Ageism in Advertising

On the CBC radio show The Age of Persuasion, Terry O’Reilly (Canadian broadcast Producer and Personality) pointed out in 2011 that in the advertising business, the youth is the most desirable market, ages 18-49. That if he were to say in a boardroom meeting he had a campaign to attract 55-year-old consumers, he’d be laughed out of the meeting, but if he had announced the same for under 35’s, everyone would lean in. This all despite the fact that people 55+ spend more money in more categories than any other age group.

All out pursuit of youth trumps statistics, facts, audience size, discretionary spending power and even logic.

In the 70’s, when CBS was top network, and NBC was second, both had loyal, adult viewers. ABC who had no chance of cracking CBS or NBC changed the rules and recommended to advertisers that if they wanted to create brand loyalty it had to be done at an early age. ABC Chairman Lenard Goldenson’s argument (which is the framework that advertisers have used for more than 40 years) said, “the younger the viewer, the more brand loyalty was up for grabs. That brand loyalty had to be won early, while the viewer was tender and that younger consumers were more impressionable, more focused on quantity, and they bought with impatience. Conversely, older viewers were set in their ways, and could not be convinced to change brands or buy more of what they already had.”

In 1969, ABC had only two shows in the top 20… Johnny Cash and Marcus Welby M.D.

But in a few years, ABC became a programming force with shows such as Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and The Six-Million-Dollar Man. Oddly, to me, if these shows were targeted at younger viewers, they also attracted older viewers including my grandmother. Good writing knows no age. Terrible writing (or lack of writing, such as represented on the “reality shows”) has no audience or longevity.

ABC was so successful, they managed to convince advertisers that the 18-49 year old audience had more money and bought more, and all the agencies wanted to be associated with this new group.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.

What about the fact that people 18-34 have the most discretionary spending power.

Also, not true.

More than 80% of the wealth in North American financial institutions are in the hand of people over 50 giving them 2.5 times the spending power of the coveted 18-34 age group. They spend an estimated 2 trillion (that’s TRILLION) dollars a YEAR on products and services, and they’re about to get richer.

People 50 and older as set to inherit an estimated 14-20 trillion dollars in the next 20 years. This phenomenon is “boomer specific” and will not happen again.

Media Buyers estimate that 55% of the 20 billion dollars spent on TV prime time advertising is aimed at the 18-49 group, with only 10% aimed at the 55+ and most of those campaigns presume that there’s something wrong with the 55+ that needs fixing, such as age spots, wrinkles or E.D.

The single most expensive ads on TV is the automobiles, however all these commercials are populated with young people, but young people don’t buy the most cars. According to a USA Study, people 50 or older spent 87 billion on cars last year (2010) compared with 70 billion under 50.

People over 50 buy 60% of all carbonated beverages.

1 in 3 adults are over 50. Someone turns 50 every 7 seconds. Approximately 6,500 people celebrate their 65th birthday every day.

In the 20th century industrial worlds, we added 30 years to our lifetimes. More than had been achieved in the preceding 5,000 years of evolution. The fastest growing demographic is people 85+. If you manage to make it to 85 in relative health, you have a good chance of making it to 100.

The word “elderly” entered our vocabulary in the year 1611, yet the word ageism didn’t arrive until the year 1969.

Someone once said that “Ageism” is the last socially condoned bigotry.

1.6 trillion in buying power, corporations remain leery of 55+ consumers, even though they’re growing at a faster rate than younger ones, will inherit even more money, and have a lot of years left to spend it.

I’d think that if I were in the business of selling a product, I’d want to market it to the largest, growing, affluent population on the planet… And I’d want in before the market was saturated with other’s vying for attention.

Interestingly, considering the sheer number of channels out there, you’d think that it’s relatively easy to find at least one that is targeting this demographic, however I’ve not seen this to be the case. In fact, only one has caught my attention, and surprisingly, it’s The Weather Network. They’ve recently started airing a car commercial for Jaguar and surprisingly, they don’t have a 20-something driving it. I doubt that most 18-34’s even consider a Jag as car choice, so clearly, they’re changing their target demo.




Seaghan Hancocks

Mr. Seaghan (pronounced shawn) Hancocks works as a professional broadcast Line Producer. Between gigs he writes for his growing web clientele.

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