Edg29.6.-8468 503.519

Educational Gerontology, 29: 503–519, 2003Copyright # Taylor & Francis Inc.
ISSN: 0360-1277 print=1521-0472 onlineDOI: 10.1080=03601270390180460 OLDER ADULTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF OFFENSIVE SENIORSTEREOTYPES IN MAGAZINE ADVERTISEMENTS: RESULTS OFA Q METHOD ANALYSIS Temerlin Advertising Institute, Southern Methodist University, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA This study employs Q methodology and personal interviews to explore how a groupof older adults rank magazine advertisements that feature a variety of potentiallyoffensive and harmful older stereotypes. Three different factors emerged from theQ sorts, and they were labeled ‘‘The Moralists,’’ ‘‘The Jesters,’’ and ‘‘The BeautifulPeople.’’ Participants found ad stereotypes that portrayed older adults as being outof touch, objects of ridicule, difficult, and unattractive to be offensive. Stereotypesof real problems associated with aging and older individuals, and positivelydealing with these issues were deemed non-offensive. Personal interviews revealedolder adults to be concerned about the amount of offensive and harmful stereotypesused to portray their generation.
The credo in advertising that the age group 18–49 rules the market isslow to change. Historically, this market segment has been attractiveto marketers because it represents a large number of individuals whoare making changes, trying new products, and spending their money.
Address correspondence to Tom Robinson, Temerlin Advertising Institute, Southern Methodist University, P.O. Box 750356, Dallas, TX 75275-0356. E-mail: [email protected] Some advertisers, such as Hal Margolis, Vice-President for the Lintas:Campbell-Ewald advertising agency in New York City, admits that foryears no one in the advertising business has concentrated on the over49 age group (Castro, 1989). Meanwhile, as Taylor (1995) states ‘‘the50 plus population — the population with the most money to spend — isgrowing more rapidly than the 18–34 population; and the first BabyBoomers started hitting the half-century mark in 1996’’ (p. 40).
Consumers over age 50 have 42% more disposable income than average consumers. By the year 2025, 40% of all adults will be seniors,while the under 49 audience will remain flat (Advertising Age, 1997).
The size and growth of this age segment has recently induced mar-keters to more closely examine its potential.
Yet, even given the growth and spending power of the senior market, older people are seldom featured in ads. When seniors doappear in ads, these ads tend to be limited to health related andretirement products. One study of trends in stereotyping of the olderpopulation in print advertisements appearing from 1956 to 1999 foundthe percentage of older portrayals has actually decreased. Further-more, there has been an increasing percentage of negative stereotypesand a decreasing percentage of positive ones (Miller, Miller, McKibbin,& Pettys, 1999).
There is a growing body of research indicating that stereotypes of aging may have a powerful impact both psychologically and physio-logically on older people. For example, a recent Harvard MedicalSchool study found that reinforcement of positive stereotypes of aginghad a significant effect on the gait (manner of walking) of older per-sons (Hausdorff, Levy,& Wei, 1999).
The purpose of this study was to measure the perceptions of older stereotypes used in magazine advertisements among a group of seniorcitizens over 50 years of age by using Q methodology and personalinterviews.
In the United States, as well as some other industrialized countries, aging has not been associated with increased status and respect.
Rather, older adults have been subject to traditional negativeassumptions about the aging process that focus on decline and dis-ability (Perry, 1995).
Stereotypes are comprised of belief sets about the characteristics of members of specific social groups that influence attitudes and beha-viors toward them. ‘‘Negative stereotypes of the elderly are theunderpinnings of ageism which involves prejudice and discriminationagainst older people’’ (Palmore, 1990, p. 28). Stereotypes are generallydue to misinformation, or a lack of information. A few of the mostcommonly held negative stereotypes of older individuals include: ‘‘Old people are sad and lose their minds,’’ ‘‘The elderly don’t enjoy life,’’ and‘‘Someone has to take care of the elderly’’ (LinkAge, 2000).
