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Tips for Longevity Market Storytelling That Avoids Ageist Traps

Jeanette Leardi January 12, 2020
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Here’s how to tell compelling, effective stories when marketing your longevity products and services.

In order to meet the needs and interests of an ever-growing and discerning older consumer, longevity market professionals look to tell compelling stories that connect the “what” or “how” of their product or service with its “why.” That challenge is heightened by the ageism that permeates today’s culture.

Recently, an AARP survey found that 69% of people ages 50 and older want to see ads that represent them, and that do so accurately rather than stereotypically. And they aren’t staying quiet about it. According to Cindy Gallop, an advertising professional who in 2018 helped guide AARP in its own anti-ageism efforts, “More of us older people—or, as I like to call us, ‘experts’—are speaking about ageism in branding, marketing and advertising.”

What specifically do many marketing storytellers get wrong? And how can they do better?

Embrace the Diversity and Nuance of Real Life

According to Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, “Communicators too often simplify stories that justify nuance. Aging is neither all tragedy nor all joy. Health risks are real and at some point inevitable; financial challenges confront a significant number of older adults…. but our later years can also offer great purpose and meaning.”

Nevertheless, some ad campaigns mistakenly rely on stereotypes and intergenerational conflict to promote their messages—one of which, aimed at Millennials, experienced a wave of negative feedback from aging and longevity experts.

“Today’s older adults are generally healthier and more vibrant than those of generations past,” Irving adds. “They’re working, building entrepreneurial ventures, creating, consuming, and serving the greater good through volunteering and public service. They’re caring for grandchildren, building new relationships, traveling and returning to school. They’re as human as they ever were, and as we all are. And, like all people, they must not be trivialized; they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Gallop sees a more practical reason for getting the story right about older people’s needs, strengths and goals: “We’re the ones with the money to spend on the goods and services you’re selling, and we won’t do that unless you speak to us in a way that is truly empathetic, relevant and aspirationally reflective of how we see ourselves.”

Develop an Inclusive Storytelling Process

Knowing how to avoid the ageism traps that can lurk within stories can help you better market your longevity product or service to older consumers. The most important tip to make that happen: Involve older people in your campaign.

“Frankly, young product developers and marketers are often asked to develop messages for and about older customers and clients,” says Irving. “That underscores the importance of age diversity and inclusion. If they had an older colleague on the team and in the room, they’d more likely get it right.”

He further advises, “Communicators should test messages with older focus groups. They should speak with experts in the field and those who have been successful in recruiting and retaining experienced talent and in marketing to mature consumers. They should follow the literature and the research and use common sense.”

Gallop goes even further: “Hire and promote older people to create, approve, produce and direct the messaging… We have to have older people at every step of the creation, production and distribution pipeline, to ensure truly non-ageist messaging makes it through to the marketplace, because that’s how fundamentally and systemically ageist our industry is.”

Deploy Effective Content Strategies

Process is one thing; content is another. Here are storytelling strategies that can help you frame effective, age-positive content:

  • Focus on the experience that your product or service provides. Later in life, adults tend to shift their interest away from material acquisition and toward personal meaning and satisfaction.
  • Base your message on fulfillment rather than on fear. Negative images of aging abound; consumers don’t need or want to hear more of them. Present the realities of growing older as opportunities rather than limitations.
  • Target your product or service to a wider social, ethnic and economic range of elders, including more people of color, as well as those living in rural areas, with disabilities or on fixed incomes.
  • Tell stories that exemplify intergenerational situations, allowing you to expand your market.

Impactful, ageism-free storytelling is indeed possible. Consider this ad for the Amazon Echo and this one from the French company Bouygues Telecom. These products are effectively promoted without either demeaning older adults or relying on intergenerational conflict. They appeal not only to the older adults, but also to consumers of younger ages.

When it comes to sustainable longevity marketing, that should be the goal.

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Jeanette Leardi

Jeanette Leardi is a social gerontologist, writer, editor, and community educator specializing in aging issues. Her passion for older adult empowerment has led her to anti-ageism activism. Find her work at www.jeanetteleardi.com.

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