Advertising and the Older Generation: Humerous or Degrading?
by Caja Thimm — University of Bonn, Germany
March 23, 2009 – 02:59
Guided by a perspective that advertisements are not just about selling products, brand names, and services, I am studying the content and social effects, of images of different social groups (e.g., gender and cultural groups), perpetuated by media ads and their potential influence on viewers/readers’ perceptions and attitudes towards these social groups. As the older generation has come to the attention of the advertising business we can find more age related ads and commercials. Some of them, however, reflect problematic stereotypes about older age. Especially older women are often depicted negatively. Especially in context of modern technology (e.g. cell phones or the internet) we can find commercials, which use older protagonists to humor their audiences by depicting the older person as either not competent or – in the case of this video – overly competent. The video was produced by the German Train Company (Deutsche Bahn), advertising the simplicity of their online booking system. The older women – the mother of the younger woman and the mother-in-law of the male protagonist – knows how to handle the online booking and thus succeeds in accompanying her daughter and son in law on a train trip - not to the delight of her son-in-law. This commercial plays with various stereotypes, the main message being “our online booking is so simple even older people can handle it”. Images and stereotypes of the older generation have an important impact on society and on the way we see and treat older individuals. It is therefore important to recognize and analyse them and, consequently, try to work against those negative images. As the internet has changed the world and online communication skills are one of the central new competences, which enable people of all ages to participate in society, media literacy is an important issue for young and old. This video uses the stereotype about the asumed "media illiteracy" of the older generation to amuse the audience.Negative stereotypes about older adults’ internet skills have to be regarded as especially critical in the context of stereotypes of old age in the media.