On the Democratic Delegate Decision
The Ups and Downs of Aging

Advertising the Agony of Old Age

This story has been rolling around in Crabby Old Lady’s head for several months. She kept meaning to record some hours of prime time television over a few days and then zap through the shows to the commercials with pen and paper in hand to have some hard numbers for you. But it would undoubtedly raise her blood pressure and she never got around to it. So you’ll have to trust her general impression:

According to television commercials, old age is so dangerous or painful or simply annoying, it may not be worth hanging around for. Some say old people are more visible on television these days, but not in any manner Crabby wants to be portrayed.

Mostly, elders appear in commercials for remedies to treat diseases and ailments that range from minor through deadly serious to disgusting. Even that icky, mucus, cartoon character is old and these ads outnumber all other types.

Take a look at this list, typed out off the top of Crabby Old Lady’s head. There are so many commercials and public service announcements broadcast so frequently that any young person watching can only assume old age is agony:

Back pain
Aching joints
Loose dentures
Gum disease
Bad breath
Heart disease
Hair loss
High blood pressure
Acid Reflux
Restless Leg Syndrome
Erectile Dysfunction

Just to check that her memory isn’t failing, Crabby pulled out a recent issue of AARP magazine to see what they advertise to their readers. Most of the items on the list are represented and the rest of the ads are for insurance.

Crabby wouldn’t be so ticked off if she had ever seen an old person in a car commercial. Not even detergent ads feature elders, as though we don’t wash clothes or dishes in our dotage. And no one old appears in glossy ads for clothing, expensive watches or fancy electronics – none of the glamour stuff.

It’s enough to make a Crabby Old Lady sicker than advertisers believe she already is.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bill Weatherstone returns after an absence of several months with A Canadian Senior's Survival.]


Absolutely. It is just amazing to watch TV and see that every single commercial is for a drug. Does anyone wonder why drugs cost so much in this country? And why so many people are so sick? I'd love to see ads for improving your diet and getting exercise, both of which will cure a lot of those advertised ills.

Do you know, that had never sunk in with me but it's exactly the same with British adverts. In fairness, they often use well known (and well preserved) personalities to talk you into buying insurance or providing for your funeral (!) but most ads for normal, everyday things are fronted by young and glamourous people.

In all of the TV ads for drugs, I would rather have the ailment than risk the side effects of the drugs.

Yes, I agree. The disclaimers on the ads for drugs list so many side effects: hair loss, wobblyness, memory loss, tarry black stools, sudden fainting spells, calcified toenails, werewolf tendencies...that you'd have to be desperate to take them.

According to what I heard on Zorba Paster on Your Health last weekend, there are only two countries that allow pharmaceutical ads (I don't recall the country other than the USA). He made the point that drugs would be much, much cheaper if the drug companies didn't advertise.

As to getting older people to tout dishwashing detergent, etc: I think the companies probably have enough research to back up my own observation. I have used the same liquid dishwashing soap since 1977, the same shampoo since 1990, the same vanilla since 1955, etc. There isn't much that they can sell me except a car and cars I buy based on what Consumer Report and Car Talk tell me about model specifications and consumer experiences. We elders are not a prime market for most consumables. Of course, I avoid/ignore ads about over-the-counter medicinals and body ointments of all kinds, like the plague!!!


I agree with Kate. My favorite commercial is the one for stronger fingernails or something equally unimportant.

The side effects are numerous and include all that Kate said, PLUS "Frequent bowel movements and the inability to control them".

"Yeah, Doc, that's the pill I want for my fingernail problem."

I don't know about that, Cop Car.

Crabby Old Lady buys whatever major-brand dish detergent is on sale; the very cheapest brands are too dilute to save any money.

She shops similarly for laundry detergent as long as it works in cold water.

All her life Crabby has changed brands of shampoo about every four or five months. She doesn't know why, but after that period of time they seem to not work so well.

She doesn't care what the brand of deoderant is as long as it is a solid and doesn't contain a fragrance.

She will admit to using the same obscure brand of bath soap for decades, but it doesn't bother her much to buy another when it's not on the shelf.

And as to vanilla, salt, sugar and other staples, whatever the house brand is suits Crabby fine as it is always a few cents cheaper.

Crabby is not unique enough to be alone in this behavior, so there may be a good number of elders ripe for persuasion.

I’m in total agreement with flutterby and Kate. Maybe advertisers realize old people have been around long enough to know not to buy into their nonsense. We’re too smart!

