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Images of Older People in UK Magazine Advertising: Toward a Typology


Abstract and Figures

The use of images of older people in the British advertising media has been under-researched to date. Further, previous research in any country has tended to examine such images from an a priori framework of general impressions and stereotypes of older people. This study addresses these issues with British consumers' (n = 106) impressions, trait ascriptions, and similarity-between-images ratings of a representative sample of U.K. magazine advertisements featuring older characters. After a series of sorting task laboratory sessions, multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analyses revealed four clearly defined groups representing types of portrayals. These types emerged from the advertisements and from the views of the consumers themselves. These emergent groupings are: (1) Frail and Vulnerable, (2) Happy and Affluent, (3) Mentors, (4) Active and Leisure-oriented older adults. These groupings seem to be a logical context-appropriate derivation from previous findings on generally held stereotypes of older persons. It is argued that the groupings have the potential to contribute to a reliable typology of advertising portrayals of older people, with potential heuristic leverage in social scientific research of intergenerational communication, lifespan concerns, and the aging process.
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Typology of images of older people
Running Head: Typology of images of older people
Images of Older People in UK Magazine Advertising:
Towards a Typology1,2
Angie Williams
Paul Mark Wadleigh
Virpi Ylänne (corresponding author)
Centre for Language & Communication Research/ENCAP
Cardiff University
Humanities Building, Colum Drive
Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Wales, UK
∗∗The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
Email:, Fax: +44-2920-874242
1 This study is part of a three year research programme, ‘Images of Elders in UK Media Advertisements:
Perceptions and Representations’, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), grant
number RES-000-23-0416.
2 This paper was awarded third prize in the Interactive Paper session at the International Communication
Association (ICA) Convention, San Francisco, May 2007.
Typology of images of older people
Images of Older People in UK Magazine Advertising: Towards a Typology
The use of images of older people in the British advertising media has been under-
researched to date. Further, previous research in any country has tended to examine such
images from an a priori framework of general impressions and stereotypes of older
people. This study addresses these issues with British consumers’ (n=106) impressions,
trait ascriptions, and similarity-between-images ratings of a representative sample of UK
magazine advertisements featuring older characters. After a series of sorting task
laboratory sessions, multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analyses revealed
four clearly defined groups, representing types of portrayals. These types emerged from
the advertisements and from the views of the consumers themselves. These emergent
groupings are (1) Frail and Vulnerable (2) Happy and Affluent (3) Mentors (4) Active
and Leisure-oriented older adults. These groupings seem to be a logical context-
appropriate derivation from previous findings on generally held stereotypes of old er
persons. It is argued that the groupings have the potential to contribute to a reliable
typology of advertising portrayals of older people, with potential heuristic leverage in
social scientific research of intergenerational communication, lifespan concerns, and the
ageing process.
Typology of images of older people
Because of falling birth rates and enhanced longevity, many societies around the
globe have increasingly ageing populations (e.g. see Anderson & Hussey, 2000).
Changing demographics necessitate changes in the way societies operate, not only in
terms of fulfilling the basic social and health needs of older people but also in terms of
catering for their lifestyles. In some ways, then, these demographic shifts provide an
imperative for us to learn more about what it is like to become old in the 21st century.
There are many ways through which we come to know about ageing and old age.
These include personal contact with older people, hearsay, stereotypes and assumptions,
or even personal experience as an aged person. A crucial component of this is
communication with, about and for older people. There are also mediated sources -
literature, film, television shows, magazines and so forth. Advertisements are an
important component of this body of understanding and knowledge. Along with the other
sources listed above, advertisements enable us to know about older people as well as
how to be as an older person (Hollenshead & Ingersoll, 1982). In this way
advertisements are an important social resource that may even affect our developmental
With this in mind, this article focuses on the way that older people are portrayed in
contemporary magazine advertisements. Such advertisements may not only reinforce
rather traditional images of older people but also potentially forge new ways of depicting
older people. As such, they provide insight into what kinds of lifestyles advertisers
imagine for older people. Conventionally, older people have been viewed in some rather
discrete ways, which include ascribed traits and stereotypes (e.g., incompetent and/or
Typology of images of older people
grouchy). We shall briefly review these before going on to review previous research on
older people and the media.
