Truth About Age
As Truth About Age proved at the Paley Center, the saying “Age is just a number” is more than a cliché. McCann Worldgroup’s Nadia Tuma-Weldon and Lee Maicon walked the audience through findings from McCann Worldgroup Truth Central’s new study that paint the new global reality of what aging means, and the outlook was more optimistic than what dominant narratives may lead us to believe. The data was later digested by a panel of media celebrities (Jane Pauley, Marta Kauffman, Samantha Barry, and Janice Min) who analyzed the study’s implications for business and popular culture. After this panel, McCann New York President Devika Bulchandani and Ulta’s President Shelley Haus processed the role age plays in beauty brands.
As a 20-something, the first thing that hit me was that my age group has the strongest fear of death. I wanted to act shocked, but I quickly remembered complaining to my mom about my life expectancy recetnly, so I guess I’m no exception. But the craziest thing was that people in their 20s and 30s spend all this time gearing up for the horrors of old age, when 70-somethings are just as romantically intimate, do just as much exercise, etc. We were shown images of a 100-year-old yoga instructor; a 96-year-old fashion icon; we discussed a 92-year-old breakthrough actress—all of whom disprove the belief that opportunity has an expiration date. Women, in particular, view old age as a moment that is ripe with new ventures—Pauley, for instance, entered the highlight of her career at 65. Such a perspective can counter the intergenerational fear of irrelevance and lack of usefulness.
Old age is a more diverse concept than we allow—according to a geriatrician, the aging process becomes less homogenous as one departs from youth. But either way, one’s inner self remains the same over the years. A 70-year-old feels as youthful as their 30-year-old counterpart. They view old age as a time of freedom and adventure, the next chapter rather than the ultimate one. This is exemplified by a Chinese respondent who declared that she would rather spend money on vacation now than save for a tomb for later. And TV shows such as “Grace and Frankie” are able to thrive because they lend universal stories to an older demographic: narratives of change, self-discovery, love, and perhaps a sprinkling of age-specific truths.
So, the question is: If over half of 70-somethings are optimistic about aging, how can we communicate that to younger audiences? In a youth-obsessed culture, the discourse of aging is currently inaccessible to those who could most benefit from inclusion. When advertisers approach this issue, they need to both address the anxieties of the young and the positivity of the old. As the panel mentioned, something to pay attention to is the fact that every other Millennial owns a bit of RBG swag. Beauty, relevance, and leadership don’t have a time stamp. As Devika noted, inventing a million new terms for “reversal” fails to address that fact. And focusing on the unchanging, inner-self instead of generalizing age groups as a whole could also provide an interesting opportunity—as Haus wondered, what if Ulta targeted “adventure-seekers” instead of “old people”?
The truth is, “aging isn’t just for the old; living isn’t just for the young.”If anything, the older we get, the more fearless we become. And it is when we become fearless that we truly start living.