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Ageless Appeal: Strategies for Marketing to a Diverse Audience

How ageism can hurt brands, and how to properly market to a diverse audience

by Alyssa Rice


For years, the marketing industry has failed to sufficiently address the ageism bias.

Ageism is prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group, and especially the elderly.

Unfortunately, harmful depictions and stereotypes relating to age are still being included in marketing. These depictions often portray the older generations as weak, naive, poor, forgetful, angry, or technologically challenged.

For example, when is the last time you saw an elderly person in an ad drinking a cocktail with a group of friends, using technology well, or even putting makeup on? Seniors participate in these same activities that younger people do, but you would never know based on representation in television and other advertising media.

A major cause of ageism in marketing may be the lack of age diversity in the advertising roles. According to AARP, the U.S. median age for a manager in advertising agencies is 37, and the average age of a creative person in the industry is only 28. 71 percent of creative directors are male. This leaves wide gaps that are very commonly left up to interpretation.

Here are some examples of ageist marketing campaigns that have left organizations under fire.

  1. eTrade - 2018 and 2021

This 2018 Super Bowl Commercial came under fire for showing elderly people working not-so-glamorous jobs because they hadn’t saved for retirement. Shaming retirees who struggle to make ends meet is wrong, and really is not even true. According to the Federal Reserve’s “Survey of Consumer Finances”, people over the age of 55 control 70% of all U.S. personal wealth.

Another eTrade commercial shows an elderly man on video chat with his son. The elderly man is putting the phone up to his ear like it was a voice call, instead of in front of his face. In this ad, eTrade is stereotyping the elderly with being poor with technology. According to Pew Research Center, the use of smartphones among people older than 65 increased from 13% in 2012 to 65% in 2021.

  1. Medicare - 2021

This ad shows an elderly woman complaining about how much work it is to enroll for Medicare, named “Cranky Martha.” Martha is depicted as difficult to deal with, mean, and stubborn. This was an extremely poor representation of the elderly, and angered many viewers.

  1. Duracell - 2019

In this 2019 ad for Duracell batteries, an elderly man is walking around the beach with a metal detector, explaining that he would rather have extra life than extra power (a nod to their newest battery.) At the end of the ad, the elderly man can barely get up off of the ground, depicting the stereotype that seniors are weak.

  1. Wendy’s -1984

In 1984, Wendy’s released a commercial with three elderly women looking at a hamburger. One woman repeatedly says “Where’s the beef?” in a cranky way, portraying the impatience stereotype. Although the slogan was unforgettable and quite successful in its own way, it came at the cost of making fun of a person in a stereotypical way. A message like that could easily backfire today.

As you can see, ageism has been occurring for decades.

Tips for Marketing to a Diverse Audience

As marketers, it is our duty to create marketing promotions that are free of bias and harmful rhetoric. If you want to target a more diverse audience, here are some ways to do so.

  1. Test It Out

There could and most likely will be negative ramifications when creating your marketing around an assumption or a hunch. Spending time doing research is necessary. Primary or secondary research from a wide sample are best. If you don’t, you may never learn what certain populations will be receptive to, or come under scrutiny yourself.

  1. Get Input from Subject Matter Experts

For example imagine you are a marketing executive at a pharmaceutical company, creating a marketing plan for a drug that’s about to hit the market. Your target audience is elderly women. Instead of using your own bias and background knowledge of an older woman, it may be a good idea to find a doctor in geriatric medicine to get insights on the population of elderly women.

Getting input from someone who spends time with this audience daily will have knowledgeable insights on their wants, needs, interests, and challenges.

  1. Keep it Simple

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes a simple, not-too-thought-out ad can work the best.

Budweiser released a commercial of a few adults talking to each other on the phone, pretty much only saying “Whassup!” A commercial with a simple concept and so few words did extremely well for this American beer company, and can resonate with the audience that mostly everyone fits into: those with friends.

  1. Be Humorous

This underwear commercial by sloggi France took a contagious song and rebranded the negative term “granny pants.” This ad doesn’t include any stereotypes or offensive verbiage, making it super relatable with all female audiences.

  1. Make Messaging Inclusive

It is sometimes best to craft marketing messaging that speaks to the wants and interests of all age groups. If you have your marketing messaging reviewed by a diverse group of people, like Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials, for example, you will see what their likes and dislikes are, leading to inclusive marketing messaging. Also, make sure to use inclusive language so it can resonate with your entire audience, omitting words surrounding gender and age.

COVERGIRL does this well with their recent Lash Blast Volume Mascara campaign. The commercial features four women of all different ages, having used the mascara. This simple, 15-second commercial is inclusive to all ages.


Many companies get it right and deploy promotional messages that feature seniors and others as active, on-the-go, and participating in various outdoor-oriented hobbies and interests.

Unfortunately, not everyone does. No matter how old someone is, they should be respected and portrayed accurately in the media. Showcasing true representations can reduce ageism, create clarity between the generations, and generate more effective marketing.

Marketers can help create a non-judgemental, safe, and trustworthy promotional environment for their audiences. Reframe your thinking as to who appears in your messaging and why. Ask yourself if any biases were used in your creative or messaging. Keep it simple, funny, and make sure to refine your messaging over time as you receive feedback.


Email Marketing Tactics for Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z

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Stereotypes about the elderly