Why Even Nora Ephron's Death Couldn't Save Ann Curry
You shouldn’t have to be an aging woman to write copy that appeals to women (or men) over 40, but it sure seems to help. Over the last three decades, Nora Ephron -- who died last month at 71 -- wrote screenplays that became iconic representations of Boomer life, and in so doing made many billions of dollars for the film studios that hired her. Given this nearly unmatched record of success, you might think that media companies would have begun hiring older women for all kinds of jobs, from writing more screenplays to communicating more directly with the many viewers who value an older person’s experience and humor.
Well ... think again.
At the same time that the media world praised Ephron -- and praised itself for appreciating an older woman -- it also fired another aging woman, Ann Curry, from the “Today” show for ... well, for representing the kind of worldview we liked when it came from Nora Ephron. Why was it so easy to reward Ephron but so hard to reward Curry?
While not officially a Boomer herself (she was born in 1941), Ephron’s most popular works captured the aging Boomers’ fascination with politics (“Silkwood”), relationships (“When Harry Met Sally”), marriage (“Sleepless in Seattle”), divorce (“Heartburn”), and food (“Julie & Julia”). Movie studios don’t readily admit how much money they’ve made from Boomers, but they rewarded Nora Ephron for bringing it in.
So did her female peers. In the days following her death, the Boomer women we follow praised Ephron for “making my life better with your words, films [and] creativity.” One member, a writer like Ephron, told the story of the more famous author sending her flowers.
At 55, Ann Curry is 16 years younger than Ephron but smack in the middle of the Boomer bubble. After serving as the “Today” show’s news anchor for 14 years, she co-hosted the show with Matt Lauer, for the last year. Yet, when the show ran into ratings problems, NBC decided to fire only Curry and leave Lauer (himself 54) in place. In a move that looks more like an awkward second marriage than a professional reassignment, Lauer will now be joined by Savannah Guthrie, age 40.
Boomer women, many of whom have been on the receiving end of similar decisions, did not agree with NBC’s decision. One of our members called the decision “a disgusting choice. Ann was the classiest part of ‘Today.’” On our site and our Facebook page, women have defended Ann Curry as a peer and offered her support for a future with new chapters of success.
So what does all of this have to do with marketing to Boomers?
In the contrast between Ephron and Curry, I was struck by a perpetual debate among marketers who are increasingly comfortable with a message inspired by a Boomer perspective but remain stubbornly uncomfortable with putting “real” Boomers in front of viewers, readers, or subscribers.
Are they right? Will the many generations who embraced the wit and experience of Nora Ephron be turned off by the face of someone who has earned that experience herself?
There are some exceptions. MAC cosmetics, for one, is using the face of 91-year-old Iris Apfel to attract customers of all ages -- and that’s great. But what we still don’t see is advertisers using the faces of real 50-something men and women to reflect more accurately the world we all live in. If Boomer insights are good enough for us, why aren’t Boomer faces?
I think that media companies and advertisers would be making smart business decisions if they let Boomers seen as well as heard.
What do you think?