Agree with you, Ronni. I am also sick (& never really sick) of phony "aimed at seniors" ads which tell me to take this or that medicine, then they list all the side effects. The listing of side effects is like a teasing taunt aimed at seniors.

"Go ahead and take this pill, suckers, then see what else happens to your aging ass. See, the truth is.. we don't want you around, so bye bye."

I will be 65 tomorrow and am absolutely healthy. I take NO medication, my teeth are in good shape. I don't smoke, drink, do drugs or fool around with other guys. I am fit. I cycle, inline skate, work part time on 2 jobs, walk, kayak, camp and dance.

My gyn doctor says I have bone density of a 20 year old. So either I am a freak of nature at 65, or there are millions of others out there just like or better than me.

We are healthy seniors with plans and the ability to achieve them. I hate and loathe the way seniors are portrayed in the media. One of my gardening customers said she hired some teens to do her weeding, but they showed up late, were exhausted after one hour and quit.

There are millions of healthy, willing and able seniors out there.

Advertisers, open your greedy Madison Avenue eyes and pay us a visit.

We'll kick your "inside the box" arses with our capabilities.

Somewhere within the environmental Al Gore crusade, there is a place for seniors- in terms of listening, implementing and balancing the need for ALL generations RIGHT NOW.

Tomorrow I will get my senior bus pass! Can't wait!

There are some perks to being 65 plus.

Background cues Elvis singing 'If I Can Dream." (1968 comeback special)

There is something that we can do. Consumer's Union has a petition that can be signed for HR 6151. The bill states that a new drug or medical device cannot be advertised for several years after coming on the market. This time frame will enable the public to know of adverse side effects, etc. It has other components such as requiring a toll free number to report side effects.

You can check it out at: [email protected].

You can also write your representative urging that this bill be brought forward.

It is reported that you will view 100 hours of drug advertisements for every minute you spend with your doctor.

Advertising symptoms has probably created a lot of hypochondriacs. On a night when I'm tired and achey from a myriad of activities, I sit in front of the TV and think, "maybe I have that..." "I bet I have that..." By the end of my relaxing evening I feel near death and irresponsible that I'm not taking all the drugs that could cure me.

Then I go to bed, with my mom's advice ringing in my memory, "You'll feel better after a good night's sleep." Miraculously I wake up feeling much better! (Although I often take a sleeping pill...ah, the ironies of being honest.)

Consider who(the age of) writes the commercials today...

I cannot abide the denture adhesive commercials. Makes me gag myself, and I don't have dentures...

A few commercials I've seen recently that are tasteful IMHO - Dove ProAge and Evista (a prescription drug).


After I posted the comment, I realized that the commercials I exampled are for older people, so not surprising they would feature that demographic.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a commercialized product meant for broad range of ages that does use elder spokepersons...

Ronni--Thanks for pointing out a glaring omission in my previous comment. Many purchases are based on pricing; but, I cannot see how I can be induced to buy a specific brand if I am buying by price, so that didn't occur to me as a factor. As to the brands that I stick to: I look to coupons, bulk purchasing, and other "good deals" to keep cost down.

Boy, Ronni, you struck a chord with that article.

Drug ads are on TV because they work. Not the drugs, but the ads. When people start telling me about the drugs they are taking, I just excuse myself and walk away.

Here are The Captain's rules for staying as healthy as you can (this is not new news to anyone here...)

- Lift Weights.
- Walk a mile or more a day, not on a treadmill - outside!
- Don't have a pet? If you like animals rescue one. You will feel so good about yourself, and we forget about our problems when we are taking care of others...
- Stay the hell off simple sugars! Don't eat candy, and don't eat 'white foods'. Eat fats and proteins. Steak and Salad. ;-> Eggs for breakfast, toss out the toaster.
- Eat NOTHING after 6:00 at night. No snacking. You will be amazed at how little heartburn you will have. (Take tums if you do get heartburn. They are harmless.)
- Yoga! Or some other form of keeping your back limber. Pay particular attention to reverse back stretches - as we age we 'cave forward', returning to the fetal. It does hurt at first! But it gets easier...
- Breath of Fire every morning at sunrise! (Fill your lungs completely, then expel the air in several sharp blasts right down to the point where your lungs are EMPTY!)
- Get up and walk out of the room when those drug ads come on the box. Better yet, turn off the box and grab a book, write a letter, plant a seed you'll feel better (partly plagiarized from that lovely poem "Dust if you Must")

There. Now you will live to be 100. (Not. You want to live to be 100? Find parents that live to be 100... But it ain't how many years, its how you lived them...)