These negative stereotypes can influence people’s thoughts about older individuals and cause them to consider those that are older asdifferent or separate from everyone else. They may cause people tothink of the older population as less worthy than other groups or thatthey would not enjoy the company of an older person. The stereotypesmay also lead people to avoid all contact with those aged 50 and older(LinkAge, 2000).
Social Identity Theory has been used to account for the formation of gender and racial stereotypes (Hogg, 1987; Sachdev & Bourhis, 1987)and may be used to account for the formation of aging stereotypes.
This theory incorporates social categorization and comparison suggest-ing that the need for social identity within an individual and groupcreates social competition (Brewer & Miller, 1984; Tajfel & Turner,1979). Members of the ingroup tend to categorize and, therefore, ste-reotype members of the outgroup . . . Young individuals who are per-ceived as members of the ingroup may stereotype elderly individualswho are perceived as members of the outgroup (Hale, 1998, p. 28).
The connectivity between the perception of being stereotyped and self-concept is complex. Three studies show that media exposure tonegative images can induce attitude shift (Davis, 1980; Davis & Davis,1985; Hummert, 1990). Specifically, older individuals who perceivethemselves as negatively stereotyped in television programminginternalize these images (Glynn, 1987). Other studies indicate thatthose who are targets of negative stereotyping are diminished in theeyes of others and in their own self-esteem (Johnson & Pittinger, 1984;Korzenney & Neuendorf, 1980; Montepare & Lachman, 1989). Therealso is evidence that seniors who are heavy viewers of negativelystereotyped television programming are more likely to believe olderpeople are close-minded, ineffective, and dull (Gerbner, Gross, Sign-orielli, & Morgan, 1980).
The literature dealing with the portrayal of older individuals in the media represents studies that have been conducted in a number ofareas. In the area of advertising, the use of older individuals inmagazine and television has been examined by a number of scholarswith similar results. The percentage of older people used in adver-tisements is far less than their actual population percentage (Braml-ette-Solomon & Subramanian, 1999; Gantz, Gartenberg, & Rainbow,1980; Harris & Feinberg, 1977; Hiemstra, Goodman, Middlemiss,Vosco, & Ziegler, 1983; Moore & Cadeau, 1985; Peterson, 1992;Robinson, 1998; Robinson, Duet & Smith, 1995; Swayne & Greco, 1987; Ursic, Ursic, & Ursic, 1986). When older individuals are placedin an advertisement, they are usually shown with a number of other‘‘younger’’ adults, which is a direct reflection of advertisers’ lack ofconfidence in this market (Bramlette-Solomon & Subramanian, 1999;Gantz, et al., 1980; Robinson et al., 1995; Smith, 1976; Swayne &Greco, 1987; Ursic et al., 1986). Older males are far more likely toappear in advertisements than older females (Gantz et al., 1980;Harris & Feinberg, 1977; Hiemstra et al., 1983; Robinson et al., 1995;Robinson, 1998; Swayne & Greco, 1987; Ursic et al., 1986). Oldermales are given more powerful roles, like the wise patriarch or anauthority figure, and older females are portrayed most often ‘‘as usefulaccoutrements to males’’ (Davis & Davis 1985, p. 47).
Seniors do advertise a variety of products; however, most tend to deal with health, food, consumer services, and household products(Bramlette-Solomon & Subramanian, 1999; Swayne & Greco, 1987;Ursic et al., 1986). Robinson (1998) found that in television, magazine,and newspaper advertisements targeting the older market, 85% werefor ‘‘[Advertisers] are always telling us that ‘it’s great to be silver’ and that‘life is an adventure’ if you manage to get to fifty without losing theability to dress your self. But watch the evening news and you findthat these upbeat vitamin pitches are buried within a torrent ofcommercials for denture adhesives, incontinence products, arthritisremedies, and fiber-based laxatives’’ (p. 2).
