Several years ago personal products marketer Dove kicked off a campaign that stunned the marketing world. It featured models sporting freckles, birthmarks and even wrinkles. One model was a 93-year-old African American woman. It was called the Real Beauty campaign.
The Real Beauty campaign was an instant success, pushing sales into the double digit column first in Europe where it was launched, followed by the UK and ultimately in the U.S.
Real Beauty defied the marketing tradition of featuring models as stunning beauties when promoting personal products. It is axiomatic among marketers that women will be more responsive to ads showing beautiful women than ads that show women like themselves.
But Dove was on to something. Consumers really did appreciate authenticity. It found in surveys that only about 2 percent of women regarded themselves as beautiful. This meant that to nearly every woman personal product ads do not project reality.
Dove was so convinced that it had made the discovery of the century in consumer behavior that it launched a new campaign aimed at older women in which it treated aging as forthrightly as it had done on the subject of beauty. Called the Pro-aging campaign, it had disappointing results.
Where did Dove go wrong? Was it really authenticity after all that captured women’s interest in the Real Beauty campaign? Maybe when it comes to aging the hallowed idea in marketing that people don’t like the idea of aging is valid. That being so, authenticity in ads directed to aging customers will be counterproductive.
But that’s the case. Older customers tend to be more demanding of authenticity in marketing communications. The issue is a matter of how an ad represents age. The Del Webb ad shown in this post proved to be highly successful. Its reference to age is oblique but respectful. And indirect.
Many ads designed for older markets are patronizing, such as those ads that urge seniors to “collect the rewards you spent a lifetime earning.”
Ads that praise age can come across as exploitive. Some years ago Helena Rubenstein launched a campaign in which the tag line was “Beauty doesn’t end at 50.” It failed to produced the hoped for results. It projected a defensiveness about age that older women didn’t relate to.
The best way to connect a brand with older markets is to do so indirectly. This is not because the idea of aging is a turnoff for older people – remember from the last post the Duke University study that discovered higher levels of happiness among 70-year-olds than among 30-year-olds.
Older people know that in our society aging is widely regarded as an affliction. After all, how many products are promoted as “anti-aging” remedies? Older consumers tend to reject marketing that strongly and directly connects a brand and aging not because of how they feel about aging but because of how much of the rest of society feels about aging.
One supposed truism among marketers is that because boomers tend to see themselves as 10 or 15 years younger than they are chronologically it’s best to use appropriately younger models. Nonsense. First, in the more than three decades I have worked in older markets not just older consumers but consumers of all ages tend to lag behind their chronological age in how they feel. It works out that “cognitive age” tends to be about 70 to 85 percent of chronological age.
In any event, using younger models than the core target market is not authentic but is commonly done in marketing senior housing communities. The average age of new move-ins in full service senior communities is generally in the very late 70s to early 80s. Yet, ads commonly feature models who are clearly in their 60s – or younger.
No harm done, you say? Well, as a matter of fact yes, the practice of using models that are much younger than residents in retirement communities can be costly in terms of wasted marketing dollars. Imagine the 70-year-old husband who with his 68-year-old wife visit a retirement community they have seen advertised with younger models. What is their likely reaction when seeing that most residents are well into their 80s? “Dear, I don’t think we’d like this place. There’re too many old people.”
The second ad in this post is a good example of an ad that only indirectly connects aging and a product for older people. If the proof is in the pudding, the success of this ad showed that the intended audience really like how it tasted.
I think it says something not so great about our values that we struggle so mightily in our society to achieve authenticity. But to the degree that a marketer is able to successfully project authenticity marketing success will more likely be achieved.