A version of this article originally appeared in ROAR Forward as part of a collaboration with their quarterly ROAR Report. For more advertising insights like this from CivicScience, get in touch.
More than ever, advertisers are zeroing in their focus on specific audiences with each campaign. With fewer and fewer huge monocultural TV events that everyone watches, you have to think about how the adults watching an ad on Instagram, CNBC, or the gas pump screen might come to the table with differing priorities and sensitivities. But even considering the fragmentation of American viewing and ad-consuming habits, do older Americans feel they’re being left behind or misrepresented in advertising?
CivicScience, an opinion analytics platform aiming to serve as a voice for consumers, recently polled U.S. adults to gauge their sentiments toward advertising. Among all U.S. adults, a strong majority feel their age group is ‘not very often’ or ‘not at all’ accurately represented in advertising and marketing (67%). But among adults 55 and older, even fewer feel they are accurately represented in ads – with those reporting they’re ‘definitely’ accurately represented falling three percentage points.
These feelings of representation – or misrepresentation – don’t cut the same across racial lines. Asian and Pacific Islander Americans feel much less represented than White Americans aged 55 and older. That older White American group is most likely to claim they are ‘not very often’ or ‘not at all’ accurately represented in advertising, while Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the same age group are the most likely to say they are ‘not at all’ accurately represented by a hefty margin.
As income increases, so does the sense of being accurately portrayed in advertising and marketing for Americans over 55. Lower-earning Americans over the age of 55 are the most likely to feel they are not accurately represented in advertising in comparison to both the general population (Gen Pop) and all adults in their age bracket.
Not only are Americans over 55 more likely to feel misrepresented in advertising, but they’re also more likely to turn their backs on a product or service whose advertising neglects or portrays them in an objectionable way. Adults 55 and older are four percentage points more likely than the Gen Pop (50% compared to 46%) to report being ‘very likely’ to decide against purchasing a product under these conditions and narrowly over-index for being at least ‘somewhat likely’ to do so.
But when it comes to those who have actually stopped purchasing a product due to feeling misrepresented or neglected in advertising, 55+ Americans are effectively in line with the Gen Pop’s habits – which is that they may feel aggrieved, but slightly more than half say they have acted on it and stopped purchasing ‘several times’ or ‘once or twice’ due to advertising. That said, a slightly larger majority from the 55-and-older set has held back a purchase more often than the Gen Pop (57% to 56%). Overall, both Gen Pop and 55+ consumers will act on their displeasure but not regularly.
While it’s no secret that the vast majority of marketing is aimed at the 18–34 demographic, they’re far from the only consumers – and decreasingly likely to be the ones watching cable TV ads. But older Americans (particularly lower-income, White, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans) feel like they’re misrepresented at a higher rate in advertising. Although they don’t always put it into practice, 55-and-older Americans are the most likely to decide against purchasing a product or service that misrepresents or ignores them in advertising in the future. Marketers should take notice. There is a fair amount of resentment and acting on that resentment may grow as time goes on.