Seniors Dislike Ad Portrayals

As the American population ages, more marketers are targeting seniors with a whole range of products and services, but many are way off base when it comes to presenting images their audience can identify with.

That’s according to a recent survey of 400 consumers ages 70 and over by GlynnDevins, which specializes in marketing to older age groups.

Overall, the seniors surveyed gave very low marks to the way ads portray people in their age group, with 60% saying ads targeting seniors are dominated by stereotypes, versus 31% who feel seniors are depicted realistically, and 37% who say they can identify with the subjects.

Furthermore, a number of key categories scored even lower, with just 8% of respondents saying they agreed with the portrayal of seniors in pharmaceutical ads, while 15% said the same for seniors in financial services ads, and 20% approved of portrayals in senior living communities.



Asked what they objected to in these portrayals, most the survey respondents said images of seniors in ads skewed unrealistically positive or negative. In the “too good to be true” category included depictions showing seniors who are too active, too rich, too well dressed, too perky and too attractive.

On the negative side, they also singled out images of seniors as sick, feeble and out of touch. A mere 47% said they felt that seniors are portrayed “as people to be respected.” It probably doesn’t help that most find ads targeting them uninformative, with just 31% finding value in ads for senior living and financial services, and 29% for ads pharmaceuticals.

Advertisers are falling short, with just 20% of seniors surveyed saying they “like” most of the senior living ads, dropping to 13% for financial services ads, and 9% for pharmaceutical ads. Perhaps unsurprisingly 67% said they actively disliked pharmaceutical ads, while large proportions merely expressed indifference to the first two categories.

Asked how ads targeting seniors can connect with them, 90% of respondents said humor is a good way to deliver marketing messages -- but once again only 10% said they found senior living ads entertaining, falling to 10% for financial services ads and just 6% for pharmaceuticals.

12 comments about "Seniors Dislike Ad Portrayals ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, August 25, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.

    Unless I'm wrong, most TV ad campaigns targeting "seniors" -----people over 65 ---- go through a fairly rigorous pre-testing routine, involving focus groups to get a handle on whether the core positioning strategy is on target and, later, commercial recall and impact measurements, to determine whether the ads grab attention and communicate their intended messages. If so, how does one explain the results of the study, cited above? Could it be the result of an approach which, without specific brand by brand reference points, allowed respondents to vent their general frustrations, with the obvious result----lots of negativity?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 25, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

    Focus groups are groups. Focus groups ask the wrong questions. The direction of the leaders can be directed toward what the advertiser wants. The groups are run by people who have opinions who want to keep their jobs. Dare them to contact and run them in lower end 'hoods. Remember: Garbage in - garbage out.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, August 25, 2014 at 10:44 a.m.

    That may be, sometimes, Paula, but I've seen many focus group studies where there was a genuine interest in determining what people really think. Of course, you don't take the results of a discussion with a dozen or so marketing prospects at face value. Advertisers and agencies are well advised to run a number of focus groups at various locations, before coming to any conclusions. Even then, they often go to a second step, surveying larger samples---say 500 or 1000-----just to make certain that whatever insights they gleaned at the focus group level are justified. The last step, making a rough cut commercial and testing the response to it, coupled with the other research, usually gives you some pretty good indications of how consumers will react.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 25, 2014 at 4:18 p.m.

    Have you ever been in focus studies ? They do ask if you or your family work in advertising marketing so you may not have been. (I have.) So if these particular focus groups work so well, why is there such conflict ? Personally, I think these senior spots are totally do not relate to me or anyone I know and some of them are insulting. Just today, I was over at the VA (not for me) which represents a good portion of the community whether veterans or not and there is a big hole between reality and TV representations.

  5. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., August 25, 2014 at 4:28 p.m.

    Ed, as usual your comments and observations are factual and manage to avoid the usual pitfalls of anecdotal comments. While I'm at it, thanks for making sure not get caught up in the "flavor of the week" buzzword. Wise to leave that to those over-empowered with a high opinion of themselves. Where is Mr. Ephron when we really need him?

  6. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 25, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.

    The ad agency youth culture - even when driven by middle-aged creative directors - completely misses seniors. In a campaigns we did about 10 years ago I had to constantly remind the 20- and 30-something team that "Grandma was raised on the Beatles". Whether this research is perfect, this article is quite accurate. If I see one more financial commercial with a retiree biking through the south of France in their retirement I'm going to puke. And I fully agree that there's a tendency to go to the other extreme - with the feeble and incapable. One important truth is that strong & mature older Americans scare the h..l out of creative directors who have spent their entire careers worshipping the culture of the young & hip. They don't have the "I want to try to be too young" urge of the creative director...they just live life powerfully. At least I know my dad did.

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 25, 2014 at 6:16 p.m.

