Although this media story is about baby boomers, it should be about everyone who is older than 50. I like it because it introduces a new phrase to easily explain what is wrong with pigeonholing people by their ages.
Age nullification. [Boomers] aren't concerned about ageism being imposed upon us. I am REALLY annoyed by headlines that read '40 is the new 20' and '70 is the new 50'. What a bunch of hooey. I am my age. I don't want to be twenty years younger, thankyouverymuch, nor do I care if you think I am younger or older. Age is nullified by my generation. We are okay with acting in accordance to the way we feel, doing the things we like to do with no thought to what we should or shouldn't be doing at our age."
- The Rearview Mirror, 1 March 2007
Would that that statement were true about boomers in general - the original age deniers. And the superior attitude it displays toward the generations older than boomers is annoying. But the writer, a boomer herself, is on the right track and the idea of age nullification will become important in fighting age discrimination and other forms of ageism because advertising, by its ubiquity (people on average see 5,000 advertising messages a day), sets and reinforces much of the culture's stereotypes about age.
The person who identified age nullification is J. Walker Smith, president of the Yankelovich, Inc., which recently identified the following false notions advertisers adhere to even though they are long outdated and untrue of all people older than 50:
- older consumers are not likely to switch or try anything new
- older people without children at home won't spend as much
- older people are not worth the marketing expense
- shopping interests of older consumer are focused mostly on products and services to fix the ills and ailments of old age
We see the results of these notions every day on television where old people appear only in commercials for products to relieve pain and suffering while music, movies, video games and theme parks are marketed only to younger people. These practices are folly for advertisers as the numbers Mr. Smith quotes show:
"Music buyers 45 and older comprise the biggest part of the market for CDs, double that of older teens, and music buyers over age 50 account for nearly one-quarter of online music sales. Moviegoers 50 and older were 23.9 percent of the total audience in 2005 compared with 21.3 percent in 2001.
"This is in contrast to flat or declining attendance among younger moviegoers. One-quarter of video game players are 50-plus, up from just 9 percent in 1999. Half of the visitors to Disney World are adults who come for their own enjoyment, with no children in tow."
- Productivity - Think Attitude, Not Age, February 2007 [may require free registration]
Mr. Smith does all elders a disservice when he says "age is not a concept relevant to understanding baby boomers." His statement ignores elders, assuming people never change and that everyone maintains purchasing behaviors adopted in their twenties for the rest of their lives. But if it takes the huge number of boomers to force people like Mr. Smith and marketers who listen to him to back off practices that have helped perpetuate cultural ageism for decades, let's welcome it.
"Age nullification means a felt sense of permission to do anything one is interested in and capable of without worrying about age appropriateness," writes Mr. Smith. "Age is not a barrier that defines or restricts alternatives. Age is not a source of embarrassment. Age is simply not relevant. Boomers just take it for granted that age doesn't apply."
As the boomer billions spent on cosmetic surgery, Botox, anti-aging nostrums, etc. show, Mr. Smith's last sentence is off-base. But if he impresses advertisers with his age nullification idea, everyone older than the boomers will benefit too. I just don't like being ignored and dismissed as though we are already dead.