Scholars also have found that the portrayals of older characters are less favorable than younger individuals in magazine and tele-vision advertisements (Bramlette-Solomon & Subramanian, 1999;Harris & Feinberg, 1977; Peterson, 1992; Robinson, 1998). Evenwhen the product is aimed at an older audience, the older char-acters are portrayed in a somewhat undesirable manner (Peterson,1992; Robinson, 1998). The most unfavorable portrayals of olderindividuals are seen in advertisements aimed at a younger audience(Robinson, 1998). These findings reinforce the stereotype society hasplaced on the aged, but more importantly this depiction mayreinforce the image seniors have of themselves (Peterson, 1992;Robinson, 1998).
While negative stereotypes may affect older people’s self-confidence and self-esteem, positive stereotypes have been shown to positivelyaffect physical functions. Following 30-minute exposure to sub-conscious reinforcement of either positive or negative stereotypes ofaging, significant increases in walking speed and swing time wereobserved in older persons (63–82 years old) who received the positivereinforcement. (Hausdorff et al., 1999).
Two studies were designed to determine older individuals’ response to their portrayal in advertising (Festervand & Lumpkin, 1985;Schreiber & Boyd, 1980). Schreiber and Boyd (1980) found that mostolder individuals were happy with their portrayal in advertising, andthat the actors were shown in a realistic manner. Festervand andLumpkin (1985), on the other hand, found that older individuals didnot enjoy television commercials. Most did not believe that adver-tisements accurately portrayed the older population — they were por-trayed as inactive and unproductive, appeared mostly in health ormedical-related advertisements, and were portrayed as lonely. Thesediffering results clearly indicate that additional studies must be con-ducted to understand older individuals’ perception of advertising,their portrayal in advertising, and the perception they have of them-selves.
With this in mind, this study attempted to determine how offensive or non-offensive older individuals see their portrayal in magazineadvertisements. This research was guided by the following researchquestions: RQ1: What are the perceptions of seniors toward their portrayals in RQ2: What older stereotypes do seniors find offensive and non-offen- To answer the research questions posed, investigators chose Q meth-odology, personal interviews, and a short questionnaire to assess theperceptions of seniors toward their images in print advertising. Q sortmethodology is a behavioral research technique that was introducedby Stephenson (1953).
A convenience sample of 39 senior volunteers for the study was found by contacting three local churches that administered publicseniors programs (e.g., 55 Alive, the Salvation Army, and a localretirement village). Each senior was asked to Q sort 40 ads thatdepicted different senior stereotypes.
Seniors rated all 40 ads on a nine-point scale ranging from ‘‘offen- sive’’ to ‘‘not offensive.’’ They were instructed to choose those ads thatthey found offensive and not offensive, and then they were asked todiscuss why they felt the way they did about the specific ads theychose. Their reactions to the ads were tape recorded for further ana-lysis. Subsequently, investigators asked seniors four other questions: 1. Pick out three ad stereotypes you believe are most offensive to 2. Would any of the ads featuring offensive stereotypes stop you from 3. Is there any harm or danger to seniors by portraying them in a 4. Is there any harm or danger to younger people by portraying The magazine ads were compiled by two of the authors from their advertising classes over a two-year period. This extended time spanillustrates the difficulty of finding ads with older characters, asreported in the literature. Investigators determined that the sampleof 40 ads could be categorized into the following stereotypes:(1) Eccentrics; (2) Curmudgeons: including grouchy, uncooperative,nosy=peeping toms; (3) Despondent: including inattentive, bored,object of ridicule, useless; (4) Unattractive; (5) Financially insecure; (6)Overly-affectionate=sentimental; (7) Out of touch; (8) Conservative;and (9) Physically=mentally deficient: including incontinent, senile,impotent, denture-wearing, slow-moving, helpless.
Investigators tabulated the results of the Q sorts using the PQMethod program that is available in the public domain by goingto p41bsmk=qmethod=. PQMethod is a factor analytic program thatquantifies subjectivity and reveals patterns of perceptions in anysituation. One of the benefits of PQMethod is the flexibility it allowsinvestigators to compare and contrast hand-rotated factors withcomputer-generated, or orthogonal factors. The program providedhypothetical factors of seniors who sorted themselves into groups byway of their rankings of the ads. Every factors’ rankings of all 40 adswere translated into descending arrays of z-scores, and differencesbetween the z-scores for all ads and factors were provided by PQMe-thod. The program provided average Q sort factor scores for ads ineach factor, correlations between seniors in the study, correlationsbetween factors, and percent of variance accounted for by each factor,among other comparisons.