Stereotypes and expectations about older people
We have fairly strong expectations about behaviour and characteristics associated
with members of certain social groups. Rather than seeing people as individuals with
various idiosyncratic characteristics, we tend to generalize about people in line with their
particular social group memberships such as gender, race or age (e.g., Tajfel, 1978). For
example, adolescents are expected to experience a degree of ‘storm and stress’, middle-
aged people to experience mid-life crises, older people to moan and groan about their
aches and pains (see Williams & Garrett, 2002). Hence, it is fairly commonplace to
categorize others into groups, to identify typical group attributes and to generalize these
attributes to the whole group thereby creating and perpetuating a stereotype (Tajfel &
Turner, 1986). In the realm of communication and ageing research, Hummert and
colleagues (e.g., Hummert, Gartska, Ryan, & Bonnesen, 2004) have shown that both
older and younger adults have some well-defined stereotypes of both older and younger
people. And these stereotypes impact on intergenerational communication (Harwood &
Williams, 1998; Hummert et al., 2004; Williams & Garrett, 2005). Hummert and
colleagues have identified four predominantly negative stereotypes of older people held
by young, middle-aged and older persons (Hummert, 1990; Hummert, Garstka, Shaner, &
Strahm, 1994). The ‘Severely Impaired’ stereotype is associated with slow-thinking,
incompetence and feebleness, the ‘Despondent’ is depressed, sad and hopeless; the
‘Shrew/Curmudgeon’ is complaining, ill-tempered and bitter and the ‘Recluse’ is quiet,
Typology of images of older people
timid and naïve. On the positive side, among others, the ‘Perfect Grandparent’ is kind,
loving and family oriented, the ‘Golden Ager’ is lively, adventurous and alert and the
‘John Wayne Conservative’ is patriotic, religious and nostalgic. Experimental studies
conducted by Hummert and colleagues indicate that unfavourable evaluations of older
targets follow activation of negative stereotypes and, conversely, positive stereotype
activation stimulates positive evaluations (e.g., see Hummert et al., 2004).
Despite positive stereotypes, it is accurate to say that old age is generally viewed
rather negatively in our society. For example, Palmore (1982, 1999) reports that
compared to ratings of other age categories, ratings of old age tend to be more negative
but that most people have mixed feelings about various aspects of old age and tend to
rate old age positively on some dimensions and negatively on others (1982, p. 340).
Indeed, young respondents do maintain a preponderance of negative versus positive
stereotypes and trait assessments of older people. Common traits ascribed to older
persons include: nagging, irritable, cranky, weak, feeble-minded, verbose, cognitively
deficient, asexual, useless, ugly, miserable and unsatisfied with their lives (Kite &
Johnson, 1988). If society in general views old age and older adults in these mixed ways,
including some positive but many negative views, we would expect this to be reflected in
the media and it is media research that we turn to next.
The media, communication and ageing
A large proportion of research, to date, on communication, ageing, and the media
is from the United States. In fact, such research in the UK, particularly portrayals of
older people in advertising, is rather sparse (Ylänne-McEwen & Williams, 2003; Simcock
Typology of images of older people
& Sudbury, 2006; Williams, Ylänne, & Wadleigh, 2007; Zhang et al., 2006). Typical
topics for examination in US research have included mass media use by older people, and
portrayals of older people in magazines and on television (including advertising). There
is a reasonably substantial (and steadily growing) body of evidence about how older
people are portrayed on US prime-time television, especially within entertainment such
as sit-coms (Harwood & Giles, 1992), films (Bazzini, McIntosh, Smith, Cook, & Harris,
1997; Lauzen & Dozier, 2005; Robinson, Callister, Magoffin, & Moore, 2007),
documentaries (see Robinson & Skill, 1995 for a review), as well as in print media (e.g.,
Roberts & Zhou, 1997; Miller, Miller, Mckibbin, & Pettys, 1999, Robinson, Gustafson,
& Popovich, 2008). Findings from some of this USA research are discussed below.
