Mad Men and Ageism

One of the first rules of marketing and advertising is to understand and target the audience your product is intended to reach.  Seems pretty straightforward, but sometimes the path to the promised land, or targeted audience, is a winding one.

If you are a Mad Men fan, you watched this week as two advertisers debated how best to sell Pond’s Cold Cream.  Although the client said they were interested in appealing to younger women the veteran ad guy wanted to use “dames” from the movies in their ads – Barbara Stanwyck or someone similar – utilizing the argument that young women look up to older women.  His backup plan was to promise that either a) Girls who used Pond’s would land a husband or b) Girls who didn’t wouldn’t.

The female copywriter felt strongly that he was on the wrong track.  I would have to agree.

Clearly things were a little different in the early 60s because these days, we are constantly presented with images of barely-adult girls showing us how wrinkle free, flat bellied and fabulous we could be if we only used the latest greatest youth elixir.

Or, maybe they are wrinkle free and fabulous because they are 17.  Just saying.

So do younger women want to be older? Or do older women want to be younger?

The answer is both and neither.

Younger women want to revel in their youth, even while they look forward to their adulthood.  They want more responsibility – but only the responsibilities they want.  They want to be taken seriously, but not too seriously.

Older woman look back fondly on their youth, but most don’t want to go back there.  Wouldn’t go back there on a bet.  They want to look like they did when they were younger, but keep all of the knowledge and experience they have gained along the way.  They love the richness of what they have experienced, but want to remember (at least sort of) what it was like to be wide-eyed and ready to take on the world.

They want similar things, but they want them in entirely different ways.

I recently read this fascinating article that talked about how assuming that 50 year-olds want to be 30 year-olds is a huge mistake.  Many of us may want to look and feel like 30 year-olds.  But we don’t particularly want to act or think like them.

One of my friends jokes with her 4-year-old daughter she is going to trade her in for two 2-year-olds.  Targeting 25 year-olds to appeal to 50 year-olds makes just about the same amount of sense.

The best way to reach either of these audiences is to reinforce what is great about how they are right now and how your product can make the most of that.  Don’t assume that one group aspires to be the other and that a single message will reach both.

05. August 2010 by Ruth Folger Weiss
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