To determine the number of viable factors, investigators relied upon procedures outlined in Brown (1980). Factors were viable if theycontained at least two significant factor loadings at the .01 level.
Factor loadings were considered significant if they exceeded a corre-lation of .408. This significant correlation was calculated from a for-mula for the standard error of a zero-order loading, which is explainedin Brown. Once the factors were determined, investigators accepted a z-score criterion of þ=7 1.0 to determine the significant offensive andnon-offensive ads for each factor.
While each Q sort reflects each senior’s own point-of-view regarding offensive and non-offensive advertisements, investigators were mostinterested in the clusters or patterns of behavior that arose from thesorts. Those patterns present perspectives that are internal in nature(i.e., from the seniors’ standpoint). Since Q methodology does notrequire large numbers of subjects, the investigators are content to talkabout typical patterns of perceptions found among seniors, ratherthan the average senior’s opinion of offensive senior stereotypes. Indealing with subjectivity, there are no right or wrong answers, since‘‘There is no outside criteria for a person’s own point-of-view’’ (Brown,1980, p. 4).
Of the 39 seniors who took part in the study, 30 were female and 9were male. The median age of the group was located in the 71–75 agebracket. Average time for each senior to complete each Q sort andinterview was about 90 minutes. When seniors were asked if theywould stop buying advertised brands because of the stereotypes inthose brand ads, 61.5% (24) said yes, and 38.5% (14) said no. Seniorswere asked if there was any danger or harm to them if they wereportrayed in a stereotypical manner. Sixty-seven percent (26) said yes,and 33% (13) said no. A typical comment from seniors: If there are negative stereotypes portrayed often then it may affectseniors when politicians are making political decisions about seniors.
That is a definite danger to us. It can also cause seniors to lower theirself-expectations about themselves. They don’t need them [self-expec-tations] lowered anymore.
When seniors were asked if they perceived any danger that might accrue to young people if seniors were portrayed in a stereotypicalmanner, 74% (29) said yes, and 26% (10) said no. One senior quote wascogent: The stereotypes in advertising will keep the younger person from trulyunderstanding us. If they see negative stereotypes too much then they’llbegin to look at us in that way. It also works the other way; if seniors seenegative stereotypes of younger people then they start believing it andunfairly mistrust or treat younger people. They might see all youngerpeople as druggies or hoodlums.
Analysis of the 39 Q sorts collected for this study provided three factor types (see Appendix 1 for factor z-scores). These three factorsaccounted for 60% of explained variance in the factor solution. Factor 1accounted for 25%; Factor 2, 16%; and Factor 3, 19%. Correlationsamong the three factors were high but the investigators were able todiscern ads that distinguished between all three factors. The correla-tion between Factors 1 and 2 was .705; between Factor 1 and Factor 3,.749; and between Factor 2 and Factor 3, .627.
Because the correlations were high among factors, investigators found that all of the seniors involved in this study chose three ads asexceptionally offensive, and three ads as non-offensive (see Table 1).
The three most offensive, ads featured stereotypes that portrayedseniors as being out of touch and objects of ridicule. The three offen-sive ads contained an older woman groping an older man on a bench,an older man wearing a skimpy bathing suit that displayed the clea-vage on his posterior, and another ad with an older man standing nextto a teenager, suggesting that the father was out of touch. Seniors usedwords like ‘‘vulgar,’’ ‘‘disgusting,’’ ‘‘inappropriate,’’ ‘‘repulsive,’’ and‘‘crude’’ to describe the ads.