Turning to the UK, a few magazines (e.g., Yours, (Retirement) Choice and Saga
Magazine) have proclaimed their mission to be one of counter-influencing negative
stereotypes of old age. They present editorial and advertising content that fosters a
positive self-image and a healthier, more dynamic and overall positive lifestyle for older
persons (Bytheway, 2003; Bytheway & Johnson, 1998; Featherstone & Hepworth, 1995).
Featherstone and Hepworth’s (1995) longitudinal (1972-1993) case study of the Choice
magazine (formerly known as Retirement Choice) suggests that it is an example of what
may be the modern anti-ageist idea of newly defined ‘proper’ ageing. This is
predominated by images of relatively glamorous, youthful, fit and healthy middle-aged
and older people. However, as Featherstone and Hepworth (1995) point out, the new
lifestyle depicted in (Retirement) Choice and other publications for this age group is not
without problems. Among these is the stress placed on a consumerism that might be out
of financial reach for many older people, and a failure to confront the very real problems
Typology of images of older people
of chronic debilitating illness and the need for people to come to terms with the end of
Generally speaking, what research there is from both the USA and UK suggests
that older people are under-represented in the media relative to their respective proportion
of the population (see e.g. Roy & Harwood, 1997; Robinson, 1998; Simcock & Sudbury,
2006). When older people are represented, especially prior to the mid-1980s, negative
images and stereotypes are common. In television entertainment, for example, frail,
feeble minded, senile, or bitter characters are often deployed as dramatic victims or
comedic counterpoints (Barrick, Hutchinson, & Deckers, 1990; Harwood & Giles, 1992).
However, this pattern of under-representation and negative portrayal of older people
previously found in the media, especially in television entertainment, appears to be
broken when attention is directed towards some modern magazines, and towards
In advertising, older people are associated with certain products (Harris & Feinberg,
1977; Kubey, 1980; Swayne & Greco, 1987) such as food, drug/medicines and leisure
products and are typically depicted as being at home (Swayne & Greco, 1987) and with
other, younger, characters rather than with peers or alone (Roy & Harwood, 1997). On a
positive note, a number of researchers have found that older characters have been
portrayed as advice givers rather than advice receivers (Swayne & Greco, 1987; Roy &
Harwood, 1997). Given the roles as targets of ridicule, low-brow comedy, and
buffoonery often associated with non-advertising media portrayals of older people
(Barrick et al., 1990; Harwood & Giles, 1992), it is somewhat heartening to see that over
Typology of images of older people
half of the older characters depicted in advertisements studied by Roy and Harwood
(1997) had ‘serious’ roles.
Perhaps more important for our purposes is whether or not older people are
typically negatively portrayed in print advertising media. The impetus of positivity in
advertising suggests that older people should be positively portrayed and this is more-or-
less what is found. For example, Harwood and Roy (1999) analysed print
advertisements, coding ads from five top-selling magazines from the US, and five
comparable titles from India. Findings were similar to their earlier television ad analysis,
in that the portrayals of older people in the magazines were virtually all positive. Older
people in both countries were shown to have similarly high levels of role prominence and
positive gloss. A few differences were observed that could be attributed to the cultures,
such as the US models were more often smiling, and the Indian models were placed more
often in outdoor and business settings (Harwood & Roy, 1999).
Many studies employ content analysis images are broken down into components
that are then frequency counted. Perhaps because of this, the picture that we get of the
way older people are portrayed is divided into a set or a list of discrete categories and
trait-like dimensions. Thus we understand that older people are portrayed as healthy or
of low status or humorously and so forth and how often this happens, and we must
assume that frequency is equal in some way to importance or even impact (e.g., on
viewers). While this method has been extremely effective, one of the problems is that the
contextual complexity of images is lost. The result is rather a-contextual lists about the
way older people are portrayed but we have no indication of the connections between
items on the list. Worst still, some studies merely end up reporting whether or not older
Typology of images of older people
people are portrayed ‘positively’ versus negatively’ images are stripped down into the
very basic analytical components. We are therefore left with no information about older
people as portrayed as different types of positive and negative characters in specific
contexts or depicting different lifestyles.
