3 Ways To Avoid Stereotypes in Senior Living Advertising

Senior woman using remote control while relaxing on armchair at home


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As marketers compete to attract consumers, those 70 and older say many are missing the mark with their advertisements.

Sixty percent of adults 70 and older feel seniors are portrayed as stereotypes in advertising, according to a recent consumer research study conducted by GlynnDevins. And less than half of seniors feel they are portrayed as people to be respected.

The online study involved more than 600 respondents nationwide, who in addition to being 70 and older also have household incomes of $50,000 and more.


Advertising included TV, print, radio, direct mail, digital advertising and other marketing channels.

The number of those who dislike senior living and retirement community advertising outweighs those who like it, the data show, but there are several ways marketers can ensure they are not offending their audience through stereotypes going forward.

1. Avoid ‘Too Good, Too Bad To Be True’ Messaging

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Twenty percent of respondents said they like most senior living marketing, while 39% said they do not.

The reason they dislike such advertising, respondents said, is because it is either too “good to be true, or too bad to be true,” said Sue McClure, General Manager at GlynnDevins, during a recent presentation of the survey results.

“In the too-good-to-be-true category, a stereotypical portrayal would be a senior on a yacht, someone extremely affluent with a full head of hair — far more positive than reality,” McClure says.

Conveying the opposite extreme was also displeasing, including ads that showed seniors as clueless, being limited in capacities, or being the butt of the joke.

“They want to see factual, informative information,” said Jeremy Johnson, vice president in charge of creative services group at GlynnDevins. “They want to gather their information and be in control of their decisions. Don’t be preachy.”

2. Entertain, don’t offend

While seniors want the facts, they appreciate humor and entertainment in marketing, too.

But when it comes to senior living ads, only 10% of survey takers said they find them entertaining, whereas 54% do not.

“You want to ensure you’re getting their attention, and the best way to do that is with entertainment value,” Johnson says. “Appeal to their head and their hearts — they’ll remember how they feel even if they forget what was said.”

Senior living or retirement community advertising was among the least noticed advertising categories at 7.2%, being just slightly more noticed than large appliances at 4.5%. Cars and automobile advertising topped the list of the most visible category in the marketing space to seniors at 42.4%.

However, advertising that is too silly can deter older consumers, says Margaret Wylde, CEO and president of ProMatura, a research firm specializing in consumers aged 50 plus and their housing.

“Nonsensical stuff, like seniors dancing in a parking lot, doesn’t portray who they are, what they do or what they would think about doing,” she says.

3. Highlight Purposeful Activity

Focus on the individual, rather than the age demographic, Wylde says.

“A lot of times [advertisers] will show the happy, smiling aged 55 plus couple sitting at the table, having a glass of wine, or eating, or sharing an ice cream cone,” Wylde says. “They’re never looking intelligent, or wise, or doing something purposeful.”

Avoid trite statements, she said, adding that older Americans are looking for communities with great services, rather than a place that will “take care of them.”

“Outside of that time when they’re receiving care, they want to do their own thing,” she says.

Moving into a community shouldn’t mean loss of control, she says, noting that images of residents participating in facility-led group activities can relate the wrong message.

“Let’s portray people working on their financial stuff, participating in the world or doing civic engagement — not because the community organized it for them, but because they’re pursuing their own passion,” she says.

In fact, when it comes to selecting images to communicate the community or brand, opt for photos of real residents when possible, Johnson advises.

“Stock photography is available, but we like to show real residents as much as we can to help people believe, ‘These people are like me,” he says. “They really like that.”

For more information about Solutions Advisors and Retiring by Design, visit solutions-advisors.com.

Written by Cassandra Dowell