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RAI Founding Member NCOA and Google Partner to Remove Ageism in Advertising

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recently collaborated with Google to create a set of inclusive marketing resources designed to eliminate ageism in advertising.

NCOA is a member of the Leaders of Aging Organizations (LAO), which collaborated to create the Reframing Aging Initiative. Check out the Age section in Google's new inclusive marketing toolkit, which helps the advertising industry portray people of all ages in a positive, nuanced, and more authentic way.

The full toolkit, titled All In, includes useful tools, strategies, and practices to embed inclusion into every stage of a campaign. It is available to all marketers who want to improve representation and accessibility in their work.

We talked with NCOA President & CEO Ramsey Alwin about the harm caused by ageism in advertising and how Reframing Aging principles helped guide NCOA’s approach to the inclusive marketing toolkit.

What were some of the most prevalent ageist stereotypes NCOA noticed in advertising in recent years?

I think one of the most prevalent that we’ve been fighting against for a long time is one you might not even think of—INVISIBILITY. There are an estimated 71 million people over the age of 60 in America, and that number is growing. Yet they are almost invisible in advertising and other media portrayals. If you consider that this is the fastest-growing demographic in America, it is shameful that they do not even come close to being fully represented in advertising. Unfortunately, that reflects a societal pattern of ignoring older adults in general.

Another stereotype, which is insidiously subtle but dangerous, is portraying older adults as helpless and without agency or choice. This erases their humanity and ignores that they are individual human beings. It makes it very easy to dismiss their opinions or wishes and ultimately their human rights.

At NCOA, we are collecting authentic images of aging through photo contests that depict aging well. With submissions from around the country, novice to professional photographers have flooded our contest with the most beautiful images of what aging really looks like when you strip away the negative stereotypes.

How did the partnership between NCOA and Google come about?

When Google began looking for partners in this project, they saw NCOA as the logical choice given that we are the oldest national organization dedicated to serving older adults. NCOA has been at the forefront of every major piece of federal legislation affecting older adults’ ability to age with dignity and financial security. This includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and ending mandatory retirement based on age. 

How did the Reframing Aging principles help guide your review and feedback for Google’s new inclusive marketing toolkit?

The most valuable takeaway from Reframing Aging is that we need a long-term approach to furthering societal changes by reframing distorted perceptions of aging and acknowledging the contributions that older adults make to society. Using this as the lens for all advertising, depictions, and portrayals of older adults is very helpful in eliminating ageist stereotypes and understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

What do you believe is the broader impact of reducing, and hopefully one day eliminating, ageism in advertising?

Advertising has shown itself to be very powerful in shaping public perception for good or for bad. For years, we were bombarded with images of unrealistic, airbrushed female models who were held up as an ideal image of beauty. There is a wealth of medical research that links these ads to eating disorders such as anorexia because many young women became obsessed with conforming to an impossible ideal.

If we present more older adults in all kinds of advertising and portray them in a respectful manner, it will lead to a broader acceptance of older adults in society and a more considered and humane approach to how we treat each other as we age. As the research by Becca Levy at Yale illustrates, negative perceptions of aging aren’t just a bad idea, they are bad for our health and can decrease life expectancy by up to 7.5 years. This is because negative images and sentiments can take a toll and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of us in a position to change the image of aging have an opportunity to improve healthy outcomes, so every person can age well.

About Us

The Reframing Aging Initiative is a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society. This greater understanding will counter ageism and guide our nation’s approach to ensuring supportive policies and programs for us all as we move through the life course.

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