One way of deepening our understanding of portrayals of older people in the media
that does not result in trait-like lists or bland descriptions of positivity versus negativity
would be to content analyse images according to more complex stereotypical depictions.
In this way we would know what kinds of stereotypes are being used by the media. In
fact, this was done by Miller, Leyell, and Mazachek, (2004) who used Hummert et al’s
(1994) stereotypes to examine portrayals of older people on TV. They found that the
most commonly depicted stereotype was that of ‘adventurous’ Golden Ager, followed by
Perfect Grandparent and Productive Golden Ager. Although this research does help
elaborate our understanding of the ways that older people are portrayed, it still does not,
in our view, go far enough. Hummert et al.’s stereotypes are derived from trait
characteristics but we are seeking portrayals that reflect context, behaviour and lifestyles
as depicted in ads. Moreover, Miller et al.’s use of Hummert’s stereotypes applies a
coding system to advertisements that is given ‘a-priori’ from an existing ‘external’
source. Rather, in our research, we sought to devise a more comprehensive typology that
emerged from advertising materials themselves and not one that was imposed a-priori by
us. Thus, our research set out to provide a deeper understanding of portrayals of older
people in British magazine advertisements.
Our previous research (Ylänne-McEwen & Williams, 2003) has indicated that
portrayals of older people in UK magazine advertisements are only rarely age neutral or
Typology of images of older people
more accurately ‘age incidental’ (when the age of the characters has little bearing on the
purpose of the advertisement). More often, age of characters is used in a variety of ways:
old age may be ‘set up’ by the advertisers as a possible negative condition that can be
overcome if only the consumer buys the product. Lifestyle products are prominent here
such as food supplements and health supplies. Similarly, glamour products are advertised
by well-groomed ‘young-old’ people. Old age may also be portrayed humorously as
comic or amusing. The viewer of the advert may be encouraged to laugh with the
character portrayed or may be encouraged to laugh at the character and older people in
general. Of course the latter type is more likely to appear in magazines aimed at a
younger audience and particularly perhaps, ‘lad mags’ (aimed at young male readers).
Older people are also portrayed rather traditionally surrounded by family perhaps
grandchildren or even several generations and often the message implies that it is the
older person’s duty to stay well, fit or financially viable for their family’s sake. Finally,
older people are used to endorse products and these can be celebrities or ‘ordinary’
members of the public.
A pilot study of ours (Ylänne-McEwen & Williams, unpublished) asked 32
undergraduate student participants to view a selection of 12 adverts drawn as a
convenience sample from British magazines, sort them into similarity groups and provide
a label or summary title for each group. The most frequent groupings can be summarized
as: ‘young at heart’ (24 participants) depicting older people enjoying life,
‘glamorous/stylish’ (21 participants) depicting young looking and sophisticated older
people, ‘traditional’ (21 participants), that is, depictions of traditional roles or older
people needing certain products (dependent, incapable), ‘family’ (12 participants)
Typology of images of older people
showing older people as grandparents or in other family roles, and ‘products for
convenience’ (11 participants) which depict mobility or other life enhancement products.
Broadly speaking, participants found the task of classifying the ads into groups relatively
straight-forward. The one exception was an advertisement featuring a rather droll older
transvestite advertising a watch and this was quite frequently isolated as ‘unique’,
‘unusual’, ‘odd’ or ‘weird’ (11 participants).
The study being reported here is part of a much larger project1 examining images of
older people in British print media and TV advertising. The first phase of this project
extended our pilot study by systematically sampling advertisements in popular British
magazines (see below for details). This was followed by a thorough content analysis of
all ads containing images of people appearing to be 60 or more years of age (Williams,
Ylänne, Wadleigh, & Chen, 2010). Following previous research (e.g. Harwood & Roy,
1999), our content analysis focussed on the number of older people in the ad, whether the
person(s) were male or female, presence or absence of humour, whether the older person
was portrayed as a central or peripheral character in the ad and so forth.
