Inclusivity: We’re Not There Yet

A major theme coming out of day one was around inclusivity – specifically, ageism.

The first panel, Brands Getting it Right with the 50+, took a serious look at the way the industry is marketing at those 50 and over.  The session started with a few facts from Martha Boudreau, EVP & Chief Communications & Marketing Officer of AARP, including:

  • In the U.S. alone there are about to be 130 million people over 50 
  • All research shows that the happiest decades in your life are the 50s, 60s and 70s
  • 10,000 people in this country are turning 65 today – and that will happen every day for the next ten years
  • 85 is the fastest growing age group in the country and 100+ is the second fastest 

Now that the stage was set, they took a deeper dive into what the current state of marketing to the 50+ is and how we should be thinking of changing that.  Currently 80% of the 50+ surveyed by the AARP felt that marketers depict their life based on stereotypes – something that Rebecca Swift, Director of Creative Planning at Getty Images is actively fighting against.  So, why do the campaigns feel so off-base? It has a lot to do with who is making the decisions about the images that are being used. Rebecca shared a personal insight to shine a light on the issue noting that when she was in her twenties she thought, “people in their 40s were part of an alien age group.”  We need empathy to break down those stereotype boundaries.

10s of millions of people above the age of 50 are living happy, healthy, vibrant lives – though you may not know that from the way they are marketed to – in fact, you may think they don’t even have friends, since nearly every image and campaign features a single person.  But, it’s quite the opposite. People over 50 have deep fulfilling relationships with friends, colleagues and larger groups of people. Rebecca shared that the best selling image in 2018 of people 50+ was that of a group of women doing a yoga class. Why did this picture really hit the mark? It could be because it was shot by someone in that same age range.

While this is a step in the right direction, we have a long way to go.  For instance, just the fact that we’re talking about 50+ as one group. As Bill Yates, Chief Consumer Officer & CMO at GreatCall Inc., pointed out, no one would ever say they need to market to the 49 and below market.  50 and above is a huge amount of people and we need to target them as such.  That said, targeting should not be by age, it should be by need – that will lead to more effective communication form brands.

However, changing the way we view the 50+ demographic isn’t enough.  We also need to think about how we’re innovating and creating for 50+.  Jeff Stamp, Chief Content Officer at GREY, shared a quick look at some of their most innovative work in the space.  GREY approached Gillette with the idea of a razor to shave someone else. At the time of the proposed idea there were 4,000 patents in the U.S. for razors to shave yourself.  There were zero to shave someone else.

There is an inclination to innovate for the youth but there are great opportunities for the demographic that have been greatly overlooked.

This same group is also being overlooked in another way.  In another panel, Heather Tinsley-Fix, Senior Advisor, Financial Resilience at AARP, looked at ageism in hiring practices.  When polled, only 8% of CEOs included ageism in their Diversity & Inclusion initiatives. In her words (that we echo), “ageism is stupid. It doesn’t make any sense given the longevity trends.”  Age does not limit creativity, it enhances it. Too often we assume that as we age, our brains shrivel up and lag behind, but this is not true. Recent research shows that brain plasticity does not diminish with age at all – it just uses different strategies to learn.  

The workforce of the future is multi-generational and companies need to get on board.  Heather wrapped with a few quick points to underscore the importance of inclusivity:

  • Older workers are rich in human skills
  • 7 in 10 workers enjoy working across generations
  • Longevity trend = an age diverse workforce
  • Mixed-age teams are more productive 

This topic is near and dear to Isobar, specifically as it relates to our Tivity Health client.  Through our work with SilverSneakers and, we’ve spent extensive time thinking about the implications of ageism in our industry. That said, there is always more we can be doing.  Thanks to the awesome panelists for sharing some actionable takeaways that we’ll be sure to take into account.