Ludovica Damonte
Mar 27, 2024

The future is silver: Why it's time we ushered in a post-ageism era in marketing

From youth-obsessed campaigns to AI-generated biases against older generations, it's time brands stopped ignoring the untapped potential of ageing audiences, TSLA's Ludovica Damonte opines.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

For the entire span of human history, a constant has prevailed: The number of children under the age of five consistently outnumbered those above the age of sixty globally. This enduring trend however, reached a slow and inevitable conclusion in 2020, when the proportion inverted, and the gap continues to widen at a pace much, much greater than in the past. By 2050 the number of individuals aged sixty-five and above is projected to be double that of children under the age of five.

While the world is getting old, brands are still completely youth-obsessed. Recent research by CreativeX shows that in 2022, only 4% of people featured in ads worldwide were aged sixty or older. This representation is not only disappointingly low, but also remarkably biased. Despite the average retirement age approaching sixty-five in OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, only 1% of older adults are shown in professional or leadership roles in ads. The majority are relegated to family and home settings, rather than portrayed as active participants of society, living full and well-rounded lives.

The rise of AI—which often epitomises our limited, stereotyped collective imagination—also exacerbates concerns about equitable representation of older adults. On Midjourney, a neutral request to imagine a sixty year old person using a phone yields images of a man aged up by at least fifteen years, looking confused with raised eyebrows and ruffled hair, reinforcing all kinds of outdated clichés (see below).

As brands and content creators increasingly leverage AI, this unfair representation is becoming uniquely troubling. Unlike other “isms” such as ableism, sexism or racism, where the target of discrimination are external groups, the victims of ageism are, quite literally, ourselves. Well, our future selves. The lack of empowered portrayals of older people in culture eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, shaping self-perceptions of ageing as a dreaded experience of planned obsolescence and defeat.

In Singapore, this continuous negative reinforcement is impacting how people feel about ageing. In fact, 80% of Singaporeans are worried about growing old. It’s therefore of utmost importance to shine a light on initiatives such as 'Break The Silver Ceiling' by the Agency for Integrated Care. With one in four Singaporeans over the age of sixty-five by 2030, AIC took it upon themselves to redefine what modern ageing looks like, giving it the energy and swag it deserves. By activating prominent community leaders in their sixties and seventies to run a defiant relay that spells “Boomer is OK” on the Strava app, and by collaborating with internationally renowned streetwear designer Mr. Sabotage, the campaign demonstrates that vitality, style and guts are not prerogative of the youths.

Beyond Singapore, despite outliers such as JD Williams, Trinny London and Dove making strides in age-inclusive campaigns for older women, the industry as a whole continues to allocate the vast majority of marketing dollars to younger consumer audiences. It's as if older people’s money has lower intrinsic value than young generations'. But the truth is, there’s an enormous amount of cash to be made by understanding and speaking directly to older people’s needs and motivations.

As the proportion of older people continues to grow, and wealth gets transferred to Gen X and Millennials who will, soon enough, hit their sixties and fifties. So, can brands truly afford to continue dismissing the older segment in their marketing efforts?

Ushering in a post-ageism era by shifting away from grossly stereotyped portrayals of older people and towards meeting the realistic needs and aspirations of an ageing consumer base presents a transformative opportunity for brands both in terms of marketing and product offering. For example, brands like Lululemon could fortify their offering of activewear that doesn’t take a struggle to pull up and put on, creating lines that are easier to wear and look good on older bodies. Car ads could finally feature ambassadors above the age of forty, which are sorely lacking despite the average buyer age of certain car brands being over fifty. Some of the physical performance enhancing foods and drinks could be rebranded for their cognitive performance boosting qualities instead. The list goes on.

These shifts will also imply a rethink of who the influencers of the future are. In our collective imagination, they are these young, tumbler-carrying internet mavens (Midjourney would confirm this). As older generations are getting digitally savvy en masse, they’re naturally starting to take up space on platforms that were once reserved for the youths alone. Look at Cindy Gallop, proudly in her sixties, killing it on TikTok as a guest speaker for numerous women empowerment channels. Soon, the endorsement by older voices will become indispensable to any well-crafted integrated media plan.

Whether we like it or not, while marketers are still spending the vast majority of their time and resources obsessing with youth culture, it’s becoming undeniable that the future is silver. Beyond the moral obligation of parting with stereotyped and discriminatory representations of older adults, it’s a commercial imperative for brands to prepare for an ageing consumer base. As marketers, putting meaningful effort in making brands sexy and inclusive for older adults is not an option, it’s about survival and success. If not, risk writing ourselves out of our own future, as we become the victims of our own ageism.

Ludovica Damonte is a strategy director at The Secret Little Agency.

Ludovica Damonte - The Secret Little Agency | LinkedIn

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