To decide on the main thematic portrayals, three researchers independently and then
together (with discussion) sorted and re-sorted the ads into similarity types. The sorting
and re-sorting was repeated until we had arrived at a set of themes that we felt adequately
described the entirety of the portrayals in our data set. This resulted in a preliminary
thematic typology of six older image types. The ‘Golden-Ager’ describes older people
who are youthful and full of zest, often having glamorous and luxurious lifestyles.
‘Perfect Grandparents’ were older people shown with grandchildren in very positive
images, sometimes depicting several generations. These images were often close-ups of
Typology of images of older people
smiling and happy families. ‘Legacy’ themes refer to older persons depicted with
‘gravitas’ and status, often mentor types with implied experience and wisdom. ‘The
Coper’ was an older person who had a problem perhaps a disability - but was coping
with it, typically because of the product being sold. Comedic’ older people were those
who were depicted in humorous situations. ‘Celebrity Endorsers’ were well known older
adults in the public eye who endorsed certain products, typically acting as positive role
models. Thus far, then, the thematic typology that was emerging from the data was
generated from an analysis by the researchers themselves. The six types that emerged
from this content analysis are candidates for a typology of current advertising images of
older people (at least within a British context).
The current study was undertaken in order to explore whether or not an
independent group of participants drawn from the general community would perceptually
confirm these six thematic types. To accomplish this, we formulated the following
Research Questions:
RQ1: What are the frequently observed portrayals or characterizations of older
people in British magazine advertisements?
RQ2: How do consumers themselves view portrayals of older people in British
magazine advertisements?
RQ3: Do consumers’ themes and characterizations match our preliminary thematic
typology described above?
Typology of images of older people
Our methodology for this study closely follows that previously established by
Baxter and Wilmot (1984) albeit in a different context (i.e. we are coding media
examples whereas they were coding relational strategies). The overall project is
composed of several stages which take advantage of triangulation methodology using
qualitative and quantitative methods to support each other and to provide a richer
understanding of the phenomena in question. Briefly, in stage one, we undertook a
detailed qualitative content analysis of magazine advertisements that feature older people.
This resulted in a grounded typology of the ways that older people are portrayed in our
media sample. This second stage of the research used cluster analysis and
multidimensional scaling (MDS) to reveal groups of prototypes from the stage one
generated typology. These prototypes were sorted on the basis of similarity by an
independent sample of community judges.
Materials Corpus
Before describing the current stud y, it is important to describe how we arrived at an
overall sample of British magazine advertisements used for the wider research project.
Brad Monthly Guide to Advertising Media (March, 2004), Willing’s Press Guide to UK
Media (2003), and the National Readership Survey (NRS, 2003) are, arguably, the top
three profiling authorities regarding periodicals in the UK. Consulting these sources and
following the practice often cited in previous research on magazine advertising (e.g.,
Harwood & Roy, 1999), eight basic categories of magazines were identified within the
above schemata: general, men’s, women’s, sports, home, business, young audience, and
older audience.
Typology of images of older people
Because the interest of the study was, ultimately, to determine the existence of
widely used types of images, the researchers turned to data regarding actual readership of
consumer magazines, rather than mere circulation or sales figures. The importance of
this is underscored by market research findings indicating that an adult Briton reads, but
does not necessarily purchase, an average of six periodicals a month (NRS, 2003).
Demographic information produced by NRS (2003) was helpful in pointing out that
magazines targeted to a specific audience were also read by other audiences (e.g., Men’s
Health magazine, targeted specifically for male readers, is picked up and read by a
proportion of females). In this way target publications for our sample of British
magazines were identified. The resultant sample of magazines included one weekly
publication, Radio Times (home), one fortnightly magazine The Economist (business) and
nine monthlies: Saga Magazine (older), ASDA Magazine (general, home & family),
Marie Claire (younger women), Rugby World (men, sport), Men’s Health (men), FHM
(younger men), Good Housekeeping (women, home & family), Family Circle (home &
family), and BBC Good Food (home).
