David Blecken
Sep 5, 2017

Youth-chasing Japan needs help coming to terms with ageing

A new study finds young people and in particular men hold a ‘glass half-empty’ attitude towards getting older.

Not as carefree as they look: millennials are apparently preoccupied with the fear of a 'slow decline'
Not as carefree as they look: millennials are apparently preoccupied with the fear of a 'slow decline'

The average Japanese person is considerably more negative about ageing than their global counterparts, a new study by McCann Worldgroup suggests.

The agency’s ‘Truth about age’ study canvassed 24,000 people across 28 markets. It found that 56 percent of Japanese respondents versus 47 percent globally see ageing as a problem. At the same time, a quarter of global respondents—by far the highest—said they see Japan has having the world’s healthiest ageing population.

The difference in perception is startling. Nearly half of Japanese see getting older as representing the ‘slow decline of mind and body’. That compares with just 26 percent globally who share that pessimistic outlook. Japan also has one of the highest proportions of ‘youth chasers’—people who are at pains to continue to look and feel young. This alone suggests the typical ‘senior’-oriented ad, which hammers home the point that its target audience is ‘senior’, seems wildly off the mark.

Just under a quarter of Japanese people see ageing as a case of gaining wisdom and experience, against 32 percent globally. And only 35 percent (against 57 percent globally) look forward to their next birthday.

That may be understandable taking into account the lack of prestige being old carries these days: just 57 percent of Japanese respondents said they respect the older generation—the least next to Korea at 48 percent.

The study also found that those most worried about ageing are in their 20s and 30s—46 percent and 50 percent respectively, suggesting brands can play a role in addressing those concerns and providing reassurance. Just 32 percent of people aged 70 or above give much thought to ageing.

In a twist unique to Japan, men (25 percent) see ageing as a bigger problem than women (15 percent) do. Globally, 33 percent of women are concerned at the prospect of ageing versus 15 percent of men.

People are naturally sceptical of large brands and their intentions. Yet globally—if respondents are to be believed—83 percent think brands can help make the world a better place. Suzanne Powers, McCann’s global chief strategy officer, presenting the findings in Tokyo, said part of that should mean helping people to age in “a more enlightened way”.

Globally, Google is most widely seen as the company helping people age more positively: 68 percent listed it as such. Yet few industries really seem to understand how to relate to ageing consumers. The beauty sector fares best, with 39 percent saying they think it understands the ageing population. By contrast, just 24 percent think the fashion industry does.

What it means for brands

As a marketer, it’s worth pausing to consider just why Japan is so negative about ageing. Unusually for a country that is so famous for longevity, far from presenting the positive aspects of getting older, TV programmes and accompanying advertising tends to be based on fear, even if only subtly: fear of loss of health, loss of looks, loss of vitality.

John Woodward, McCann’s chief strategy officer for Japan, suggested that it’s high time for brands to consider how to create “positivity out of ageing”. At the same time, unhelpful stereotypes of ageing are of course not limited to Japanese marketing. Given that Japan is known internationally for its ageing population, which is seen positively, the country can potentially set an example to the world in innovating senior-focused communications.

Woodward pointed to Masako Wakamiya, a speaker at the presentation who developed an iPhone application at the age of 82, as an example of the active senior segment brands should celebrate. She is not a ‘youth chaser’; she is someone who is comfortable with her age and who has remained active throughout her life. She is surely not alone. Brands are in a position to help create icons that can help break down stereotypes and have a positive impact on attitudes to ageing, Woodward suggested. 

“Celebrating people who are doing amazing things will create a better environment. There’s the assumption that creativity is the province of the young but there’s no reason that should be the case. There’s no reason you can’t carry on creating at any age.”

Powers gave the example of an international campaign by L’Oréal, a McCann client, featuring the British actress Helen Mirren as someone who is comfortable with ageing, to suggest how brands can influence culture. The work has apparently been well received by young people (who are among the most concerned about ageing) as well as the older generation. It’s important “not to fall into some of those societally-imposed stereotypes,” she said. “If brands just start with an attitudinal approach rather than a demographic approach, we’re going to have a more enlightened conversation.”

Globally, a problem seems to be the shortage of older staff in advertising agencies, which makes relating to senior consumers difficult. Powers said ageism in the industry—the deliberate exclusion of older professionals—is pervasive. Diversity of age as well as in more obvious areas like gender and ethnicity can lead to better work, she said.

Campaign Japan

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