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Marketing Ageism / Ageist Marketing

category_bug_ageism.gif About a week ago, Elisa Camahort emailed a link to a blog by a marketing copywriter named Bob Bly, alerting me to this specific post:

“Having just been given an assignment to write a letter aimed at seniors, and rapidly approaching that status myself, I paused to think about what seniors (and near-seniors, like me) think, feel, and believe.

“Here’s what I think senior [sic] believe:

  1. Idiosyncratic, gruff, even crabby behavior is more accepted in the old than the young.
  2. The old days were better than today.
  3. The moral decay of society is accelerating at an almost exponential rate.
  4. Young people think they know everything, but in fact know almost nothing.
  5. Society has become course [sic] and crude.
  6. Technology scares them. They don’t understand it. But they wish they did.
  7. Their number one fear: outliving their retirement savings and being financially dependent on others.
  8. Their number two fear: old age, illness, and death.

“Are these on the money? Or are my assumptions off base?”

Off base? How about not within warp speed of this universe. I left a mini-version of my trademarked rant on age bias in Mr. Bly’s Comments section and was joined in the ensuing discussion by TGB regulars Winston of Nobody Asked and Tamar of In and Out of Confidence.

According to his professional home page, Mr. Bly is a 25-year veteran of writing successful marketing copy. He’s got the secrets, he says, to generating large numbers of responses to direct mail advertising that no one else knows - which secrets, by the way, he will reveal to you in a “boot camp” next February for a mere $2,497 – plus airfare and hotel in Las Vegas.

My intention is not to critique Mr. Bly’s copywriting skills which may or may not be prodigious. But I do take extreme exception to his false stereotyping of old people's attitudes as entirely negative, which is still too common in our youth-centric culture at large and in the professional marketing community.

When marketers bring these biases to their work, old people are targeted with advertising only about patent medicines, prescription drugs, diapers, dubious insurance policies and useless anti-aging products. When was the last time new cars, computers, iPods, fashionable clothing or cameras were marketed to older people, or models with gray hair and a wrinkle or two were displayed with them? It will never happen as long as there are too many marketers like Mr. Bly.

Tamar left a Comment suggesting that Mr. Bly must be kidding. One could only hope, but that would require an indication of irony, which never appears in his post or in the back-and-forth in the Comment section.

In addition, Mr. Bly avoided discussion of the question of his age bias we raised preferring instead, to create a semantic argument, defend his ageist list as being “proven by testing” (although he didn’t supply any of that proof) and attack bloggers in general.

While Mr. Bly’s post doesn’t have the reach of an advertisement in Vanity Fair or a commercial on television, for example, it is a small example of small-minded ageism and stuff lives forever somewhere on the web. So it, as all ageist propaganda, must be challenged wherever it appears.

Anyone - including Mr. Bly - interested in the latest research into marketing and the minds of older consumers presented in a thoughtful, engaging manner should check out David Wolfe's excellent blog, Ageless Marketing.


Uh, okey dokey! This man must live in a deep cave or under a huge rock! Mr. Bly must have been looking into a cloudy mirror when he developed his list and spewed forth his very own ideas and fears.

I'd venture that he quite possibly didn't hang out with his grandparents and their friends, or else he'd see things quite differently. Actually, words fail me.

How about adding: Have a lot of disposable income since they don't have to support children or save for retirement any longer.

Clearly Bly is part of the problem and isn't interested in being enlightened so he could join the solution.

Having followed the entire saga of Bly's burps, what I found most revealing of his attitude, and quite possibly his mental capacity, was that he started by throwing out his 8 non-sensical baits, asking for feedback on their validity or lack thereof. When the feedback came, he rejected all of it, retreating into his cave to defend his postulates. If I could have been face-to-face with Bly, I might have used Nicholson's famous line from "A Few Good Men" as he bellowed out "You can't handle the truth!"

I at first thought he was joking when I read your excerpt. What an EGO!

Marketing is more negative than positive. I see the necessity for it, but I essentially dislike and distrust the marketing business and this is a perfect example of why.

Think about it. He's approaching seniors so he comes up with a list of what he believes are their fears and prejudices. You're focused on aging and ageism, but the same thing goes on with every demographic group.

Don't get me wrong, I'm offended by that list, too, but I think it says more about the marketing mentality than seniors. You have to get people feeling something's wrong and something's lacking in order to sell them things they don't need and maybe didn't want until their weaknesses were poked, prodded and ultimately exploited.

I saw two spots on the nightly news programs the other night about the new medicaid program, which I found to be condescending to older people, who were described as needing extra help. It was implied that they don't use computers etc. I'm sure some or many don't, but's a stereo-type and the truth is, from what I hear about the medicaid program, a lawyer might find it confusing. I know I would.

Well, as far as technology -- I'm 47, yet both my over-65 parents AND my over-90 grandpa use e-mail and the Internet, and my parents spend a LOT more time online than I do! I for one can't wait to get older so I can be as techno-savvy as my folks! :-)

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