The remit of the study was to examine magazines from ‘the previous five years’
(from the beginning of our research programme). This was operationalized as issues from
June 1999 to May 2004, a five year period with six years of publication (1999, 2000,
2001, 2002, 2003, & 2004). Thus we collected nine monthly, one weekly and one
fortnightly magazine for each of the six years. To create a more manageable sample, a
single composite year was compiled using stratified random sampling. For example, for
December of our composite year, issues were randomly selected from the December
issues in our sampling frame. The composite year was composed of publications from:
Typology of images of older people
January-2002, February-2000, March-2004, April-2004, May-2003, June-1999, July-
2000, August-2003, September-2002, October-2001, November-2001, and December-
1999. Thus, each year in our sampling frame appeared twice in our composite year.
The resultant 121 magazine issues were then analysed for any advertisements ¼
page and larger, containing a ‘recognizable’ human figure appearing to be 60 years of age
or older. A ‘recognizable’ human figure meant enough of the face was visible to be
reasonably certain of the character’s sex, age, and expression. Isolated photographic
images of human hands, for example, even though they may have been clearly hands of
an aged person, were not sampled, and neither were cartoons or puppets. This resulted in
an initial total of 253 ads, with an older person featured as one or more characters. The
initial corpus of ads was further scrutinized and duplications were eliminated. This
resulted in a final corpus of 221 advertisements meeting all of the criteria.
Coding and Judging the Adverts
Two of the authors analysed the ads independently, along a number of dimensions.
These included editorial information about placement of the ads, issue dates, product
name and product category, and basic persuasive approach. Assessments were made
regarding the positive and negative valence of the portrayal, the use of humour, and the
use of celebrity endorsers. Composition information was also noted, recording, for
example, the numbers of older and younger characters, prominence of the characters, and
so forth. This phase of the analysis is reported elsewhere (Williams et al., 2010); for the
purposes of this paper, the resultant typology is the focus.
Accordingly, an assessment of the probable type of older person was judged and
recorded by three researchers working independently. This initially produced 12 types.
Typology of images of older people
After each completion of the task, the researchers met and discussed their analyses.
Differences were noted and discussed. A few coding criteria were altered to more
accurately account for the findings, and consensus was reached. After consensus was
reached, all three researchers undertook a further analysis. The primary result of this
process was the collapsing of some of the twelve types into six broader, more descriptive
types. This was done upon post hoc reasoning of conceptual fit, especially when only a
small number of exemplars of one of the initial types were found.
Therefore, as described above in our introduction, the six types were labelled as: (1)
Golden-Ager; (2) Perfect Grandparent; (3) ‘Legacy’ themes (4) Coper; (5) Comedic and
(6) Celebrity Endorser. Following the method previously established by Baxter and
Wilmot (1984), this study sought to validate these types with a set of independent
participants who reside in the local community.
Volunteers were local municipal government employees, university
administrators as well as undergraduate and post-graduate students recruited from the
authors’ institution. The recruitment appeals specified only that participants consider
themselves to be British. The municipal and administrative staff members were offered
refreshments and a catered lunch as an inducement, and the university students were
offered a five pound (Sterling) cash remuneration. Approximately 130 participants
responded to the appeals. 112 participants attended sorting task sessions, and after
discarding six forms as unusable, a final n=106.
Because Human Resources policies at the municipality made collecting specific
participant ages problematic, only data on age groups was collected, and for consistency,
Typology of images of older people
the format was followed with the student volunteers. The age profile of the participants
was as follows: 16-19 years=18, 17%; 20-29 years=48, 45.3%; 30-39 years=9, 8.5%; 40-
49 years=17, 16.9%; 50-59 years=11, 10.4%; 60+=2, 1.9%; with one missing value.
Eighty-eight participants were female, accounting for 83% of the sample. Students
accounted for 52 participants, at 49%; the remainder were professionals.
