Ageism in Advertising vs. Celebrating Elders

Etrade takes ageism to an extreme, while Google fights ageism in advertising. Etrade plays to stereotypes, while Google invites the world to "Question your lens" about elders. Here, an analysis of how how Etrade hurts all of us.

Etrade’s Super Bowl commercial portrays working elders as ridiculous and embarrassing. How pathetic, Etrade shows us, for older adults to work in offices, airlines, hospitals and nightclubs. The commercial is a series of slapstick vignettes showing the comedy of elders in the workplace. Viewers are reminded that too few Americans have retirement savings.

The commercial is set to a tune Harry Belafonte made famous, the Banana Boat Song. Instead of singing “Daylight come and I want to go home,” Etrade’s choir sings “85 and I want to go home.”

Etrade tells you to be ashamed of working in your later years. Instead, go home and monitor your Etrade account balances.

More people who are 85 years old likely viewed this super bowl ad than people who are 25 years old, according to Nielsen. Yet ETrade portrays the elders as losers who work because they need the money.

For the “creatives” who produced Etrade’s ageist advertising, imagine how it plays when you replace the elders with women. Last century, many working women were viewed as losers who needed the money because they were (stigmatized) single mothers or married to husbands with embarrassingly modest incomes.

Would ETrade make jokes about women as pilots, surgeons or DJs who “have to” work outside the home, much less want to work?
If you want a reference point to know if a commercial, movie or joke is ageist, replace the elder with a woman or person of color.

You can watch the entire Etrade put-down here:

By the way, the actors are real older workers, including the stuntman who was lit on fire.

Ageism in advertising: a new classic

Here is a screenshot of “DJ Nana” spinning records for ETrade:

Let’s imagine DJ Nana’s life in 1980, as 40 year old named Madison. She was likely spinning Billy Idol records at night after her day job in an office. Madison probably looked to the future and decided to start saving for her retirement by putting some money aside in a savings account.

When Madison opened her retirement account in 1980, the average price of a home in the US was $47,000.

Today, thanks to the NIMBY movement, Proposition 13, neighborhood “preservation,” and artificially low interest rates, a house in San Francisco now costs $1,000,000+. The cut-off for “low income” in San Francisco is $90,000 a year.

Madison did not plan for that. Few minds in 1980 could wrap their mind around those numbers.

Let’s apply the same 10x multipliers onto the economics of being 40 years old today.

If you’re 40 today, when you reach DJ Nana’s age, “low income” in San Francisco could be $500,000 a year. A 2BR-1ba in the Marina District could cost $25 million. You might live 105 years.

What if stocks become as toxic as they were in the 1970s, when the market declined 45%? Will Etrade help you plan for that? Not likely. Life could get in the way: college tuition, a bear market, layoff, divorce, an illness, a bitcoin crash.

The opposite of ageism in advertising: a celebration of opportunities

Meanwhile, over at Google, the real-life DJ Sumiko is celebrated for her full life: dumpling maker by day, Tokyo DJ at night, with plenty of friends and time for the salon.

If you're watching the Olympics tonight, you saw Google's uplifting commercial for its Pixel phone:

For 60 years, Sumiko has shaped dumplings at her family's Gyoza restaurant. She started mixing techno music in her 70's. Today, Tokyo's club crowds love to dance to Sumiko's unique mixing of techno, dance, chason and classical music.

Google's celebration of Sumiko wraps up by asking us to "Change Your Lens." Leave your stereotypes home.

Ageism in advertising reinforces toxic prejudices at work

In his 2005 paper, “Ageism: Prejudice Against Our Feared Future Selves,” Todd Nelson wrote, “Age prejudice in this country is one of the most socially-condoned and institutionalized forms of prejudice.”

Prejudice against older adults in the workplace is particularly toxic. Ageism in advertising reinforces this toxic prejudice.

In "This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism," Ashton Applewhite writes,

"Work we love can keep us alive. I met almost 50 workers in their 80s and 90s who did everything from cutting hair and waiting tables to coaching singers and running PR firms. Story after story confirmed the myriad benefits of employment -- social contact above all -- and the capacity to remain professionally capable and engaged in late life. We pay a huge price, individually and as a society, because so many people are prevented from doing so."

Work is important because "you spend so much time at work that if you're happier there, you're going to be happier with your life. And if you're happy with your life, you're going to be healthier and wealthier," add the authors of Age-Proof, Jean Chatzky, Michael F. Roizen, MD and Ted Spiker.

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, slays the stereotypes of older workers in her book, "Disrupt Aging." There are many social, political and personal reasons why people do or do not work. But, Jenkins writes, "Work as we know it is coming to an end. But as the growing number of people who are choosing to continue working beyond traditional retirement age remind us, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It could be that by disrupting work, we will put our experience to work and, then, discover the most meaningful work of our lives."

In celebrating older adults who work, Google celebrates our humanity, community and interdependence.

We are all in this life together. We are all connected. The future we amplify today is the future we will create for ourselves tomorrow.

Versions of this article previously published here on LinkedIn and on Medium. Connect with me on LinkedIn right now.

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