflected in fewer sales than would be so if they got it right. Hasn’t anyone thought of hiring some elders to point those “young ‘uns” in the right direction in regard to older consumers?
Ronni, this is my book. You’ve summed it up well.

Advertising agencies before 1970 or so had a good age mix. That’s what I preach about – bringing back a better age mix.

6. Ageism, which includes age discrimination in the workplace, is as serious a problem in the U.S. as racism and sexism, but hardly ever acknowledged as such. I read somewhere that Americans, on average, are subject to 5,000 marketing messages a day, many of which not only reinforce cultural ageism, but create it. What responsibility do you think corporations and their advertisers have in this regard?
I answered this with question 2. I’m not so sure it’s quite as serious as you do – but it’s serious. As far as responsibility, let me answer cavalierly: Forget responsibility. It’s just dumb business practice not to advertise and market general products and services to people over forty-five.

7. What do you think is the cultural impact of elders being absent from those 5,000 messages a day except for products to relieve pain and suffering?
This is one of the major themes of your blog, Ronni. I read it regularly. I also soak up the comments by your readers. I send people to your blog when they ask me about ageism. I agree with most of what you and your readers say on the subject, and don’t have much too add.

8. Do people you know in the world of marketing and advertising ever discuss targeting older people for products other than medical appliances, gastric remedies and painkillers?
That’s all we talk about. We’re evangelical about it. David Wolfe, Ken Dychtwald, Brent Green, Mary Furlong, Matt Thornhill, etc. If your readers are interested, Google these folks.

Whether the marketing and advertising movers and shakers are listening - that’s another story.

9. As you recently noted on your blog, baby boomers were the first generation to be marketed to in childhood. How does that make their demographic, from a marketing point of view, different for advertisers from people older than boomers?
Again, it’s how you define baby boomers. And at this point, I’m not sure that because we were marketed to as children has or will have any effect on marketing to us today or in the future.

As far as people over 70 (an arbitrary number on my part), I’m not an expert on that demographic. Most marketers and advertisers don’t care about baby boomers and they really don’t care about people over 70. That’ll change over the next 20 years as baby boomers turn 70. At least I hope it will.

10. I have a theory that marketers target baby boomers by name because they’ve got that cute name which other generations – younger and older – don’t have. Could they be this unthoughtful about what they are writing and presenting?
Again, it’s dumb to call baby boomers baby boomers in ads. The press calls them baby boomers, and when talking B2B (business-to-business), we use the term baby boomers. My book is titled, Advertising to Baby Boomers but it’s a business book.

11. In what situations would you recommend using older models and spokespersons to your clients?
I’m not wild about spokespersons. Older models? Absolutely. However, I think advertising to the 50-plus demographic is usually better off concentrating on the product. Often, you don’t need models of any age.

This link also helps to answer question 9. Make sure to read the comments attached to the above posting. I don’t agree with all the comments, but they’re interesting.

12. In using older models/spokes people, is there a difference in impact between choosing men or women? I'm thinking of a current TV commercial and print ads for TD Ameritrade with actor Sam Waterston. They've been going on a long time now, so they must be fruitful. Would using a similar type of woman of the same age be as successful?
I think so. However (and this won’t make you happy, Ronni), some research has shown that older women don’t respond favorably to older women alone in ads – at least ads for products other than cosmetics and whatnot. It seems to reinforce the fact that a huge chunk of women over a certain age are alone – divorced or widowed. However, this attitude is changing. That’s because women’s attitudes are changing. For more, read this blog post.


Very interesting discussion, Chuck and Ronni.

I can't remember the advertiser - it was an investment firm - that had a commercial spot on last Sunday evening's National Geographic special on the Galapagos Islands. The ad shows three different centenarians who are still active with upbeat voices. I had to laugh outloud at one line of dialogue (which was obviously there to remind the targeted audience the need to plan ahead): "I never thought I would live to be this old". All in all, the ad is well-constructed.

It appears there is a fine line between an acceptable pleasing ad that features older people and one that is condenscending and demeaning. I imagine it takes a talented pro to achieve a commercial product that avoids the pitfalls of making elders appear as feeble or like a "family pet". (The latter being the most deplorable in my book.) Remember these little jewels?

"Where's the beef?"

"Clap on! Clap off!"

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up."

Like the centenarian ad I mentioned, I enjoy watching elder-targeted commericals or reading print ads that successfully comprises intelligence, grace, and if appropriate, humor, to deliver the message.

Advertising is a powerful seduction; one that has a profound influence on our culture. It behooves us to insist it is used wisely.

Remember, purchasing power is mighty.

Oops, should have proofread a little better.

Should have said "comprise" not "comprises".

My seventh grade grammar teacher's lessons are hard to shake *grin*.

I wonder what role intellectual and/or emotional maturity plays in advertising. Perhaps advertising is targeted at “younger” viewers because of a perceived vulnerability to advertising. (Note I said “perceived” because to group all younger people as immature and vulnerable, again, would be stereotyping.) Advertising companies conduct focus groups and polls all the time. I wonder if there have been any findings that as people get older, they are less vulnerable to the influence of advertising? I’m 51; I tend to think that I know what I like at this point in my life. Not that I’m not at all influenced by advertising, but I tend to think I don’t take notice of ads like I did when I was younger. I wonder if this has some role in the decline of advertising to older folks. I’m not saying it is, just that I’m wondering—advertisers are not going to spend precious advertising dollars on a set of folks to whom the advertising has little results, biggest-bang-for-the-buck thing.

