Marketers have successfully used real people of all ages to advertise their products, especially in the beauty and fashion realms. One campaign I really like is for Cole Haan, which celebrated its 85th anniversary with ads showing black-and-white portraits of people who were born in 1928, including poet Maya Angelou and astronaut Captain Jim Lovell.
But often, when it comes to marketing retirement communities, we default to using stock photos. Part of that could be a fear that images of actual, current residents won’t be in the right age bracket to appeal to the next generation of retirees — especially since some studies have found that people tend to feel 10 years younger than their chronological age.
Despite that statistic, I feel that showing the real people of the community whenever possible is the best option. Real people in real settings means powerful, emotionally engaging opportunities — even if they haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry or guided a rocket ship to earth.
We can sense real. We can sense authenticity. We know when we're being pandered to, and when we walk on campus, we will most certainly know if the story we've been told reflects our experience. To do that, we can't just put a smiling stock photo of an attractive 59-year-old on the cover of a brochure or a homepage. It doesn't feel right.
People want to see themselves in a community, learn who their friends might be, and view situations in which they can picture themselves. That doesn’t happen with 90% of the stock photography out there. It’s either too staged or too perfect — too idealized or too forced.
Aspiration is good. But the kind of aspiration we need is to let people know that their lives can become more enriched and rewarding — that the future they have dreamed of and planned for can actually come true.
Of course, there are some caveats and challenges with showing real people.Canes, walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen machines are a fact of life as people age. But many retirees don’t want to think about that reality — at least not yet. They know that retirement communities are there to provide a safety net in case a higher level of care is needed someday, but they don’t necessarily want to see what that care entails.
However, we don’t have to go in the other direction and show residents running a marathon or bench-pressing 350 pounds. One Baby Boomer I know said, “I react positively to ads that show people laughing and having fun, not necessarily always riding bikes, running or being active. Those images don’t relate to everyone, but enjoying life does, in my opinion.”
When we work with our clients on photo shoots to create the best picture of their community, we look for real stories. Our focus is on letting the residents speak for themselves. We're just a conduit for that message. We're not trying to put words in their mouths; we want them to speak genuinely, from the heart.
Certainly, we want healthy, vibrant subjects, engaged in their lives and communities. But feeling and being young has so much more to do with who these people are than what they look like. People with the most interesting lives are the most interesting to listen to, to see, to engage with. Of course, we choose flattering photos, but we don’t Photoshop out the wrinkles.
Capturing these real moments isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth the effort.
Using professional photographers who can talk to, relate to and empathize with residents makes it easier. Superficial looks or perfect models don’t sell a community. Community sells community.