PR and comms must counter the instinctive ageism in the media

The notion of a study-work-retire life pattern is becoming increasingly old-fashioned as more of us try out different careers, travel the world, or begin new relationships in our 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

PR and comms professionals are well-placed to help the media mind its language, argues Emma Twyning
PR and comms professionals are well-placed to help the media mind its language, argues Emma Twyning

So why isn't this sea change being reflected in the way later life is portrayed across media and popular culture? 

All too often, the narrative focuses on vulnerability, frailty and loneliness, on 'the burden' of our ageing population. 

When we're bombarded with images of unwell, isolated older people, we come to see those things as synonymous with later life.

We develop a prejudice against our future selves, fearing our own ageing process and accepting the misconception that age will automatically limit our ability and potential. 

Studies suggest this pessimism could even affect our health and wellbeing in later life.

But ageism isn’t just about name-calling, it's also about the subtleties of the language we, as comms and PR professionals, use to talk about age when we refer to beauty products as 'anti-ageing', when we 'other' people of older ages and reduce older people to doddery-but-dear stereotypes, when we fail to represent the rich and varied interests and circumstances that exist among people in older age groups.

As PR and comms professionals, we are well-placed to challenge these prejudices and misconceptions. 

We can build more age-inclusive campaigns that represent the increasing diversity of older age groups. 

We can mind that we don't infantilise, patronise – or completely airbrush out – people of older ages, as is so often the case.

And we can counsel our clients and employers of the real business benefits of appealing to this growing consumer group.

A staggering 82 per cent of over-55s think that even their favourite retail brand doesn't understand them and their needs.

And that's no surprise, given that so much of the marketing aimed at over-50s is sterile, old-fashioned or just plain boring.

It's clear that brands need to learn a new language for later life if they are to connect with the fastest-growing demographic in the UK.

Of course, it's hard for brands and agencies to understand the needs of older people if the people writing copy and designing campaigns are all much younger.

The creative industries, like all sectors, would benefit hugely if they were to recruit a diversity of ages.

All too often, people applying for jobs are put off by firms that imply – or even straight-out say – that they're looking for young talent.

But the simple fact of being younger does not give us a license or excuse for ageism.

As the people who help shape the headlines of newspapers, and whose content fills magazine shelves, we hold real power to shift the narrative on ageing and root out prejudice.

It's not just good for business now – our future selves will thank us for it. 

Emma Twyning is head of communications at the Centre for Ageing Better

Thumbnail credit: Getty Images

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in