As for the phrase “baby boomer.” I’m smack dab in the middle. I know its big now, but mostly I don’t care, and sometimes I wish the term would just go away.

Chuck Nyren’s response to question #2 begs the question “Why are most copywriters and creative folk in their twenties and thirties?” What happens to them when they turn 40? Where are the “creative folk” from 20 or 30 years ago? Are they no longer creative now that they are 60? Or have they lost their jobs now that they are no longer young?

Today, sex sells. No one under 30 believes that people over 50 have sex or are sexy. This is the slightly-out-of-focus thing that bothers me about the Dove commercials. They are trying to sexualize older people (specifically older women). I don’t need sexualized ads to influence me to buy a product.

The term ‘baby boomer’ doesn’t bother me. Although advertising companies should realize that this boom generation is where a huge hunk of the national economy is, especially those with more disposable income.

I'm an elder Baby Boomer -- born in '47 -- but I don't and never have and. most likely, never will fit the profile. I like what's been said here and see its merit. A photographer friend of The Man's the photos he took of me and asked if I'd be willing to pose for him as he does ads for several major chains and gets "brownie points" for using older models. According to The Man, he was disappointed to hear that I live in Ohio. I thought it interesting that the chains know we're out here and are making an effort.

Will I ever work for him? I doubt it. My days of that sort of thing are pretty much over but ya never know . . .

Finally, we have some sensible dialogue with an individual (ad agency)who has a voice to whom others in the business just might listen. Thanks to Chuck Nyren for engaging in this interview. I'll look forward to reading more about what he has to say, as with anything I read, whether or not I agree with all of the views. I think the questions you posed, Ronni, are excellent.

I've been reading David Wolfe's blog for about a year or so. He expresses some excellent ideas with a unique perspective incorporating the latest in brain and neurological functioning as applicable to the advertising business and consumers. Those in the advertising world would do well to listen to him more.

I come away with mixed feelings after reading this and links, that on the one hand there is an awareness of how the ages older than the bbs are neglected, but in the perspective of too many -- so what, we just don't count.

Looks like we're going to have to make our own niche, find our own supporters, come up with our own media voice(s) i.e. get our own TV channel and more. Obviously, Ronni, you're giving us a running start with TGB and the ever increasing idea-filled readership here.

I found the commentary of one bb woman at one of the links you provided pretty sad commentary in terms of her attitude toward older people. I'm so counting on being around when she gets a few more years behind her, just to see the shock on her face when she realizes, she hasn't been able to avoid aging and decides she's due more consideration than she is apparently willing to give others now.

Thanks for all the comments. I’m off to NYC for a consulting/speaking assignment – so I’ll answer some of the questions here next week.

The campaign with the centenarians is from Genworth:

From my perspective Cindy got it right. Advertising doesn't influence me as, by now, I know what brands I like and what to shop for. I use the remote when a TV ad comes on and work on my crossword puzzle. The only TV ad I recall with elders in it was for a product I can't even remember. It showed one woman curtsying wearing a dress that would have been fashionable in the '40's. Another woman looked like she smelled something bad and I remember thinking she must be the mother of the advertiser to get the job. If those are the type of elders (and they are the normal people you see every day) advertisers use then I would prefer that they don't show elders at all. If I am typical the advertising industry would be wasting a ton of money targeting me.


Very interesting interview Chuck and Ronni

This reminds me of elder abuse , there is an un spoken rule amongst journalists in South Florida , NOT to talk about elder abuse - Do we really want to associate ourselves with that ! Also journalist I talked to said they only like to write about"Happy Stuff". I guess we elders don't make for very much "Happy Stuff."

I'm past the term "baby boomer" and figured the ad men have decided those of us born in the early 1930's are too blind to read. All these young copywriters need do is visit the local fitness centers to see the number of gray haired women exercising! I love seeing older, non-professional women modeling clothes. That doesn't entice me to buy, just makes me appreciate the magazine and the product featuring the ad.

Marilyn –

When we did this interview, Ronni slapped the back of my hand for promoting my book over and over. The real story is that very few people here would want to read it because it’s a B2B book. It wouldn’t be that interesting to most people.

That said – a major theme in it answers your questions. And when I consult or speak I spend the first fifteen minutes going through the history of advertising – with the punch line answering your question. It’s difficult to answer so briefly – but I’ll try.

From the 1920s to the middle 1960s had a good age mix – but it was pretty much the domain of WASP Men. Catholics, Jews, women, most minorities were not involved (although there were some unbelievable women – they didn’t get the credit they deserved at the time). For example, if you were Catholic or Jewish, you did your best to play it down. In the 1960s that all changed. Women and minorities were welcomed into ad agencies – but over the last thirty years the blind spot has been age. This coincided with the new notion of an 18-34 demographic being the main target market. So all you needed were young creatives.

I know the above probably doesn’t completely answer your questions – but I don’t want to go on and on for ten scrolls.

Thanks for all the comments here. I always learn something from scanning Ronni’s blog.

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