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5 Commercials That Reinforced Ageism with the Worst Stereotypes

A 2020 Christmas commercial by the Dutch pharmacy company DocMorris shows an older man struggling to lift an ancient barbell. While his neighbor simply rolls her eyes and his daughter becomes concerned, the old man persists. The payoff finally comes at a Christmas party where the man lifts his granddaughter so that she can put a star on the tree, which was his goal all along.

Alas, if only older people were shown a similar degree of respect in all commercials, the advertising world would have been a much better place. However, the truth is that most TV commercials are contemptuous towards older people and reinforce certain stereotypes in some way or the other.

So, here are 5 commercials that have proved that ageism is quite alive and kicking in the advertising industry.

1. ACRONYM: Dear Young People, Don’t Vote

An egregious example of ageism is this 2018 ad sponsored by ACRONYM, a “progressive” political organization based in Washington D.C.

The ad shows older people as selfish, uncaring, and out-of-touch people who are doing everything to ruin the future as they lack even an ounce of concern for the young. They are shown as people who have nothing to do with the everyday concerns of an average American. While the goal of the ad was a noble one i.e. to get youngsters to vote, the approach behind it was purely derogatory and divisive.

And dear folks at ACRONYM, gun violence, and school shootings aren’t problems affecting only the young but the entire cross-section of the American society. Damn, climate change is an issue for the entire world. And yeah, Trump shouldn’t have ever come to power, but he did right on your watch! It looks like you’re equally to be blamed.

2. E-Trade: This is Getting Old

The same year in which ACRONYM came up with its “awareness ad”, ridiculing older people, E-Trade served us with this commercial.

The ad enraged people for its buffoonish depictions of older people who were engaged in jobs that they were simply not competent to perform. They didn’t want these jobs in the first place and the only reason they were engaged in those jobs was that they hadn’t cared to save enough for their retirement.

In doing so, the advertisement plainly mocked retirees who were struggling to make ends meet and alienated people who control the largest share of wealth in the U.S. According to the data from the Federal Reserve’s “Survey of Consumer Finances”, people over the age of 55 years control an overwhelming 70% of all personal wealth in the U.S.

3. Medicare: Cranky Martha

It’s odd and sad that a company thought it would be a good idea to mock its target audience.

The ad shows Martha as an obnoxious and blatantly ageist woman, thereby, reinforcing the stereotype that old people are difficult to deal with. The ad is annoying to the core and Martha’s character is almost universally disliked, even among the young people. The ad is an insult to older people everywhere. I’ve never seen any 75-year-olds looking or acting like Martha, apart from actors in stupid sitcoms and the unfortunate demented, who deserve sympathy, not ridicule.

And guess what? This bleepity-bleep ad airs almost constantly on programs targeted to an older demographic and every time it comes on air I feel like breaking my TV.

4. Duracell: Beach x Bear

In its 2019 commercial, Duracell came up with an ageist commercial that shows a silver-haired man wandering around the beach with a metal detector.

The old man says he’d prefer his battery to have extra life than extra power. By the time the commercial ends, the man can barely even stand up. The ad reinforces the idea that in the twilight of their life, all that an old person can pray for is extra life. While the ad was meant to be funny, it’s mean and stereotypical.

5. Volkswagen: Buying a Volkswagen from an Old Lady

This Volkswagen commercial isn’t downright disrespectful towards older people but still stereotypes old people as gentle folks with a mild temperament.

The ad features a couple of men arriving at a house to purchase a car. They’re delighted to find that the owner is an old woman as they assume that she would have driven her car with the utmost care and caution. However, through several flashbacks, we see that the old lady has been on quite a few wild rides in that car.

Through the ad, the brand reinforces the stereotype that old people are expected to behave a certain way, and the same qualities that would define a young fellow as “adventurous” and “outgoing”, have different connotations for an old person. They can no longer laugh loudly, run, swim, or drive a car at top speed!

Bottom Line

Over the years, brands have come up with ads that people from different communities have found offensive. In the case of an uproar, companies have rolled back such advertisements and even issues public apologies. But when it comes to ridiculing older people, almost every brand does it with absolute impunity. However, this needs to change massively if brands want to be more inclusive.

We’ll soon be back with more amazing commercials. Till then, stay tuned!


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