Cap'n Jan

The only ads I "enjoy" these days are some of the pet ads. Especially the one about the dog and cat who discover the flea circus in the upstairs of the house. Cute. then their owners are supposed to use Advantage for fleas.

We use a nifty feature on our remote when ANY ads come on TV. It is called a "MUTE" feature. Works like a charm.

I tend to not buy anything based on tv advertising. Like was mentioned above, I find a product I like and I stick with it because I don't want to be bothered reading labels and figuring out something new in the store. For dishwashing I have one that doesn't make my hands break out and that's good enough for me. Same with shampoos. One agrees with my scalp and I don't care how silky my hair might look with another one.

What irks me the most are the drug advertisements. They used to not allow that and I don't think they should. I would like to think my doctor keeps up on the best drug for an individual problem... Yep, I'd like to think that.

Hey, Crabby ...

Here's an excerpt from my book - first published in 2005. Reads a bit like your post:

Watching television commercials, you’d think that I haven’t brushed my teeth, bought laundry soap, or taken a shower in almost twenty years. And as far as big-ticket items—well, those rabbit ears work just fine on my 13-inch black and white TV.They just require a nudge and a jiggle every now and then, that’s all. And if I need a new needle for my phonograph, I just get in my ’73 Pinto and head over to the Goodwill and, when no one’s looking, twist one off a dusty old turntable and wedge it in the front pocket of my 30 year old chinos.
Then there's this quote from a comedian and filmmaker. While he's talking about Baby Boomers, you can apply it to anybody over fifty:

Recently I have been embarrassed to be part of this generation. The reason? Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue is never wrong. They’re the neighbor across the street that sees you in the way you don’t see yourself. They’re young, they’re cocky, and what they say about the older generation becomes the truth. People still think there was a real Mr.Whipple, so I know whatever Madison Avenue says about us is what everyone’s going to believe anyway. — Albert Brooks

Ronni: as if those ads aren't insulting enough as noted in Chuck's post, we are constantly inundated with information about improving our health & acquiring all manner of "stuff" to make life more enjoyable as we live to 100 years! Enough already. Who are these people who find it necessary to tell me, ad nauseum, how to live my life. It's enough to make a person ill! LOL! Dee

Oh wow! This is also my soapbox. If I had a magic wand I would wave it over two words and send them to the land of "never use again". The two words are anti and aging ...particularly offensive when used together as in anti-aging.

I too was like Crabby Old Lady and sat down with a pad and pen to write down every time I saw that phrase used in print ads or those on TV. I soon put the pen and paper aside...I was using too much paper.

How are young people not going to fear getting old when they are inundated with the words anti-aging every day? What is anti? Against, not for, bad, don't do!

How much better it would be if anti-aging were replaced with pro-aging. In favor of, not against, good, do! What a shift in attitude that would make.

But, unfortunately, we have been duped into the whole anti-aging message ourselves. It is the babyboomers and the elders who still buy, in fact-seek out, products that will make them look younger. And I won't even get started with the number of older woman who subject themselves to the knife in order to look young.

When will we ever learn. Check out my Squidoo debate lens (the URL that I used with my name) to see the comments there. You will also see some really neat videos. I would love to have Ronni's and Crabby Old Lady's readers weigh in on this issue.

Thanks Ronni for letting me step up on my soap-box. I see why Crabby Old Lady lets off steam now and then--it feels good to vent.
Cool, I think that it makes me feel younger! (Insert smiley face with a wink here.)

Hi Crabby,
I had some of the same thoughts recently when I wanted to choose a new hair style. Out of hundreds of photos there was only one with grey hair and NONE wearing glasses. So I've started my own website as an online hair catalogue for women who choose grey in all shades. I realize this isn't exactly the same as your concern, but it is along the same lines. We are not some set- apart sickly set.


IF I linger long enough on any TV ads to see what they're about, I usually find they're worth little more than a few laughs.

Personally, I'm still busy trying to locate the little man that ran around the inside of the toilet bowl busily cleaning it. Haven't seen him for several years and wonder if his foot slipped and somehow he got flushed away.

How about the Hover-round invented by some guy named Tom Cruise?
The baby boomers (my age group), who were supposed to be so smart, have pretty much turned out to be morons after all. That is why there are so many commercials about anti-aging. It will be humorous when they all end up looking like Joan Rivers. Stupidity is cool.

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