Stimuli. Given the intended procedure of using adverts as exemplars in a sorting task,
appropriate levels of subjects’ time, effort, and fatigue were considered. An average task
time of 20-25 minutes, exclusive of instructions was desired. Eighteen advertisement
exemplars were ultimately chosen as the optimal size of the stimulus package. Three
researchers independently selected three exemplars, therefore, of the hypothesized six
types from the corpus (n=221), and upon consultation and discussion, a stimulus set of 18
was created. Full sized (A-4) laminated colour copies indistinguishable from the
magazine originals were produced (see descriptions of the ads in Appendix A.
Unfortunately, we are unable to reproduce the advertisements because of copyright
Questionnaire. A booklet was prepared, containing an instruction sheet, a questionnaire
and copies of the advertisements. The questionnaire provided space for participants to
record a group descriptor name, characteristic traits, and an estimate of the apparent age
of each of the older individuals in each group.
Respondents were instructed to reflect upon the characteristics of the older people
in the ads, and group the ads together based upon what they felt were similarities of the
Typology of images of older people
identifying characteristics. They were told to make as many, or as few, groups as they
felt were needed. They were asked to then describe the major traits of each of their
groups, that is, the traits they felt the older characters shared, that caused them to group
those particular ads together. They were also asked to provide a descriptive name for
each group. The questionnaire was designed to accommodate any foreseeable
configuration of groups, or likely listing of traits associated with groups.
As a manipulation check, respondents estimated the ages of the older characters in
the advertisements and these estimates ranged between 61.5 70.8 years, M = 65.8. This
confirms the basic assumption that the characters in the ads did appear to be 60+ years
old. A series of pre-tests using chi-squared analysis investigated gender and age group (<
aged 60) differences in the frequency of ad pairings. These results indicated that there
were no substantial effects for respondent age or gender in this data. Thus these variables
were not considered important for this analysis. B ut because our sample was pre-
dominantly female and there were also considerable differences in the numbers of
respondents in different age groups, we will discuss these issues further below.
Results and Discussion
To address RQ1 and RQ2 it was necessary to reduce the resultant complex set of
unique groupings into a more manageable set of groupings. For this purpose, a
hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA) followed by a confirmatory multidimensional scaling
(MDS) was performed. The HCA procedure is a means to organize a larger number of
response items into a smaller number of groups that will have a reasonable
correspondence to the nature of the overall selections in the sample. Respondents’ own
Typology of images of older people
labels and written descriptors of their groupings were used as an aid when labelling and
interpreting the resultant groups.
A dissimilarities or distances matrix (see reviewer’s comment) was derived from
the sorting task. This represents the frequencies with which all pairs of ads were sorted
into the same category by the sorters. This matrix provides a form of proximity data
appropriate for submission to cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling (Shepard,
1972; Rapoport & Fillenbaum, 1972).
HCA uses a mathematical matrix approach, in this case, analysing the response
patterns of the respondents, to produce a hierarchy of similarities. The results of the
HCA can be seen in the dendogram below (Figure 1). The vertical axis is the
advertisements, the horizontal axis is the degree of difference between the
advertisements. Larger horizontal gaps between advertisements indicate greater
differences in how they were sorted by the respondents, and therefore indicate
advertisements that do not belong together in the same group. Smaller gaps indicate
greater similarities in how the respondents, overall, sorted the advertisements, and
indicate advertisements that very likely do belong together in the same group. Thus, one
looks for ‘natural’ breaks and clustering on the horizontal plane (Alenderfer &
Blashfield, 1984). Ultimately, however, how one chooses the items for each group is
somewhat subjective. [C]luster analysis can be considered a combination of art and
science (Juworski & Reich, 2000, p. 82).
