In a love song for the ages (quite literally), the Beatles' Paul McCartney asked, “Will you still need me, when I'm 64?”
For most advertisers, the answer would be a resounding “no,” but A+E Networks hopes to change that with research about adults aged 50+ showing how needed – and how misrepresented in commercials – the demographic currently is.
"Contrary to popular opinion, people 50+ are over five times more likely to say they want to see realistic depictions than to see someone who looks younger than them in ads," A+E Senior Director, Primary Research, Ad Sales Strategic Insights Tara Lantieri tells MediaVillage. "That was a key finding for us, because we hear over and over that everyone wants to see [people who are] younger."
Stations in the growing soft adult contemporary format, along with those in other formats with music and content aimed at an older audience, already know the key points from A+E's fact sheet. From 2010 to 2020, the adults 50+ segment grew 24% to 100 million, or to 46% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. While the demo is projected to grow an additional 12% in the next 10 years, 18-49 and 18-24 year olds are projected to grow just 5% and 1%, respectively.
Perhaps the fact that stands out most of all: adults 50+ are responsible for more than half of consumer spending. "While the data consistently revealed that adults 50+ are incredibly powerful consumers who should not be ignored, we found ourselves repeatedly coming up against deeply entrenched ageist beliefs that pervade our society and the ad industry,” A+E Senior VP Strategic and Cultural Insights, Ad Sales Research Marcela Tabares says.
Among those beliefs, based on research exploring how adults 50+ see themselves portrayed in advertising vs. how they really want to be seen, is that they are viewed as "passive, feeble, out of touch, undesirable, unsexy and irrelevant," Tabares says, and that women feel less permission to age than men. At the same time, most participants see themselves as 15 years younger, and Black adults 50+ are more likely to feel good about being their age than their white counterparts, who show more fear and anxiety when it comes to aging.
A+E's researchers recommendations to advertisers? Show more adults 50+ with more relatable and diverse representations, and widen the number of categories featuring them in ads, beyond financial services, health and medicine, to include areas tending to aim younger such as automotive and cosmetics.
"Media and advertising have an important role in creating an age-inclusive world that is better for all of us," Tabares says. ”We’ve stood up this idea that youth is all things good, vitality, innovation, creativity, strength, vigor, and in opposition to all the things that are associated with aging. But that’s not the reality. It’s essentially a social myth and it’s getting worn out.”