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Seniors’ Portrayal in Advertising Falls Flat with Audience

As consumers, we use a number of factors to judge advertising directed toward us. We do this to determine if we should pay attention, engage and ultimately take action.  Part of that evaluation process is reacting to how we, as the target audience, are portrayed in the advertising – whether we’re millennials, gen-xers, boomers or seniors.

In a recent survey conducted by GlynnDevins of 400 seniors, we found that 60% of adults over the age of 70 felt that seniors featured in advertising are portrayed as stereotypes.

The survey, conducted to determine senior consumers’ attitudes and perceptions about advertising targeting seniors, suggests that we should always consider carefully how we portray seniors in advertising and marketing material.

  • Only 31% of those surveyed agreed that seniors are portrayed “realistically” in advertising.
  • Less than half of those surveyed (47%) felt that seniors are portrayed “as people to be respected.”
  • A little more than one-third (37%) felt that seniors portrayed in advertising are “people I can identify with.”
  • And 60% of survey respondents agreed that seniors featured in advertising are portrayed as stereotypes.

It’s interesting to note that when asked about baby boomers featured in advertising, only 30% of seniors felt that boomers are portrayed as stereotypes.

While there was general agreement among survey respondents that seniors in advertising are portrayed as stereotypes, there was no consensus on a single stereotype. In fact, respondents were polarized around two distinct, yet opposite, stereotypes.

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“Too Good to Be True”

When asked to describe the characteristics of the stereotype portrayed, respondents generally described those featured in advertising as either “too good to be true” or “too bad to be true.”

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“Too Bad to Be True”

Before you think that these results are only a reflection of advertising from major consumer categories such as financial services or pharmaceuticals, the survey asked respondents about senior living advertising specifically.

When asked, “Do you like the way people are portrayed in advertising for senior living or retirement communities?” only 20% of seniors answered in the affirmative. This compared with 15% agreeing they like people portrayed in financial services ads and only 8% agreeing they like people portrayed in pharmaceutical ads.

Clearly, the audience is looking for authenticity. Unlike the categories of financial services and pharmaceuticals, senior living usually has the solution readily available – residents of your community. Avoid the trap of stock images that play to the stereotypes. Invest in original photography to use in your communication, then fill your website and social media and printed materials with images of daily life featuring the residents. Everything you need to be authentic is at hand; use it and your audience will take notice.

Watch for more insights from our research in the coming weeks.

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