"Selling to Our Seniors," Mary Simons (2002)

Advertisements directed toward the elderly reflect their desire to retain their youth through their outlook, appearance, and activities. The concerns of the elderly focus on their ability to remain viably active in their daily lives. This becomes not so much of a quest for the fountain of youth but more of a quest to retain as much freedom of movement and social interactivity as possible. The elderly grapple with questions of their own mortality on a daily basis, and advertisements for products specifically geared toward them, prey on this vulnerability.

Aricept is a prescription drug that is supposed to slow down the progression of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss and the inability to think clearly. An advertisement for this product shows an elderly couple seated in what appears to be a bus, laughing at a joke and having a good time. The caption reads, “THE #1 JOKE TELLER takes the #1 prescribed Alzheimer’s drug.” The implication is that having one of the most feared diseases for elderly people need not be as debilitating with the use of this drug. A person, who was once a joke teller, can still have the wits about him to tell great jokes and enjoy a good conversation. This advertisement uses metonymy by associating the laughter, conversation, and interaction between the couple with the ability to stave off the horrible effects of the disease. A message is also conveyed by the use of synecdoche; they appear to be on a tour bus, seemingly headed toward a popular geriatric “fun” spot like Reno, NV. The couple is dressed in pastel pinks and blues, which are metaphors for youthful exuberance and appearance. It is no accident that the ad uses the two predominant colors used in infants’ clothing. The lower third of the page is yellow with purple lettering, drawing the eye to the page. The words at the bottom of the page tell the reader, “Helping people be more like themselves longer.” Once again, this is a direct appeal to the greatest desire of a person with Alzheimer’s: the ability to still be himself for as long as possible and not succumb to the slippery slope of this debilitating disease.

Depend is a product for adults who have incontinence problems: underpants that absorb moisture in the same fashion that diapers do for infants. An advertisement for this product shows an elderly woman riding shotgun in a car. The sand and bushes shown through the car’s windows are blurred, indicating that the car is speeding down the highway. The woman has a brightly colored skirt and a red blouse on with her bare feet up on the dashboard, her silver shoulder length hair, softly blowing in the breeze that is coming in through the open window. Her head is resting on the back of the seat as she looks at the open road through her sun glasses. She seems to be very relaxed and enjoying herself without a care in the world. This whole scene shows a carefree atmosphere, decidedly not the uptight relentless worry that would typically be associated with incontinence. The advertisers used her red blouse as a metaphor for youthfulness and passion. Red is a color of power that draws attention to the wearer, as opposed to the shame and seclusion that most people who suffer from incontinence live in. The woman has on a powder blue skirt with bright red flowers. This ad employs metonymy in associating the flowers with a sweet smell, definitely not the smell one associates with incontinence. This implies that the use of Depends enables a person to act like a much younger and carefree person, recapturing some of the adventurous youthfulness she might have lost because of incontinence worries. The caption reads, “No maps. No worries. Just Sally, me and the Open Road. Day 5 - nothing but mountains and blue skies. So what’s a detour or two? The Road of Life has many memorable attractions. But not nearly enough rest stops.” This touches on the desire of incontinent elderly to not be continually tied down by their infirmities; life suddenly becomes an adventure again. The final caption reads, “You’re in control with Depend.” This statement is the closer for this ad. It really hammers home the message that not only can you depend on this product, but you are in full control of your destiny, living out your fantasies to recapture your youth and be viably active again.

An advertisement for Dove skin care products shows an elderly African-American woman whose wrinkled smile displays a radiant glow that exudes warmth and wisdom. She is looking directly at you with confidence, making no apologies for how age has touched her. The captions read, “Wrinkled? Wonderful? When did beauty become limited by age? It’s time to think, talk and learn how to make beauty real again.” This advertisement wants to be viewed as a celebration of elderly womanhood; the model appears to be so full of grace and inner beauty that transcends her apparent age. However, when you look into this ad on a deeper level, you realize that Dove is still selling a product. Did the model gain her inner glow from using Dove products? Probably not, but the fact that she has become a spokesperson of sorts for the company, implies that by using Dove, other elderly women might gain some of that inner beauty and poise. This is never overtly stated but the juxtaposition of the model in front of a white background, which is a metaphor for purity, both in context to the woman and the product, and text that extols Dove’s commitment to campaigning for real beauty appears to link the product and the model’s attributes in the minds of the reader. The last line of the advertisement tries to pull the reader into the debate of how beauty is defined and implies that they are on our side, against the unfair perception generated by the media that continually show waif-like teenagers as the ideal woman.

The elderly are vulnerable in so many ways, dealing with either the reality or anticipation of both physical and mental debilities, that they are ripe targets for advertisers who want to make these products appear to be something that they literally cannot live meaningful lives without.