Mamas, Don't Let Your Ads Grow Up To Be Camels

Remember the old joke about the camel? That it's a horse built by a committee?

Many of the ads targeting mature consumers these days appear to be built by committee. Chock full of pictures. Lots of messages all at once. You could consider them visual camels.

In fact, research into the photo preferences of older adults shows Boomers and beyond want ads that are lean, like thoroughbreds.

Released earlier this year, Creating Results Photo Finish survey looked at what styles of imagery were most effective with mature consumers. From the just-turned-40-Gen Xers to the nearing-their-90s Greatest Generation, the majority of respondents agreed on one thing:

Single images are more effective than collage-style layouts.

As Baby Boomers have grown up, so has advertising. This was one of the first generations to be mass marketed to. (Heck, given the size of the Baby Boom, it was mass everything.) They're savvy consumers -- seen and heard it all. It's easy for these mature consumers to tune out the painstakingly created and pricy advertising.

To engage Boomers today you need to appeal to their brains as they are today.

In his seminal book, Ageless Marketing, David Wolfe beautifully explains the changes that happen in our brains, bodies and behavior as we age, and what that means for marketing. For example, Wolfe shows clearly that verbal memory declines faster than visual, and that consumers become more right-brain oriented. The right brain is where emotions and memories reside. The right brain works in sensual imagery, not words.

What does that mean? A picture will tell your story far more effectively than words.

Photos do tell a story -- a complete story that is more quickly perceived by older customers than younger customers. This is one of the great benefits to the way our brains age: mature consumers get the gist faster.

In our research, 66% of all respondents chose single-image ads over those featuring multiple photos. This preference grew stronger with age, education and income level.

So why are many marketers still churning out ads chock full of small images? Reasons include:

  • Today's challenging economic environment has led to more expensive ad space and smaller budgets. Marketers are challenged to tell the whole story without spending any more.
  • Companies don't have or don't want to spend money on photo shoots. Yet they realize that relying on a single stock image is risky, as it could appear in another company's marketing. They figure if they combine enough stock photos into one layout, it will look new and original.
  • And another challenge: committees.

We can relate.

We once had a client who asked us for truly break-out creative. They said they didn't want to look like all the others in their space, running filmstrip ads with lots of small pics featuring posed, smiling (stock) older couples. Let's be bold. Let's be different, they urged.

Our design team answered the challenge with a concept that featured single, large photos. These were sensual images that evoked an emotional reaction. A chair by a pond. A painter's easel in a meadow. The ads invited Boomers and beyond to put themselves in the picture.

The concept tested beautifully with our client's target audience. Yet, the client was actually a committee of five. Each had their favorite picture, each had their own biases. The final published ad was a filmstrip with four photos of posed, smiling (stock) older couples.

In other words, the final ad was a camel.

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, see our editorial guidelines first and then contact Nina Lentini.

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5 comments about "Mamas, Don't Let Your Ads Grow Up To Be Camels ".
  1. Deborah Armstrong from Group PRM - Options Alliance , June 29, 2009 at 12:24 p.m.

    great insight...problem is, not only is creative driven by committee-made decisions. entire marketing and media departments waste their strategic planning efforts by creating more camels than were used in Lawrence of Arabia.

  2. Barry Dennis from netweb/Omni , June 29, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.


    When I first published Maryland Maturity Lifestyles my Editor and I had long discussions about our Editorial "Image."
    The resolution? Active lifestyle, thoughtful but concise and information-oriented editorial and articles. Our Sections were based on research and anecdotal information, some provided by locals, some through published research.
    We didn't want to be a Senior's publication, but reflect the research that determined that 55's and up didn't like the Senior image, weren't ready for retirement homes and Senior Centers, and so long as their health was good, were "ready to go."
    Wolff's analysis may have included the information, I didn't read it, but your article failed to mention that some of the attitudinal presentation of "older" folks has to with their physiology, specifically their hormone levels; testosterone in both men and women, and estrogen and progesterone in women are vital in maintaining activity and emotional levels that are positive.
    That played out in their attitudes of being presented as positive, active, interested.
    Oh, and they don't like "Boomers" when asked they define Boomers as loud, bombastic, large-sized, a thoroughly negative image. Boomers is a marketer's invention and unhelpful.
    Rather, less labeling was preferred, with "seasoned, experienced", and best of all non-age specific copy,directed at features, benefits and satisfaction, generating the most positive imaging.
    In most cases Marketers and Advertisers would well remember that matures are among the most cynical, and are experienced enough, in most cases, to evaluate the "value package" presented by marketers.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 29, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    Another addition to your camel, stop it with those couple pix. It insults, demeans and excludes populations who will exclude your brand from their headier shopping lists.

  4. Debra Morrow from Morrow & Company , June 30, 2009 at 4:08 p.m.

    Good, clean, simple design is timeless and appeals to all ages, not just "mature" consumers.

  5. Al Haberstroh from MontAd , July 9, 2009 at 11:43 a.m.

    Good post Todd, boy have I seen what happens when committees try to vet creative ideas. Never good. Have you seen this video. It nails it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wac3aGn5twc