It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a brand in possession of a good marketing strategy must be in want of a customer under the age of 35. So obsessed are we with millennials and Gen Z today that there are now agencies whose sole purpose is to help companies understand how to market to them. We might forgive the proclivity if it was where the most significant financial opportunity lay, it is, in fact, older people who hold, and will continue to keep, all the spending power for the foreseeable future.
The fact is, humanity as a whole is obsessed with youth and always has been. Myths like the Philosopher’s Stone and the Fountain of Youth can be traced back thousands of years. The fear of aging, much like the fear of our mortality, is part of the baggage of being human.
Our collective antipathy for getting older is reflected in our use of language. Enshrined for decades both in products and their marketing is the directive that age is a battle to be fought at all costs. Conventional marketing wisdom still tells us to feature younger people in our adverts than our actual target audiences—the underlying assumption being that the bait of youth will lure the older generation.
The fetishizing of youth is not a foregone conclusion. In Greek, Indian and Native American cultures, old age is a sign of wisdom, revered and respected. In Korea, 60th and 70th birthdays are special occasions at which children celebrate their parents’ transition into old age. However, for the majority of Western cultures, the negative stereotypes around aging persist to the point where we equate old age with a second childhood.
So why do we stay so quiet about it? A quick Google search returned just 16,900 results for “ageism in advertising,” compared with 103,000 and 458,000 for “sexism in advertising” and “racism in advertising,” respectively. Yet survey results have highlighted that women as young as 40 feel ignored by brands, along with as many as 89 percent of over-50s in the U.K. These are disappointing statistics.