When I set out to discuss media and aging for my class on universal access, I started looking through magazines and paying close attention to the television shows I enjoy. However, I found myself side tracked by the advertisements. I spent an evening flipping through channels to look at advertisements. Where were the older people? At a population over 40 million strong in the United States, the Baby Boomer generation makes up a large market share, spending about $905 billion dollars a year (Carmichael, 2012). Why are advertisements not catering to this demographic?
According to the majority of advertisements I viewed, the world is full of sleek people who are mostly white and between the ages of 26 and 45 (or children, who want to eat nothing but sugar). There are rare exceptions for an occasional person of color, as well as exceptions made for an older population. While advertisements rarely seem to cater to anyone “real”, there is a marked difference for the 65 and up population.
When you did see older people represented, it was for very specific types of products. I saw older people represented manly anti-aging products, retirement plans and financial services, and medical related advertisements. They also appeared in the background of other kinds of ads, but not the focus. There were grandparents in advertisements in products that dealt with children.
Together this leads to a very stereotypical portrayal of an older population. First, it shows older people as interested only in these kinds of products, over others. Alternatively, they are in the background, existing in society, but not the focus.
While financial and medical securities are very important issues, especially for older populations, these depictions make it seem that they are the only people who care about such topics. This allows for a skewed view of what older people are interested in, and what their needs are. This representation can easily sneak into perceptions, as advertisements are an ever present and unthinking media that we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
It is not necessarily in the portrayals of older people that show bias and prejudice, but in the lack of portrayals. It is my opinion that marketing companies are hesitant to show older populations, because it is not sexy, it is not appealing to a wider demographic. I believe this is indicative of a wider fear of aging, which seem to share as a culture. By now showing a wide and diverse population of people, including older people, people of color, or other people with different body diversities, an unnatural “norm” is set. This normal is young to middle aged white people. This unnatural normal could cause feelings of alienation for the underrepresented populations.
Carmichael, M. (2012). Welcome to the marketing wasteland: Clermont, fla. Advertising Age, 83(22), 6-n/a