    Guys and gals, all I'm saying is that the bulk of these campaigns are not merely hurled out there onto the TV networks without some careful thought and research to back them up. Regarding focus groups, they are one of these tools but those I have experience with usually involve trained and experienced pros who pose questions designed to elicit opinions about how a product is best positioned, then guide the responses to gain whatever insights are attainable. There's no point in wasting time and money by stacking the deck in these studies in favor of some preconceived notion. Ultimately, the chosen positioning strategy is translated into a commercial which also has to pass a stringent test before it appears on TV. We should also note that many of those silly, "atypical" ads showing "oldsters" acting like fortysomethings, while obviously unrealistic, are on TV because they work, not because advertisers are such egomaniacs that they are willing to jeopardize their campaigns by using "stupid" commercials designed to offend older consumers. It is a well proven axiom that you've got to cater to peoples' self image in crafting ads. Many people over the age of 65 are in denial about their age and respond to presentations showing that a product might make them "young" again. By the way, I happen to dislike many of these commercials, but I understand the thinking behind them.

  8. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 26, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.

    Ed - I agree with most. However, I thoroughly disagree with the idea that "many of those silly, "atypical" ads showing "oldsters" acting like fortysomethings, while obviously unrealistic, are on TV because they work". Most agencies might have elaborate theories extrapolating from numbers & research claiming that they "know they work". However, few have a substantive enough understanding of the advertising impact to "know they work". Most, but not all, advertising (including advertising to an older audience) reflects the perceptions of the agency and client about "what works" and not an objective market analysis knowing that they're right.

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 26, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.

    Doug, I agree that, to a certain extent, advertiser marketing people and agency "creatives" tend to have fairly fixed opinions about what works when it comes to crafting TV commercials. I've seen this on many occasions, myself. However, I have also seen many of these decisions guided to a fairly large extent, by sound research and testing. Moreover, as I noted, earlier, virtually all national TV ad campaigns are given the ultimate teat----by taking a commercial execution and exposing it to a sample of 300-400 people representing the presumed target group, to see how they respond. Typically, the agency and client have a large number of previous tests of this sort to guide them in interpreting the findings. When in doubt, they frequently repeat the test to determine if they are getting a consistent reading. Creative egos notwithstanding, as a direct result of this kind of research, the commercial is often modified or totally redone. Last, but hardly least, there are actual sales results in the marketplace. Invariably----though not 100% of the time----commercials that pre-test well in terms of engaging audiences and motivating them, are also effective as sales boosters. So, all I'm saying is that most advertisers----possibly with exceptions, of course------are pretty careful to do due diligence on their assumptions about what works before launching expensive TV ad campaigns. They're not as arbitrary and subjective as one might think.

  10. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion, August 26, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.

    Reality check: I knew seniors in the 1960s who did indeed bicycle in Europe and England and they weren't wealthy. My generation came of age with rock and roll. And my great aunt and uncle pulled a travel trailer through the mountains of Montana and Idaho in their 80s. I know others who played tennis regularly in their 70s some 20 years ago. Seniors represent a spectrum of active lives as do 20 somethings. Best advice: recognize differences but accept the basic humanness of seniors.

  11. Richard Hammer from Africa HD, August 26, 2014 at 11:46 p.m.

    Hello Folks,
    I am compelled to join in this conversation. Why? Because I am the target audience that these advertisers are trying to reach. I am here to tell you that I am totally turned off by the ads targeted towards my age group. And that's because of the three categories that these ads fall into. Senior Living. Pharmaceutical. Financial Services. Old age. Sickness. Poverty. Actors portraying stereotypes that belong to my fathers generation, not to mine. I am in my 60s and things still go better with Coke, The Pillsbury dough boy pops out of my oven on occasion. And Mr. Clean is alive and well and living under my sink. What I wouldnt give to see a spot for Coca Cola with 60 somethings playing frisbee on the beach. If advertisers in the 3 dreaded categories want to reach me they will find me at a Diana Ross concert, working out at the gym or running my business. The soundtrack of my life is Motown. Spots with funeral dirge soundtracks...or worse, spots with no music bed at all, will never get my attention. If you must remind me that I am a senior, remind me in a way that I can relate to. Grandpa smokes marijuana. Deal with it.

  12. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 27, 2014 at 4:50 p.m.

    @Ed - I've been around a lot of that research you mention. Fundamentally the research starts with broad leaps of faith about "what makes a good ad". After 20 years in brand driven direct response television I can tell you: those research teams start with extraordinarily flawed assumptions about the consumer response that will indicate they have an effective ad. For example, research into "likability" is mostly meaningless (although there are ways to consider this question and times when it is useful - but not many). This could be a long discussion between us - too long for this space. So I'll re-iterate my sense and leave it at that: the advertising we see targeted to aging adults is based on misguided projections by the creative team (abetted by flakey research and account planning theories).

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