Gender roles and identity are becoming less rigid across the world, and at the same time our populations are ageing. The proportion of women in employment globally has dramatically increased over the last century,72 along with a trend towards having fewer children.73 By 2050, the world is predicted to have reached two billion people aged 60 and over (one in five people globally).74 But are brands truly reflecting these trends?
Depictions of older people in advertising remain stubbornly stereotypical, and often negative. Older people have higher disposable incomes than the young in countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Australia.75 Yet they are frequently marginalised by mainstream brands. There are, of course, some generational differences, but older people’s views broadly reflect wider societal attitudes. The over-60s are no more likely to say they feel ‘left behind by progress and changes in their country’ than young people. Many older people are still ambitious, and are just as likely to agree with modern liberal values. We also see brands continuing to reflect now-outdated traditional gender roles and stereotypes, when only a minority these days think that the role of women is to be good mothers and wives.
Does any of this really matter? Well, across the world there is a growing trend for people to say they tend to buy brands that reflect their personal values. In addition, only half of consumers prefer to buy products specific to their gender, and this is even less likely among women. Governments have started to regulate against sexist advertising (to a greater or lesser extent) in a growing number of countries, including Sweden, Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, Norway, South Africa, India and, most recently, the UK.76 There are also movements such as Unstereotype Alliance, which seeks to eliminate harmful gender stereotypes in the media.
This is to be welcomed, but stereotypical campaigns are a function of something deeper within the consciousness of marketers and product developers. While so much product design and market research is still focused on the default ‘mums’ or ‘under-65s’, people may struggle to see beyond these mainstream stereotypes. Assumptions about consumers have already been made, before a new product or brand opportunity is even tested. All of us need to step outside of these outdated norms.
If brands truly put today’s consumers front and centre of their strategies, the likelihood of ending up with stereotypical products and advertising will be greatly reduced. Businesses avoiding stereotypes will outperform their competitors.
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