Age Affirmative Advertising

Ad for Dove Pro Age

How do you sell products designed for older people? The linguistic twists and turns of advertisers have always interested me, so I took a look at the collection The Aging Consumer, edited by Aimee Doret (New York, 2010.)  The most fascinating article was “Age Branding,” by researchers Harry R. Moody and Sanjoy Sood.

They track four different methods that companies use to attract older consumers.  Some, like Botox, promise to turn back the clock and eliminate aging.  These are the age deniers.  Their message: use our product and you won’t look old. Others, like hearing aid companies, promise to compensate for the decline that comes with age.  They are age adaptive. Their message: aging happens, but we make it less painful. Still others, like New Balance, design their advertising to appeal to both young and old.  They tailor messages to many audiences as an age irrelevant brand.  By pitching inclusive commercials, New Balance has consistently outperformed Nike in the US since the 1990s. Their message: our product will not brand you as old.

But the most fascinating category is the fourth, age affirmative advertising. In the words of the authors, “Age affirmative brands do not ignore or deny age but instead focus on elements we can celebrate and affirm.” (238)

The best example of an age affirmative brand is a skin care line by Dove called “Pro Age.” Launched in 2007, Pro Age was introduced with a provocative photos that showed wrinkles and age spots on women over fifty. The picture above is an example.  I’ve cropped it to focus on her face, but the full ad shows the woman’s entire body (artfully arranged).  Over the image we read, “too many wrinkles to be in an anti-aging ad.” The next page of the two page spread says, “but this isn’t an anti aging ad. this is pro age. a new line of skin care from dove. beauty has no age limit.”

How has this worked out for Dove? I had never heard of the product until I read the article. My local grocery store, which sells a lot of anti aging products, doesn’t carry it. 

And how does this strategy resonate with you? If I’m absolutely honest, I think that I at least want the illusion that my skin cream will make my wrinkles go away.   

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8 Responses to Age Affirmative Advertising

  1. JS says:

    At this point, I have given up on Dove. There have been far too many missteps in its “Campaign for Real Beauty.”

    First, there were the products for larger-than-average women. In fact, it was, as someone summed it up: “You’re beautiful, you’re perfect. Use our cellulite cream.”

    Then, there was the series of ads in which attractive, insecure white women described themselves as unattractive to a police artist, but of course, their friends didn’t recognize them because they actually were attractive. The parodies were hilarious.

    There were the Dove shower wash bottles in “realistic” body shapes.

    The last series of ads I saw had to be pulled because it showed a black woman washing with Dove soap and morphing into a white woman, showing complete ignorance of hundreds of years of racist tropes about black people being dirty and inferior.

    The sermon on the importance of self-acceptance has not percolated throughout the company. Dove’s sister company sells lightening skin cream in other parts of the world.

    How is such tone-deaf incompetence possible year after year?

    I don’t give a fig what Dove is pushing for older women. But the approach is bound to be cynical, phony and unconvincing.

  2. Lizzie says:

    Let’s be honest – we want to be told the products we pay good money for will keep us from looking like the woman in the ad. I really resent it when products that are clearly meanted for the over 50 set are advertised by women in their 30s. On the other hand, I want to think there are plenty of women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s who use skincare products to their skin’s advantage. Am I a fool for such a wish?

    • JS says:

      I agree — almost everyone needs a little bit of fantasy. I don’t know how old the woman in the photo is but she is not what most women aspire to. I feel guilty because I’m supposed to think she beautiful because she’s “authentic” the way I’m supposed to think that women who weigh 350 pounds are gorgeous.

      Lynn’s description of the four approaches to age in advertising is interesting. Naturally, Dove would pick what is probably the least effective one.

      Aging sucks.

  3. eimear says:

    Like Lizzie I do resent when beauty products for ‘older skin’ are being advertised by women in their 30s – equally I dont like being sold something that will make you ‘look younger’. I think that can only happen by your own mind set but then again, we all like to kid ourselves at the best of times, and look thinner, richer, fitter, younger……

    • JS says:

      I’m not crazy when Eileen Fisher’s ads have 20-something women because most women that age don’t wear the brand’s clothes. But I don’t really relate to the statuesque, chic, silver-haired models either. I have sympathy for advertisers because as a consumer I am almost impossible to please.

  4. Katrina B says:

    I am very pleased with my wrinkles and welcomed them at age 40, 50, and 60 just as I did my grey hair. Too many of my friends have died before they had the opportunity to develop a good set of deep wrinkles.

    So I guess I’m in the target group for the fourth category above, although I have never seen any of the pro-age Dove products or that ad. I am completely immune to advertising of any type as it’s taken me decades to find products that don’t cause extreme skin irritation, and I’m not going to start trying new things based on an ad campaign.

  5. Klara says:

    I wonder where you are from! Is Dove not popular in your country in general? I’m pretty sure Dove is one of the best known and likely best selling lines in Poland, and very visible here and appreciated for their message of embracing your body the way that it is. I’m still far from being over 50 but I personally love the message and maybe growing up with it had the impact on me to see aging as not a bad thing? I love looking at faces of older women –that is a very undervalued type of beauty which I find fascinating.

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