“Granny needs to take it easy, she could break a hip.”
“She seems to be in denial about her age and abilities. There's got to be a retirement home available, right?”
“Old hag needs to stop. How old is she?”
If you didn’t know better, you might think those comments were made about someone 75 or 80 years old. But they’re not. They were directed at the eternally youthful Madonna, age 56. She’s recently become an Internet-world target simply for challenging conventional wisdom about aging.
Always one to express herself, Madonna has her own thoughts on the issue, recently saying, "It's a form of discrimination that still has not been dealt with and it should be. I think it should be as verboten as making racist remarks or making homophobic remarks, judging somebody by their age. It's sexist and it's ageist and it's bullshit."
Is Ageism the Last Acceptable Prejudice?
Madonna was once praised for her inventive stage performances and for promoting self-expression and female sexual empowerment. Somewhere around age 50, that praise turned into criticism.
Even public figures have weighed in. Piers Morgan mocked her after a recent onstage fall at The Brit Awards: “Ambulance for Granny, please.” Sharon Osborne criticized her decision to appear topless in a new magazine spread: “I think she’s insecure about her age because she constantly has to keep showing it.”
There’s been no media backlash to these comments, a clear indication that ageism is still tolerated in today’s hyper-PC world.
Boomers Will Struggle More with Ageism
With all Boomers now over age 50 and the oldest of this generation turning 70 next year, fighting ageism will become an increasingly common struggle as Boomers seek to remain relevant in today’s youth-obsessed culture.
Their battle will be waged not only against the external ageism, but also against their own internal grievances with aging. Half say they feel no more content with each passing year, and nearly half believe they are not better at coping with life as they age.
An Opportunity for Marketers to Connect With Boomers
New research documents a positive correlation between how people feel about aging and their overall satisfaction with life. This signals an opportunity for marketers to create loyalty simply by helping Boomers feel better about aging, and ultimately, increasing their life satisfaction. Three key findings provide insight into ways brands can do this.
1. Help Boomers Become More Accepting of their Own Aging
Boomers have been known to resist aging, but those who are accepting of it are 63% more likely to report high levels of satisfaction with life.
A key concern as people age is that relevance, opportunities and respect will diminish. Even more troubling is the fear that Boomers will become increasingly invisible in our society, and in fact, one in four people over age 70 says they have felt invisible to younger people.
By providing Boomers with realistic, positive images of aging, brands can make it easier to feel good about and embrace aging as a normal part of life.
2. Portray Life at Age 50+ as a Time of Possibility and Opportunity
An inevitable part of life as we age is loss. Our parents die, our careers end, our friends depart, and our health can decline. Given these pivotal life events, it would be easy to see life after 50 as a time of loss, and those who do so are 72% more likely to report dissatisfaction with life than those who maintain a more positive perspective on life.
Marketers should seek to align their brands with the many upsides of life as we age — more free time, increased wisdom, less concern over what others think, deeper personal relationships, and greater clarity about what’s important in life.
In doing so, brands become an advocate for healthy aging by keeping the focus on what is gained, rather than lost, as a result of aging.
3. Help Improve Societal Views on Aging
Six in 10 Boomers believe that American society is driven from the perspective of youth. This is a sobering belief for a generation that prides itself on being relevant.
Brands that show Boomers as relevant to today’s society will win their favor and also help change general views on aging.
Progress is Being Made
Ironically, the youth-focused fashion industry has taken a leadership role in this regard with the recent use of older women to promote spring lines, including Céline (Joan Didion, 80), Saint Laurent (Joni Mitchell, 71), Kate Spade (Iris Apfel, 93), L’Oreal (Helen Mirren, 71), and Versace (Madonna, 56).
This is exactly the kind of progressive marketing that is needed to grab Boomers’ attention at this stage of their lives. It gives Boomers permission to feel good about aging, and it gives them role models they can reasonably emulate as they seek to live with a sense of dignity as they age.
Look for Madonna and other famous Boomers to continue to reinvent how we look at aging, and for smart marketers to find ways to celebrate older Americans, not ask them to change who they are, and expand opportunities for them enjoy life as they age.