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Boomers Reject Ageist Ads

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Getting old will be the hardest thing that most boomers ever do. Some can't imagine themselves as slow, frail, or incapacitated. They're in denial but how can you blame them? They've lived their whole lives with the energy, engagement and full-on passion of kids. They love life as they know it and have no intention of giving it up.

You might say I'm their poster child.

I'm also a newshound and a political junkie, so every morning I am confronted with the annoying possibility of aging right there on CBC TV News.

I get up, work out, shower and turn on the TV only to be greeted by this lovely wake up call:

I can't stand this commercial. It panders to seniors' fears of increasing frailty, injury and lost independence by depicting them that way at the outset. It underlines the embarrassment and humiliation the husband must feel at his diminished state, at his inability to look after himself in the most basic and personal of ways: he can't get into the shower.

Yes, this is a very difficult situation, but must we begin with this ageist stereotype every time? Is there some reason why we can't see a tasteful shot of both of them in the tub? Maybe a little bit of humour that acknowledges the challenge, but gives at least as much air time to its positive solution?

Boomers want aspirational ads

Aegist ads like this are still too common and they'll never appeal to boomers -- especially the many in denial. Anyone who's ever seen a makeup ad knows this. Show us something aspirational. We want to envision ourselves looking much better. If we must confront aging, we'll do it from the perspective of being actively engaged in finding solutions, not by being frail, helpless souls, passively dependent on others.

Many ads take power away from seniors

Most of these commercials open with frail adults who have gotten into trouble because they're old -- they've fallen, they can't go upstairs, they can't get into the shower... These ads are incredibly negative and pander to every fear in the book. They're depressing, defeatist and anything but empowering. They take power away from seniors by making them feel that they need to be rescued from the dangers of old age by sliding stair-chairs, beeping pendants and nasty bath cubicles.

It's no wonder some boomers are in denial. Who wants to identify with the depiction of older adults as feeble, helpless victims?

A golden opportunity for marketers

Boomers' disinclination to embrace aging may finally be giving advertisers the motivation to reverse ageist ads.

The NeuroActive ad does a better job. The opening shows an energetic, handsome older man playing tennis. Very aspirational. With some hand-eye coordination, I could do that. And he's a boomer. He's one of us, he "gets" us and he represents what we want to be as we grow older -- actively influencing our own destiny, doing the things that will create a better outcome as we age. Definitely a better ad, but not quite there yet. The hawking narrator has to go.

And then there's the magic ingredient: humour. Almost any challenging situation is made easier with it. Whoopi Goldberg knows; in fact she may be the poster girl for the aging ads of the future. LOVE her! Assertive, funny, irreverent -- clearly a boomer. Just don't laugh too hard or you may have to purchase her product.

Boomers may be in denial about aging, but ads that depict seniors as helpless victims of increasing frailty won't engage them. Smart marketers are learning that they need to clean up their act -- and understand their new audience.

Advertisers, here's your tip sheet:

  1. Boomers want to be active, assertive participants, engaged in and helping to define their own destinies.
  2. Always take the positive, "glass-half-full" approach.
  3. Use humour to cajole boomers into paying attention and to show your solidarity with what they're experiencing.
  4. Do not pander, patronize or talk down to older adults.
  5. Never present older adults as victims.
  6. Focus on proactive, healthy products and ways of living. Boomers want the tools to help them avoid or mitigate illness.
  7. Be inventive and creative. Surprise us.
  8. Nothing's inevitable until after it's happened. Until then, the jury's out.
  9. Boomers generally don't enjoy discussing ailments. They don't have time.
  10. Cut the maudlin music and ditch the obligatory close: "You owe it to yourself... and your loved ones." Even the NeuroActive ad falls into this trap. Do you know anyone who talks about their "loved ones"?

One more thing, advertisers: We're really busy. We don't have time to waste on negativity, so get in quickly, make us laugh, give us something useful, then get out of our way.