Quality or Quantity – either would be nice

PR Creative + Strategy lead – Sarah Firth – highlights the problems facing how older people are portrayed in marketing

There’s a simple but effective tool that I reckon a lot of people use to check a theory about representation in popular culture – do a search on Google images.

So this morning I searched ‘people at work’ and guess what, there were lots of lovely pictures of people chatting round a table or in a café or staring at a screen – all very healthy and positive images, representing the modern work place in all its glory, but….hold on…. on closer inspection, very few (if any) looked like they could be over 50, yet according to the Centre for Better Ageing, a third of the workforce is over 50.

Another piece of anecdotal evidence – I work in comms so I regularly get emails with insight about Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X – at least two emails a day will start with something that will help me understand individual age cohorts, in depth and nuance, from how they like to be treated in the workplace, to what media they are consuming and how often. Very rarely does anyone tell me anything about being over 50, 60 or 70. I’m beginning to wonder if we (me aged 53) exist in the marketing world….at all.

Well, maybe I’m being a bit harsh, we sometimes do appear in popular culture and marketing, but more often than not, there seems to be two main stories that we are allowed to appear in – happily retired or health compromised – please be one or the other.

I’m neither – to my knowledge. Which makes me think there is a huge issue to address here – marketing not only has a quantity issue when it comes to representing older people – we aren’t front and centre enough – but also has a quality issue. Ehen we are front and centre, we are only allowed to play very limited roles, that bear little resemblance to reality.

We need to start with looking at this audience like we look at every audience under 50, with nuance, with a focus on lifestyle, attitude and passion first, and life stage second. It means building teams including people who know this audience, because they are this audience. And whatever you do, don’t underestimate this audience, don’t assume that 50+ covers it. Give some meaning to the + in the 50+, because they are too much of an important audience to overlook.

So this is a bit of a call to arms, let’s take a deep breath and show older people more often and in every part of the spectrum – it’s not a grey world, it’s one full of colour.

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