JWT Set to Criticize Ageism in Ads to Congress

A top executive at J. Walter Thompson’s specialized unit targeting adults 45 and older will tell Congress this week that the nation’s marketers have failed to address the needs of older Americans.

“We believe it’s time to raise awareness of ageism in advertising and work toward its demise,” Robert Snyder, a senior partner with JWT’s Dallas-based mature market group, will tell lawmakers this Wednesday in his testimony before the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.

Snyder, who heads a 23-person unit, part of JWT’s specialized communications, also will show examples of both positive and negative portrayals of seniors in ads.

While there are several consultancies and boutique shops that specialize in marketing to older consumers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic remains by far the primary target of most advertisers and agencies.

“For a lot of brands we work with, it’s sexier to advertise to younger consumers who are much more fashion-forward, very social and very in the public eye,” said Melissa Pordy, svp of print at Zenith Media, New York. “With marketing dollars so limited, you want to bet on the future.”

Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who chairs the committee, wants to address what he sees as bias against older Americans in advertising and the media, which affects how lawmakers deal with healthcare and social security issues. “When seniors are portrayed so negatively, it makes the work we do that much more difficult,” said Scott Mulhauser, a Breaux rep.

The issue of ageism in ads has gained heightened attention following a survey released last month by the AARP, which shows that adults 45 and older are no more brand loyal than adults ages 18-34.

Americans ages 55-64 spent 27.4 percent of the $4.16 trillion American households spend each year, the largest of any age category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2000 survey of consumer spending.