What’s the Remedy for Ageist Ads? Ask the Real Mad Men.

Have you ever wondered why advertising is targeted exclusively at 18 to 49 year olds? Why even products like anti-wrinkle creams use 25 year old models? Why advertisers portray us older folks as doddering idiots who have no idea how to use technology? Is it because younger people have more money? No. In fact the opposite is true. In 2017, half of the U.S. adult population will be 50 and older and they will control a full 70 percent of the disposable income, according to Nielsen.

So what’s going on here? Why are we being ignored? Why are corporations, which supposedly make decisions based on the bottom line, shooting themselves in the foot?

To get some insight, Senior Planet interviewed three admen: Chuck Schroeder, 71, Don Blauweiss, 81 and Sid Myers, 82. They are the team known as Senior Creative People, a consulting firm that is trying to influence advertisers to change their ways. They’ve already proved themselves as influencers: All three once worked at the Doyle Dane Bernbach creative group, the innovative agency that in the 1960s came up with the original “Think Small” Volkswagen campaign. “Think Small” changed the face of advertising forever and convinced a big-car nation to rethink.

Can the trio perform a similar miracle with the youth-obsessed marketers of today?

They talked to us by phone from their NYC office.

Why do you call yourselves Senior Creative People? Some people see the word “senior” as derogatory.

Chuck We see it as totally the opposite. In advertising, the “senior creatives” are the most experienced members of the agency’s creative team, the ones clients trust the most when it comes to creating an effective campaign.

Corporations supposedly want to maximize profits, but they’re ignoring the segment of the population with the most money. How can this be?

Chuck Advertisers assume that the “old” people of today are some monolithic group of codgers who don’t know anything. Product managers are all young and they don’t want advice from people who could be their grandparents. They have the same attitude I had when I was 30, largely based on hubris and youthful lack of experience. They don’t grasp that they could sell more product if they actually talked to the people who have the money.

Don Remember the Pepsi Generation? We grew up with a cultural emphasis on youth, which we passed down to our children. We’re just reaping what we sowed.

How about the issue of brand loyalty – the idea that by the time you’re older, you’re already locked into a brand? It’s what advertisers fall back on when they have to explain why they’re only marketing to young people.

Don Traditional wisdom says consumers establish brand loyalty in college or young adulthood and maintain it throughout life. This is rubbish. Studies have shown that boomers have even less brand loyalty than younger people. If you want people to change brands, you just have to give them a good reason. You have to offer a benefit that’s interesting, appealing and memorable. Ads featuring young people partying is not going to do it. And how about keeping the customers you’ve got? That’s important, too.

What are the most ageist commercials today?

Chuck I nominate the Esurance commercial with the elderly lady who is bragging to her friends that she saves time by posting her vacation photos on her “wall” rather than mailing them. We see her living room wall with pictures stuck on it. Funny eh? It implies that we old folks know nothing about Facebook, even though Facebook has more users over 50 than under.

And how about the Taco Bell commercial? Taco Bell has two old guys on a bench watching young people come out with a breakfast rollup. They don’t understand this could be breakfast. This, even though almost a quarter of the fast food industry’s customers are over 55.

Sid The third one is Oldsmobile. The slogan “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” is demeaning. Not to mention inaccurate. Haven’t they heard of the 442-performance package, built in the ’60s to blow the doors off anything else on the road? “It’s not your father’s or grandfather’s whatever” is repeated in other commercials, too.

What’s the best commercial?

Chuck One good example is the Swiffer commercial that features an elderly couple as users of the product in a friendly way, not a geezer way. They’re talking about cleaning a floor just like anyone else – they’re not portrayed as old and helpless. It just puts them in a non-judgmental slice-of-life situation.

What kinds of changes are needed?

Chuck It’s simple, advertising has to be inclusive.

Sid This is not new by the way. No Volkswagen ads were ageist or sexist or excluded any group.

Do you have any juicy stories from the Mad Men era to share? Is the show accurate?

Don Yes it’s very accurate. They even referred to Doyle Dane accurately, discussing a Volkswagen print ad and calling us the “Jew agency” – which is what we were called at the time because the founders were “two Jews and an Irishman” and the staff was from every ethnic and cultural group imaginable. As for juicy stories from the time, we have plenty, but none of them fit to print.

Will things change?

Sid They have to. There are just too many of us, there’s too much money at stake. We live in a capitalist society, and eventually some campaign featuring older people will be a huge success and that will turn the tide.

If you could wave your magic wand what would you create to make a difference?

Chuck We need a campaign about the positive benefits that come from our aging population. We need to get major marketers to sign on to the idea that it’s good for their brands to do a series of commercials that talk about what seniors know that’s valuable for society. Older people need to be promoted as a valuable resource. Maybe AARP would do this if they weren’t so busy trying to sell us insurance and dumbed-down tablets.

Don I can picture one spot now. It’s based on an incident that actually happened. During the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 that killed thousands, a community of natives called “boat people”  – they live partly on the water – are staring at the water receding rapidly from the beach. The younger people are just gaping; they have no idea what’s happening. The older people shout, “get to higher ground!” They know what it means when the water disappears from the beach because they’ve been through it before. The community survives because the wisdom of the elders saves them.


7 responses to “What’s the Remedy for Ageist Ads? Ask the Real Mad Men.

  1. I certainly hope this is not the team who created “Chevy Nova” Marketing to the latino population. it’s clear the lack of diversity and knowledge of segment marketing led to this huge faux pax (NO VA in Spanish means doesn’t go)
    As stated in the article Seniors are not the target consumer for most products today and yet more seniors have disposable income.
    Especially the electronics industry. I laud these gentlemen for offering their seasoned insight to adversising. I hope there are more positive advertising hene forth as the Baby Boomers is the largest segment of seniors.

  2. The woman in the “Swiffer” commercial brought back memories for my daughter who had her as her third-grade teacher…at that time, Lisa was a widow who planned on marrying Morty. .they were introduced to each other by Morty’s son who thought that they would be a great match..the dialogue in the video is sweet..even my daughter’s children watch it and enjoy the history of the two people on screen.


  4. according to confucianist beliefs, when a person reaches 60 they become reborn and start the aging-cycle all over again..ergo, Don my friend, you are just 21 ! You can learn more now from your past’21 years of age’ and perhaps change things but just slightly.
    you seemed to have done a good job with your past.

  5. Hi! Like these three great guys, I have worked in the advertising business for over 55 years. I share their feelings about the stuck-in-the-60s attitudes and thinking of the current crop of Mad Men!!
    Would like to ask them if they could use a good, semi-retired 78 year old Media Buyer. If so, just let me know. I come with good creds.
    Miki Davis —

  6. You are only old if you tell yourself your old. I keep thinking I am just a bit older than these kids but a lot wiser. Surely, it is a blessing to have been around to remember WW ll , the advent of TV, The Atomic age , Cold War, the invention of the transistor, Dr. Salk and The eradication of Polio, the Landing on the Moon, the exploration of our Solar System, the computer and digital age. The younger generation cannot grasp the effect of the explosion of patriotism the enveloped America during WWII or the way life was during the Great Depression. I remember all that and often think of how all those events and more have shaped America’s life today. I still look eagerly forward to more exciting developments
    that keep shaping our American Way of life . Remembering the past continues to give me faith that terrorism shall perish in the ashes of Nazism. So keep looking forward to feeling young and obtaining a glorious future for all.

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