On the other, focusing on consumers’ actual needs instead of their assumed age has the added benefit of appealing to all of a product’s potential users. An example offered by Margaret Morganroth Gullette, a cultural critic and resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, is the recent marketing campaign for the absorbent underwear Depend.
“This is an athlete, 20 reps deep,” an announcer intones in a 2020 ad as a middle-age woman works out outdoors, “and sprinting past every leak.” In another TV spot, a woman who does not appear old enough to collect Social Security leads a business meeting.
Not all older people have use for absorbent underwear, but everyone with incontinence does: people who are pregnant or postpartum, who are taking certain medicines, who have bladder conditions or any number of temporary or recurring health issues.
“It was making absorbent underwear dignified and part of an ordinary life,” Dr. Gullette said. An ad that acknowledges this bodily reality, rather than just showing an older model, she said, is “in some ways more revolutionary.”
The CruzrOne, with its marketing campaign’s focus on pace rather than age, is another such example. Some older runners might prefer a shoe for a slower pace, but so might novice runners, or someone recovering from an injury. In this new approach to marketing, age matters less than the lifestyle of the buyer, Dr. Golden said: “A 65-year-old and a 25-year-old could be as excited and engaged in life, or an 80-year-old could be running marathons.”
This last part, at least, is something Nike has long acknowledged. In the very first televised Nike ad featuring the famous “Just do it” slogan, in 1988, the camera zooms in on the Golden Gate Bridge, where a bare-chested runner is making his daily 17-mile trek, Nike Airs on his feet, gray chest hair rippling in the morning breeze.
“People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime,” Walt Stack, then 80, explains to the camera. “I leave them in my locker.”