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Martha Stewart fronts Sports Illustrated: Why ageism and a lack of diversity is such a problem in ads

Martha Stewart fronts Sports Illustrated: Why ageism and a lack of diversity is such a problem in ads

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Lifestyle entrepreneur and global household name Martha Stewart made history this week when the 81-year-old was featured as the cover model for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's latest issue. 

A mother and grandmother, Stewart is the oldest model to grace the highly popular swimsuit magazine, overturning traditional ad conventions which typically prioritises younger women and that entirely omits the older generation, making them the last when it comes to their consumer priorities.

In a 2022 study by McKinsey, it was found that the number of older adults will more than double to an estimated 1.6 billion by mid-century, marking one of the "most profound demographic shifts in human history". It also noted that by 2050, the number of those older than 65 will grow from 9.4 percent to 16.5 percent of the total population.

True enough, as our society ages, it is more important than ever that agencies and brands look to refocusing their campaign efforts to include this vast population in fashion, beauty, lifestyle and more industries.

Don't miss: Martha Stewart on her 'horrifying' brush with advertising and breaking into business 

When MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out to industry heavyweights, many noted that ageism, particularly in the advertising space, has been a problem that has persisted for a long time. "A simple look at the ads we see is pretty telling of how older folks are stereotyped. The frail looking grandmother, the older aunties in the supermarkets, the bored and loud kopitiam uncles. The list goes on," said Charu Srivastava, the chief strategy officer at TriOn & Co. "I see some efforts to change this as of late and I think it's largely fueled by the government’s push to reframe the ageing population issue," she continued.

She added:

However, how much of this is genuine effort to capture the diversity of age and how much of this is simply following the script?

Srivastava continued by saying that she believes the best way to have real age diversity and representation in ads is to have age diverse people in the room when coming up with these ad campaigns. "Who better to represent and present the authentic perspectives than the older people themselves?" she asked before noting that it is the same as for any kind of representation.

At the end of the day, brands stand to gain customer loyalty when they market to the vast elderly population, according to Srivastav. And this translates to more than simply sales. 

"We are living in an ageing society so ignoring the older population is silly and makes poor business sense. Unless, of course, your products are not relevant for them. Diversity, at the end of the day, is always good for business. Brands need to realise this and embrace it," she said. 

Authenticity in marketing

Saying that, it is also very important that brands and agencies are authentic when it comes to attempting to be age diverse in their marketing efforts. Thomas Skelton, the director of corporate strategy at TEAM LEWIS APAC emphasised this when he noted that he believes that the industry has yet to accept the need for the authenticity that audiences truly crave across the board from age to gender.

He said:

We have become accustomed to countless stereotypes in advertising, and they are becoming staler and more expected.

"For example, older people are often pictured as requiring assistance, having large happy families to enjoy their retirement with, experiencing flashbacks to better times, or being frail and infirm. These are all stereotypes we have grown up with, and they don’t reflect the reality we and many over 50s live today," he continued.

However, many older people just want brands to be authentic about the experience and to see themselves reflected honestly in ad campaigns. In a 2021 AARP study, it was found that most consumers aged 50 and above want marketing campaigns to "grow up". It reported that some 62% agreed with the statement “I wish ads had more realistic images of people my age.” In tandem, nearly half or 47% of respondents agreed “ads of people my age reinforce outdated stereotypes.” 

"Brands that embrace [age diversity] cut through the noise, not just in their target demographic, but because we are so used to the same stereotypes that they also create a buzz with the general public," said Skelton.

Agreeing with him, Pat Law, the founder of GOODSTUPH noted that we need to stop portraying older people as technologically inept, fashionably basic and frail in advertisements.

"Personally, I do not think age matters, but relevance does," she said. 

Related articles: 
How Crayola coloured the world with diversity through crayons
Study: Majority of APAC consumers care about diversity, equity and inclusion
Rebel with a cause: Why having a 'cause' alone isn't enough anymore

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