Participants complained about nudity and partial nudity, and lewd gestures in public. They were dismayed by the way in which seniorswere dressed, and that vestiges of alcohol were evident in some of theads. One senior said, ‘‘I don’t think any old people are like this. Even ifI was young, I wouldn’t do anything like this.’’ TABLE 1 Ads Offensive=Non-Offensive to all Seniors Involved in Study 30. Pioneer — Man wearing skimpy bathing 4. Pond’s — ‘‘How old is beautiful?’’ (Wrin- 28. Ginkoba — Two young boys discussing The three ads found non-offensive by all the participants featured stereotypes of real problems that seniors are seriously concernedabout. The seniors believed that the ads positively dealt with theseproblems. The three non-offensive ads included: two youngsters talk-ing about their grandfather’s memory, an older man who needs towork because of poor retirement planning, and a magazine-style coverad which contains an attractive older woman defying unattractivewrinkles. The woman on the cover-style ad appealed to all the seniorsbecause she was so attractive. They were happy that someone wholooked so good would be portrayed as an older person, and they talkedabout how age and beauty are not necessarily related. The ad with twochildren was interpreted by the seniors as ‘‘just kids’’ and ‘‘true to life.’’They did not feel that ads with kids could be offensive, and for kids tomake outrageous statements was normal and not harmful to seniors.
Although the message with the ad was concerned with retirementfunds and how seniors could be working long after a ‘‘normal’’ retire-ment date, displayed the man smiling, seniors in this study felt thatthe man was good-looking and friendly. They considered him to be awholesome person with a great smile. His appearance to seniors in thisstudy was more important than the seriousness of the message thataccompanied the ad.
Seventeen seniors comprised Factor 1, which investigators labeled as‘‘The Moralists.’’ Fourteen of the seniors were female. All but two ofthe members were over the age of 66, and 11 were over the age of 71.
The Moralists, tended to rank as most offensive the ad stereotypesthat portrayed seniors as out of touch, unattractive, and objects ofridicule. They ranked stereotypes dealing with real problems facingthe older population as non-offensive. The view that emerged from thisgroup was based on eight ads (see Table 2) that were significantlyoffensive to members of this factor, and one of those ads — a Championunderwear ad — was significantly different from the other two factors.
Moralists rejected images of elders who were partially naked (no matter whether it was exposed skin on an older or younger person),involved in sexual scenarios, or images in which they perceived seniorsused as objects of ridicule or sex objects. The Champion underwear ad,which pictures three 50þ men clad only in briefs sitting on a bench,elicited comments like: ‘‘These men are being suggestive; they areportrayed as sexual objects,’’ and ‘‘They are older and you are not goingto see anyone in public looking like that.’’ A Snickers ad that picturedan older woman serving as the legs of a coffee table brought the TABLE 2 Factor 1 Offensive=Non-Offensive Ads with Significant z-Scores 30. Pioneer — Man wearing skimpy bathing suit (Out of Touch; 36. Izod — Couple peeking in window at youths playing strip poker (Nosy) 40. Diesel Denim Jeans — Woman groping crotch of passed out man 19. Champion Underwear — Three men wearing only underwear 10. Sprite — Heavy cowboy with stomach exposed (Unattractive) 29. Sony D-Wave Digital Phone — Father with trendy daughter 20. Snickers — Woman acting as the legs of a coffee table (Ridicule) 18. Sauza Tequila — Scruffy man with only one tooth (Unattractive) 26. FTD.com — Woman puckering up to give a kiss (Overly 28. Ginkoba — Two young boys discussing that grandpa is smarter 3. Pain Free — Kid pushing Grandma on tricycle (Physically Deficient) 23. Merck — Nurse giving medicine to man (Helpless) 6. Cigna Retirement — Man who has to work (Financially Insecure) 4. Pond’s — ‘‘How old is beautiful?’’ (Wrinkles are Unattractive) *denotes statement significantly different from other two factors.
greatest rebuke with these typical remarks: ‘‘That’s just dumb. It’smaking a dummy out of her. It’s cruel to portray a senior in this way.’’‘‘Absolutely shows her to be an object that you can trash or use in anyway.’’ This group rejected the broadest range of senior images, rangingfrom a portrait shot of a single-tooth bearded senior, to two seniorslooking like ‘‘peeping toms’’ peering through a window at the activitiesof a strip poker party.
