In 2020, Subaru ran a commercial celebrating the relationship between a grandma and her granddaughter, as they embark on a road trip. They get milkshakes, dance along to the radio, and chat about the future. At one point, after noticing her granddaughter make eye contact with a cute boy, the grandma runs out to get his number.

Ken Dychtwald, writing for AARP last fall, called the commercial, titled Girls’ Trip, a “ray of light” in a media landscape that still gets age diversity in advertising wrong. A 2021 survey from AARP revealed that 60% of consumers over the age of 50 agreed that they wish ads included more realistic images of people their age, while 47% said that ads featuring people their age “reinforced outdated stereotypes.”

As reported by AARP, consumers aged 55 and above have tremendous spending power, buying “56% of new cars and trucks, 55% of personal care products, 65% of health care, 68% percent of home maintenance and repairs, and 76% of prescription drugs,” according to data in the Survey of Consumer Finances by the Federal Reserve.

What’s more, a 2018 study from Havas Group revealed that consumers over 55 are also shopping online, with 68% buying something online each month. Knowing that, it might come as a surprise that just 5% of US advertising is aimed at consumers over 50, according to research from Havas Group. Meanwhile, research from Getty Images found that seniors are the least visible age group in popular images, with only 12% of visuals featuring seniors, as opposed to the 40% featuring young adults.

Age bias in advertising has been a problem for years. In 2018, research from the Media Agency UM found that 44% of women age 50+ in the UK feel patronized by advertising, while 27% said ads contribute to creating and continuing negative stereotypes. Meanwhile, 74% said that advertising failed to depict women going through menopause with “any sensitivity.”

“What do breaking stereotypes and redefining age diversity in commercial photography mean?” the 500px team asks. “We need more images that illustrate independence, strength, and vitality over 50, as well as moments of community, support, and connection with seniors in a leading role.” Here are some ideas to consider when planning shoots for your Licensing portfolio.

Staying active

According to a recent trend report from Getty Images, just 8% of their most popular sports imagery in 2021 included seniors, with young adults seen four times more than their older counterparts. What’s more, representation of LGBTQ2S+ seniors and older adults with disabilities was especially scarce.

This gap in representation does not accurately reflect aging in 2022, a time shaped by influencers like fitness guru Joan MacDonald, who is in her 70s, or TikTok star Lagetta Wayne, known for her gardening skills. And demand for images highlighting active, thriving seniors does exist: over on Getty Images, searches for “active seniors,” “healthy seniors,” and “seniors exercising” all rose in 2020.

By collaborating with the seniors in your life, you can work together to champion diversity and inclusion, so photograph your models doing the activities they enjoy most, whether it’s soccer or gardening. “Staying active and leading an active lifestyle does not always mean working out or joining a local fitness class, although it could,” the 500px team says. “It could also mean being active with kids and grandkids, going grocery shopping, taking walks in nature, and working around the house.”

Building community

In our guide to building age diversity in commercial photography, we cited another finding from AARP: adults over age 50 are regularly shown in online imagery as dependent and disconnected from society at large, with seven out of 10 images showing people age 50 and above alone, with only a partner, or with a medical professional. Last year, research from Getty Images further revealed that “seniors engaged in sport are most likely to be represented alone.”

Research indicates that a strong social life is linked to a number of health benefits for seniors, including a lower risk of depression and a longer life span. Beyond that, older adults who interact with people outside of their close circle of friends and family are more likely to report greater levels of physical activity and positive moods.

When planning your photoshoots, consider groups of friends or neighbors getting together to chat, exercise, or enjoy a meal. For inspiration, check out Extra Refreshers’ gum ad Max & Bill, celebrating the friendship between a boy and an elderly man who get together to play chess.

A time of learning and growth

“Retirement is something everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy, whether it’s through travel, vacation homes, and staycations; volunteering; pursuing leisure activities; joining social groups; or learning,” the 500px team shares. For many, it’s also a time to develop a fresh set of skills and interests, with research suggesting that learning something new, whether it’s a language or art form, is linked to increased cognitive abilities as we age.

Of course, the passions we develop later in life should be reflected across advertising. Consider the retirees in your community, and tap into their skills, from crafting to sports and far beyond. Capture the curiosity of trying something new or the discovery of mastering a talent, and, as always, make inclusivity a priority. “Celebrate various cultures and ethnicities, and include LGBTQ+ couples and seniors of all abilities,” the 500px team urges.

Part of the problem is that 81% of employees at advertising, PR, and similar companies in the US are younger than 55, meaning that senior voices get heard less often. For that reason, it’s doubly important to approach your work as a collaboration with your models, allowing their voices, input, and experiences to take center stage.

If you’re looking for inspiration on what’s possible when we look beyond the stereotypes, check out Nike’s first-ever televised commercial featuring the line “Just Do It,” telling the story of Walt Stack, an 80-year-old athlete who runs 17 miles daily. Or, for a more recent example, consider Nike’s 2016 Unlimited campaign, which shone a spotlight on Sister Madonna Buder, the 86-year-old nun and athlete who made history as the oldest woman to ever complete an IRONMAN triathlon. As it happens, Sister Madonna Buder is still running today. She turned 91 last summer.

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