Do advertisers know how Boomers see themselves? How they’d like to be portrayed?
Are advertisers, in fact, portraying them that way?
Does it matter?
Financially, it obviously does. The vast spending power of Boomers makes them a market that can’t be ignored.
And now comes compelling evidence that it matters operationally, as well. New research shows that Boomers are well aware of ageism and other negative stereotypes in the way they’re portrayed by advertisers. And — even worse for advertises — they actively resist messaging that stigmatizes them.
The research was commissioned by Home Equity Bank, providers of the CHIP Reverse Mortgage (R), in partnership with neuroscience research firm Brainsights, and ad agency Zulu Alpha Kilo. Researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to analyze the unconscious brain activity of more than 300 Canadians, evenly divided between Boomers (defined for this study as 55+) and those younger than 55. Participants were shown a variety of video content, including advertising from Home Equity Bank, in addition to movie trailers, news clips and holiday advertising. Across the board, participants showed greater levels of attention, connection and memory in response to content that depicted the positive reality of today’s Boomers.
“Age-based identities are created and reinforced by society and through media and marketing that set expectations for how people should behave and conform,” said Kevin Keane, founder and CEO of Brainsights. “But 55+ audiences don’t see themselves as old and frail. They’re wise and energetic, with a passion for teaching, legacy and life fulfillment.”
The research revealed that Boomers are increasingly alienated by old-age stereotypes. Today’s Boomers see themselves as adventurous and capable — important themes that counter the stereotypes prevalent in media. Personal legacy has also emerged as a theme for today’s Boomers, as is the act of sharing and imparting knowledge to other generations. Yet what is too often presented is an image of old age and helplessness. “If you look at stock photos that are used to show the 50-plus,” says Karen Chong of AARP, “they tend to look confused or are shown as not being able to do something. These kinds of images and messaging reinforce the stereotypes.”
Why are so many advertisers still getting it wrong?
To start with, advertising is an industry of young people. According to one recent survey, just 6% of ad agency employees are older than 50. This is compares to 22% in finance, 28% in medicine, 30% in science and 35% in law. A 2016 survey of advertising, marketing, media and PR industry employees in the UK found 79% agreeing with the statement, “I think the industry I work in comes across as ageist.”
Another important factor: Boomers are not aging the way previous generations did, at that same age. This is a theme we pound non-stop here at ZoomerU, and while we’re making a lot of headway, the old stereotypes are stubborn. Take any age along the 50-plus continuum — 50, 60, 70, even 80 and beyond — and the people in that age group are behaving 10 to 20 years “younger” than people behaved, at that same age, a generation ago. Portraying them inaccurately in advertising isn’t just a problem of social injustice, of not being nice to the older folks. It’s a desperately serious business problem of watching sales evaporate because the people you’re trying to sell to (who have more disposable income than any other age group) consciously and actively tune out your message.
How does the tuning-put process work? What can advertisers do about it? The research provided concrete answers, and we’ll explore them here in a follow-up article coming soon.
That's how many Zoomers plan to purchase a home in the next 12 months. It's more than any other age group. Source: Vividata Spring 2021