Non-offensive ads to the Moralists included two with children involved, and two with medical products. Seniors saw these ads asmore informative than offensive. They expressed their satisfactionwith the models used in the ads, either because they appeared happy,were dressed well, or dealt with brands with which seniors had had apositive experience. One ad chosen by this group was significantlydifferent from the other groups: it dealt with a Mother’s Day ad pro-duced for FTD.com. It pictured an older woman in sunglasses holdinga bouquet of flowers and puckering up to give a kiss, suggesting thatshe was a mother who had just received the gift of flowers. However,this ad was judged significantly offensive by those in Factor 2.
In all ads chosen by Factor 2, seniors were portrayed in humorous orunflattering ways by advertisers who were using humor to attractyoung people to their brands. Investigators labeled this group as ‘‘TheJesters,’’ because seniors were outspoken in their distaste for the wayseniors were portrayed. Six of the ten members on Factor 2 werewomen, eight of the ten were older than 66. The Jesters focused moreon offensive stereotypes that featured undesirable personality traitsoften associated with growing old. The Jesters ranked ad stereotypesas non-offensive when they positively portrayed seniors overcomingthe problems of aging. Eight ads were significantly offensive to thisgroup, and two of the ads chosen were significantly different choicesfrom the other two factors (see Table 3). One of the ads that was sig-nificantly offensive was the FTD.com ad, which portrayed a motherpuckering up for a kiss after receiving flowers. Some seniors thought TABLE 3 Factor 2 Offensive=Non-Offensive Ads with Significant z-Scores 30. Pioneer — Man wearing skimpy bathing suit that exposes (Out of Touch) 40. Diesel Denim Jeans — Woman groping crotch of passed out man 36. Izod — Couple peeking in window at youth playing strip poker (Nosy) 39. JetGrind Radio — Skater spray paints over woman (Inattentive; Out of 26. FTD.com — Woman puckering up to give a kiss (Overly 29. Sony D-Wave Digital Phone — Father with trendy daughter (Out of 31. Kraft Stove Top Oven Classics — ‘‘Now this is a scandal!!’’ (Curmudgeon, 16. Sony Digital Mavica Camera — Woman sticking out tongue (Grouchy, 4. Pond’s — ‘‘How old is beautiful?’’ (Unattractive) 28. Ginkoba — Two young boys discussing that grandpa is smarter (Senile) 7 1.2525. UPS — Overly wrinkled woman with a look of confidence (Unattractive) 7 1.330*32. Aricept — ‘‘Is it forgetfulness . . . or Alzheimer’s disease’’ (Senile) 23. Merck — Nurse giving medicine to man (Helpless) 14. Columbia — ‘‘When your as old as the hills . . .’’ (Wisdom with Age) 6. Cigna Retirement — Manwho has to work (Financially Insecure) *denotes statement significantly different from other two factors.
that the model was creating an ‘‘ugly’’ face when she puckered up andacted silly. Two other ads sponsored by Kraft and Sony containedwomen with ‘‘ugly’’ faces. One senior said, ‘‘I don’t like them showingseniors with an unflattering look, such as making ugly faces or look-ing grouchy. Because, to me, nobody likes to feel that they are beingportrayed at their worst.’’ Another ad, which was selling a com-puter game — JetGrind Radio — portrayed an older woman as toodespondent to avoid being spray painted. Factor 2 members said thatthe spray painter was disrespectful to the older woman, and that ‘‘he[the spray painter] had violated her.’’ Factor 2 Jesters chose seven ads as significantly non-offensive. Two of the ads were significantly rated choices that did not appear as sig-nificant on the other two factors. One ad, sponsored by UPS, displayeda highly wrinkled older woman, but the ad made it clear that UPS wasnow working for this particular customer. Seniors felt that using asenior in this way was a positive image for seniors. The second sig-nificant ad was sponsored by Columbia sportswear and it featured 75-year-old chairwoman Gert Boyle. The ad’s headline alluded to thewisdom possessed by seniors when it pronounced: ‘‘When you are asold as the hills, you tend to know what to wear in them.’’ Seniors likedthis ad because it fostered the image of seniors being active andinvolved in interesting activities. Two other ads were sponsored bymedical companies that talked about seniors with Alzheimer’s disease,specifically, and diseases in general. Both ads were considerednon-offensive by seniors because they provided valuable information,and the tone of the ads was serious and straightforward.
