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WHEN WILL
TV GET REAL?
by Frank Kaiser
Don't you get weary of watching a TV world where you seldom see anyone over 50. And when you do, they're most often ding-a-lings, duffers or buzz crushers.

Consumers 18- to 49-years-old are whom advertisers want to reach. So that's who we see on TV.

Except news shows. Seems that no one under 55 watches the news anymore. You do. I do. With no one but us geezers watching, TV news brings with it reminders of our false teeth, arthritis, and continence problems. Watch enough news and you'll learn the over-the-counter cure for every senior infirmity there is. It's a senior world from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every evening.

Then it becomes prime time, when the only seniors you'll ever see are fools and idiots. Watch Frasier's Martin Crane, permanently planted in his Barcalounger squatting in front of a television with his jumping dog Eddie by his side. On Everybody Loves Raymond, Marie Barone is overbearing and meddling; husband Frank is long-suffering. Both are clichés older than god.

It's not that advertisers and TV producers want to insult us; they live in a world where no one lives beyond age 49.

Turn 50 and — Poof!— you're done for. While we as a nation see more gray every day — a boomer turns 50 every eight seconds — networks and advertisers believe the viewing world is forever young. Mention the senior market and all veteran admen and women can conjure is Mr. Whipple squeezing Charmin while Clara chortles "Where's the beef?"

The result? No one's there with whom we can identify, so older viewers are fleeing the networks in droves. Since 1990, one third of viewers 55 and older have deserted TV's top 20.

Of course, advertisers still don't get it. Especially the part where we geezers are rich. And spending like crazy. We, the 50- to 75-year-old market, control 70 percent of the net worth of US households and more than 50 percent of the country's discretionary spending.

Advertisers haven't a clue. When it comes to seniors, advertisers' minds are still back in the '60s when one of three over 65 lived in poverty. Today there are 70 million of us controlling almost $9 trillion in net worth. Yet advertisers still buy time on programs that casts our age group as drooling dumbbells.

Specifically, it's the agency media buyers, typically younger and thinner of thought than even your son or daughter — Really! — who are at fault. They know not, and actually think it's humorous to stereotype a senior as a know-nothing goof. Well, Ms. Jr. Adman, take a gander at this... American's 50 and older:
own 80 percent of the personal wealth in financial institutions.
• Own more homes than any other age group, over 60 percent
have remodeled.
• Purchase 41 percent of all new cars.
• Spend 74 percent more on a typical vacation than 18- to 49-year-
olds.
• Enjoy more than $900 billion in income.
• Sixteen million of us exercise at least three times a week.

Even when they actually want to reach us, advertisers fail. Their biggest blunder is thinking that old people are old.

Now, you and I understand perfectly what I'm saying here. But Ms. Jr. Adperson hasn't a clue. If I were selling me, I'd evoke images from my late teens and early twenties, images of the Eisenhower/Kennedy era with which we of the Silent Generation strongly relate, never that of an old man in a rocking chair.

Here's another surprise for J.A. Pretty much the same concepts that are
important to him are important to us. Respect. Connectedness. Independence. Personal growth and revitalization. Affirmation of personal worth. If you want to capture our attention on the tube, older characters must embrace some of these aspects.

Above all, please don't talk down to us. We're not dumb. Don't show us that way. Remember the "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials for a personal alarm system? Those commercials, I'm told, almost killed the entire product category. Elders, even those who could have benefited from such a product, stayed away in droves. Don't sell us on the basis of fear. Better to talk about maintaining independence.

Too bad this won't appear in Advertising Age. Until those people catch on, you and I and all our millions of peers and their dollars will continue to get geezer mail that never gets opened and stereotypical TV that never gets watched.

© 2001—Frank Kaiser

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