Ageism —
Wrinkles come to us all and there is much to learn from every line

Keith Richards, the professional death dodger, once said, “Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get.” Yet, I am often saddened by the clichéd image of old age, which is still a common currency in our culture.

Media and advertising still lump all older people into one homogeneous group. Mocked, often trivialised, and worse patronised, the advertising industry continues to worship at the altar of youth presuming that people between 18 and 49 have the most disposable income. This is quite wrong. People aged 55+ spend the most money in almost all categories. They buy the most cars, spend the most on electronics, and control the most wealth. Yet why aren't advertisers chasing them?

I've always thought you ‘follow the money’ so why isn't this sinking in? Perhaps it's because the average age of ad agency people is around 30 years old. A recent U.S. report showed that people over 50 are as likely as younger consumers to switch brands such as banks, airlines, computers and even bath soap. Even when it came to other product categories like athletic shoes, home electronics and cell phones, older consumers were even more open to switching brands than younger ones. As a matter of fact, among 56 to 90 year olds 78% are “likely” or “very likely” to try new products. Yet only 10% of all advertising is aimed at people aged 55+.

Most of those campaigns presume there's something wrong with them that needs fixing, such as age spots, wrinkles or erectile dysfunction. Marketing's lack of attention to the 55+ age bracket is cultural. Ignoring older people is tolerated. If society feels that way at large, and if advertising follows the parade, why should marketers feel any different?

Most of us are familiar with racism & sexism yet we're only beginning to see ageism for the damage it could do to our society. Ageism is entrenched in our society and for that matter in much of the western world. The test of a civilised society is how it treats its older citizens. It's easy to love children - even tyrants and politicians like to campaign with babies and visit schools. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, and the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.

To find respect towards age you have to look beyond Western culture. We have our very own exemplary lessons from Maori in the treatment of their elders. More examples shine among Japanese, Chinese and many older cultures. Between now and 2030, in most Western countries almost 1/3 of the entire populations will be over 60. The centenarians are the world's fastest growing age group, and scientists predict that millennium babies can expect to live to 130 years old. There is no point in all these extra years if all people have to look forward to is discrimination, derision and more life insurance advertisements.

What's needed are better role models, less hypocrisy, more honesty and the end to the obsession with youth. Teaching the younger generation the value of experience and wisdom was always the responsibility of the elders in any tribe. It seems we have swept this away in favour of gilded youth who whilst well-informed continue to struggle in this bewildering world of choice.

Making role models of celebrities doesn't help - the likes of the Kardashians who pay collagen-packed ‘lip service’ to growing old gracefully. Liposucked, skin-stretched beauty becomes the benchmark poster at the bus stop, with the further wizardry of photoshop.

Just how does the senior citizen feel climbing onto our public transport when confronted with all this discriminatory ageism? Do we give up our seat on the crowded bus or simply ignore the fact that wrinkles come to us all and there is much to learn from every line. When it comes to ageing, our society needs to fundamentally rethink its attitudes.

We need many more timeless characters like Keith Richards (same name, no relation) to make us all feel good about ageing.