Factor Three (‘‘The Beautiful People’’) Twelve seniors comprised Factor 3; they chose nine ads as significantlyoffensive and six ads as significantly non-offensive (see Table 4). Thisgroup contained nine females and three males, and 11 of them wereover the age of 71. Factor 3 members, who the investigators labeled as‘‘The Beautiful People,’’ were offended by stereotypes that featured thephysical decline associated with aging. The top rated advertisement inthis group dealt with a jeans ad (Diesel Denim Jeans) that showed anolder woman groping a man who was asleep on a bench. Althoughalcohol was evident in the ad, most members of this factor felt theaction taken by the woman was untypical of the kind of behavior thatmost seniors would consider. Two ads (Carta Nevada and UPS) thatpresented portraits of wrinkled women were offensive to seniors, andone was prompted to say, ‘‘It is unfair of the advertisers to portrayseniors like that, because it is only a small percentage of people that TABLE 4 Factor 3 Offensive=Non-Offensive Ads with Significant z-Scores 40. Diesel Denim Jeans — Woman groping crotch of passed out man 17. Carta Nevada — Overly wrinkled woman smoking a pipe (Unattractive) 16. Sony Digital Mavical Camera — Woman sticking out tongue (Grouchy; 18. Sauza Tequila — Scruffy man with only one tooth (Unattractive) 30. Pioneer — Man wearing skimpy bathing suit w=cleavage (Out of Touch; 39. JetGrind Radio — Skater spray paints over woman (Slow; Inattentive) UPS — Overly wrinkled woman with a look of confidence (Unattractive) 29. Sony D-Wave Digital Phone — Father with trendy daughter 10. Sprite — Heavy cowboy with stomach exposed (Unattractive) 28. Ginkoba — Two young boys discussing that grandpa is smarter (Senile) 3. Pain Free — Kid pushing Grandma on tricycle (Physically Deficient) 7. Colorado — Shark swimming behind two women (Inattentive) 6. Cigna Retirement — Man who has to work (Financially Insecure) 27. Saks Fifth Avenue — Attractive woman sitting on car backseat 4. Pond’s — ‘‘How old is beautiful?’’ (Wrinkles are Unattractive) *denotes statement significantly different from other two factors.
actually look like that.’’ An ad sponsored by Sprite was significantlyoffensive to seniors because it depicted a senior cowboy (one of two adswhich featured men) with a large stomach protruding from under hisshirt. One senior said, ‘‘He is so overweight. It was very repulsive. Idon’t think his stomach should stick out of his shirt like that.’’ Thesecond ad (Sauza Tequila) contained a portrait of an older scruffylooking male who only had one tooth. Six of the nine ads chosen byFactor 3 seniors featured portraits or full-length shots of seniors whowere considered unattractive in some way.
Three significant non-offensive ads for Factor 3, which separated this factor from the other two, featured active women in two of threeads. An ad for Colorado tourism featured women floating and smilingin a body of water, but a shark fin was lurking behind them. Mostseniors interpreted the scene as humorous and the women as happyand active. The second ad for Saks Fifth Avenue displayed a well-dressed older woman sitting on top of the back seat of a convertiblewhich was being driven through the countryside. ‘‘This woman is alldressed up and enjoying life to its fullest,’’ said one senior. ‘‘They’re not really stereotyping seniors. They show her doing wild things that lookto be fun. I really liked that,’’ said another senior. The Beautiful Peoplein this group appreciated beauty, active people, and children.
