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Marketing to the Ageless: How Companies Convince Consumers That They're Not Old

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Getting the Boomer Generation to pull out their wallets means either embracing their denial about aging, or making it cool to be old.

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In case you haven't heard, we've all shaved two decades off of our chronological age. Somehow, magically, 40 is the new 20 and 60 is the new 40. Today's AARP members aren't your grandmother's seniors.

No, these are the baby boomers, and they're not going out playing bingo. In fact, they're not going out at all. They're riding into their sunset years on Harleys, Easy Rider style. They're not coasting over the hill; they're jumping it.

At least that's what products marketed to the aged, er, mature set, have us believing. Hell-bent on getting a piece of that disproportionately high discretionary income, ad executives are capitalizing on "generation spend" by constantly reminding them that they attended Woodstock.

Anthem Blue Cross
By definition and legal requirement, Medicare eligibility is the mark of a certain age. Being the recipient of the government health benefit means you're not a day under 65. But that minor detail didn't get in the way of Blue Cross Blue Shield when hawking its Medicare supplement insurance plan. Determined to take a youthful tack, the WellPoint (WLP) subsidiary injected a dose of "heavy metal thunder" into its Medigap policy.

If decades of commercialization hadn't already stripped "Born to Be Wild" of all original meaning, the "roaring anthem of turbo-charged riff rock" that once served as "a slice of '60s revolt" (according to Allmusic.com) has finally gotten its last coat of paint thinner, compliments of Anthem Blue Cross. Anthem, get it?

The commercial, which is equal parts depressing, cringe-worthy, and hilarious, features a gramps made grumpy by the racket being made by his granddaughter's band in the basement. But just when you think he's going to shut down practice right in the middle of their rendition of the Steppenwolf hit, he grabs a guitar and shows them how it's done.

Because, as the narrator says with an implicit wink, "We know you're still more rocker than rocking chair."



Iris Apfel's MAC Collection
Cosmetics companies have made a killing by talking women out of the idea of getting older. After all, there's not a whole lot of money in giving the public permission to age gracefully. We need to be told that what's happening to us is wrong, unnatural. It's not enough that we pledge our support to the "anti-aging" cause -- we have to make posters and picket.

Despite the biological impossibility, Revlon (REV) has managed to convince women that they can defeat old age. From Melanie Griffith to Elle Macpherson, the company war cry has been "defy" Father Time. Even Ellen DeGeneres, via CoverGirl (PG), has the middle aged believing they can be middle ageless.

So you really have to hand it to a beauty brand that hires a product spokesmodel and fashion icon old enough to have designed rooms in the Truman White House. Iris Apfel's bold-colored line of MAC makeup makes no pretense about its 90-year-old cover girl and doesn't try to airbrush her age away. She's not selling youth; she's selling style.

Possibly taking a cue from Ellen herself, Apfel, in all her publicity photo's wrinkly glory, seems to unapologetically say, "Yep, I'm old."

Just for Men
A somewhat age-embracing approach has also come out of the men's personal care camp. While some products in the Just For Men line of hair color still fully exploit the insecurities of the aging man -- like the commercial that shamed retired NFL running back Emmitt Smith for the "gray facial hair" [that put him] "in a rocking chair" -- others are helping to keep the silver fox off the endangered species list.

An identity crisis ad has a man's split hair personalities fighting one another over which direction to take the color. "My hair says experience," claims the gray side. "My hair says energy," argues the brunette. The solution? The brand's Touch of Gray product that integrates both with a comb-in process. "Now I look like I know what I'm doing and can still do it," says the resulting hybrid.

The commercial, for all its hokiness, does make a good point about having the appearance of experience in terms of baby boomer employability. In an economic downturn, the older generation with their ironclad work ethic, are highly sought after work prospects. Of course, they just can't look too old.



Activia Yogurt
Back in the day, the only thing more delicate than the mature woman's digestive system was the manner in which irregularity products were marketed to her. Now, former sex symbols are proudly and publicly owning their blockage issues and liberating the female masses of their own.

Before serving the Dannon Corporation as the face of constipation, the last time we really saw Jamie Lee Curtis was pole dancing in a thong on a bedpost in True Lies. Curtis has never been particularly shy about her body as we witnessed as far back as Trading Places. In her later years, this confidence has apparently seeped into her pores and spread to her digestive tract.

The current ad campaign flies "real women," long-time best friends, out to Los Angeles for a "girls' night out" at a restaurant where they sit around a table, chit-chatting with Curtis about their "out-of-sorts" systems. But thanks to Activia, they're gonna keep on BFFing. "Just because we're over 50 -- what does that mean?" one of them asks sarcastically. "Are we done?" They toast to their friendship, clinking Activia containers.

The chutzpah with which Curtis tackles this once-unmentionable topic is almost too easy to parody. But that didn't stop Saturday Night Live from shooting this barrel of fish. In the sketch, Kristen Wiig (as Curtis) has gobbled up several containers of the yogurt before the commercial shoot, which seems to have run its course while she's still on set.




Depend Adult Diapers
What comes to mind when you think of adult incontinence? If it's not strutting in slow-motion and winking at ladies to a Booker T. & the M.G.'s soundtrack, then you must not be familiar with the Depend brand. When the adult diaper, made by the Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KMB), debuted on the market in the mid 1980s, the brand was peddled by piddling grandparents who were desperate for bladder control while teeing off on the golf course or tending to the garden.
But the Depends of today are all about swagger, the red carpet and, naturally, professional football. Nevermind that its current spokespeople are at least a couple decades too young to actually need the product. Celebrities, like actress Lisa Rinna and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, are modeling the garments under their form-fitting evening gowns and football uniforms -- not because they suffer from incontinence, but because they're supporting charity.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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