As marketers begin to discover the potential size and spending powerof the senior market segment, they should take heed to how theiradvertising addresses senior citizens. There is a growing body ofresearch indicating that stereotypes of aging may have a powerfulimpact, both psychologically and physiologically, on older people.
Additionally, there seems to be a growing awareness and concernamong seniors about how they are portrayed in advertising.
This study employed Q methodology and personal interviews to explore how a group of senior citizens rank magazine advertisementsthat feature a variety of senior stereotypes. Based on the three per-ceptions that emerged from the Q sorts, and the personal interviewsthat followed, the study determined that seniors found many adver-tising stereotypes of older people to be offensive. Furthermore, theyexpressed great concern over the amount of offensive senior stereo-types and their potentially harmful effects on older people’s self-esteem and the perceptions of seniors by younger people.
Advertising stereotypes portraying seniors as out of touch and objects of ridicule were ranked as most offensive by all seniors. Gen-erally, all three factors ranked ad stereotypes depicting seniors dealingwith real problems in a positive fashion as non-offensive. The situationand illustrations may be stereotypical; yet, they reflect normal pro-blems associated with aging.
Factor 1, ‘‘The Moralists,’’ was the largest group and tended to rank stereotypes of seniors being out of touch and objects of ridicule as mostoffensive. Factor 2, ‘‘The Jesters,’’ were offended more by stereotypesshowing seniors with undesirable personality traits, such as beingnosy, despondent, overly sentimental, and grouchy. Factor 3, ‘‘TheBeautiful People,’’ reacted most strongly to stereotypes centeredaround the physical changes and problems associated with aging.
In most instances, seniors were influenced more by images than the message that the advertiser included in the advertisement. The use ofphysically attractive and active seniors in advertising will influenceseniors positively, even if the messages are occasionally negative oreven fear-laden.
All seniors in the sample rejected three ads that contained aspects of nudity, either displayed by a senior or someone attending to thesenior. This aversion to inappropriate dress transcended senior ste- reotypes that appeared in all of the ads. This finding may suggest ageneration gap between seniors and today’s creative advertisingteams. Sex may attract young people to products, but when it comes toseniors, it seems to repel them.
Another view that emerges is that seniors are acutely aware of advertisers who use them as comic foils in order to attract youngerbuyers to their products. They are outspoken in their dislike of suchpractices, and they have a strong understanding of the ramifications ofthese images among seniors and young people. Such images may makethem feel vulnerable, insecure, misunderstood, exploited, and powerless.
Factor 3 seniors may provide a more fruitful mindset for adver- tisers. Seniors are influenced by attractive and active people. Adsrejected by this factor displayed wrinkles, sour faces, and curmudgeonimages. Some may call this fixation an unrealistic attitude on the partof seniors; others may see it as a senior escape from reality. Whateverthe reason, seniors are attracted to positive and active images of theirgeneration. In short, advertisers might achieve better success in theseniors’ marketplace if they present more positive images of seniors.
Seniors in this study liked informational ads. Even when an advertisement discusses a serious health-related problem, like Alz-heimer’s, seniors will accept the message if the seniors portrayed inthe ad are presented in a serious and dignified manner. Many seniorsare using medications and health products for the first time, theyrecognize brand names, and they appreciate information that will helpthem make an informed decision.
Although we cannot generalize our sample of 39 seniors to the entire senior population, senior perceptions of themselves in this studysuggest that advertisers may have underestimated the sensitivity ofseniors to their own images in advertising. The majority of seniorsstated that they would not buy products from advertisers who portraythem in a negative light. They believe that negative stereotypes ofseniors are dangerous not only to them, but also to younger people,which supports the findings in studies like Peterson (1992) andRobinson (1998). They feel if seniors are not shown any respect inadvertising images, it is hard to expect younger generations to treatthem differently.
This study supports previous findings that stereotyping any gen- eration or group of people may have potentially harmful side-effects.
The authors believe marketers and their advertising agencies shouldbe more concerned with the unintended effects of their advertising.
The advertising industry needs to be just as concerned about its socialesteem as it is about its selling effectiveness. In the long run, the twoare related.
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