Insert Figure 1 about here
Typology of images of older people
The emergent groups, in the order of cluster iteration by the HCA, were labelled as
follows: Group 1, ‘Frail and vulnerable’: AD2, AD16; Group 2, ‘Happy and affluent
retirees: AD3, AD9, AD5, AD10, AD11, AD 17; Group 3, ‘Mentors’ (working, career-
oriented older adults): AD 4, AD 7, AD 12, AD 18; Group 4, ‘Active and leisure-oriented
older adults: AD 1, AD6, AD 8, AD 13, AD 14, AD 15. For clarity, these groups can be
seen marked out on the dendogram (Figure 1). The agglomeration coefficients can be
viewed in Table 1.
Insert Table 1 about here
Again, following the methodology established in previous research, a
confirmation of the goodness of fit of four groups suggested by the hierarchical cluster
analysis (HCA) was obtained with MDS.
Briefly, MDS operates by conceptualizing a virtual space of N dimensions, with
each item, each advertisement, located as a geometric point within the space. The
geometric points are generated from a matrix of dissimilarities, or distances,
encompassing the range and relationships of all the participants’ responses to the stimulus
items. The number of dimensions specified in the MDS analysis is dictated by the
ultimate interpretability of the resultant configuration (Kruskal & Wish, 1978). After
consideration of goodness of fit indicators, it was decided that a three dimensional
solution would produce the configuration with ‘optimal goodness of fit’ (Kruskal, 1964).
Goodness of fit has several indicators, the most important being overall interpretability of
the solution but low s-stress levels and a scree plot (see Figure 2) derived from stress
Typology of images of older people
levels associated with different solutions can also be helpful in this regard. Although a
four-dimensional solution produced an acceptably low s-stress of 0.13, a three
dimensional solution (stress = 0.18) was more easily interpretable and had the advantage
of aligning well with the cluster solution. A scree plot is not definitive but may help
researchers decide on the optimal number of dimensions. Examining Figure 2 indicates
that the elbow of the scree falls at 3 dimensions.
Insert Figure 2 about here
A further indication of goodness of fit is a diagonal linearity on the scatterplot,
appearing with the three-dimension solution, seen in Figure 3. The closeness of the data
points around the diagonal show the extent to which the observed data conform to the
geometric proximities generated by the MDS analysis.
Insert Figure 3 about here
A visual inspection of the MDS derived stimulus configuration (Figure 4) suggested
four distinct groups of advertisements. The declaration of which points should be taken
together to form a group is somewhat of a subjective determination (Davison, 1983;
Kruskal & Wish, 1978). Figures 4 and 5 graphically depict the proximities of the points
(advertisements) in three dimensions.
Typology of images of older people
Insert Figure 4 about here
For clarity we have marked out the groups on the diagrams. It is very apparent that
the MDS and the HCA results both point to the same set of resultant groupings.
Insert Figure 5 about here
Respondent groupings of older characters
The four groupings of advertisements are considered in this section. The groups are
numbered in the order of the HCA iterations. Where relevant, references to the previous
typology derived from content analytical research will be discussed within the framework
of the groups. Respondents’ own labels and comments have been used as an aid to
interpretation and will be discussed as we proceed through this section.
Group One
This consists of AD2 and AD16 (as described in Appendix A), and is labelled ‘Frail
and Vulnerable’. The character in AD2 is depicted as pale and sickly, lying in her own
bed, expressing her wish to be allowed to die in that bed. AD16 depicts a female
character suffering grievously from a simple fall injury that would be a mere annoyance
to a person of ordinary strength and good health. Respondents remarked (e.g., frail, ill,
weak, near death) that both characters are portrayed as being at the end of their lifespan,
with disabilities that are permanent, beyond improvement. The products advertised in
both cases (a charity for cancer care, and an aid call alarm device, respectively) are
intended to ameliorate only the subjective experience of each condition, certainly for the
Typology of images of older people
older characters, but perhaps also for those responsible for them as well. In the first case,
the services of the hospice will allay the anxiety of the woman; in the second case the aid
call will give all concerned peace of mind. This group coincides well with our previous
thematic analysis and a group we labelled ‘The Coper’ so called because advertised
products helped ameliorate their physical difficulties. It should be noted that neither of
these characters are smiling, both are depicted as facing somewhat serious circumstances.
Group Two
This consists of AD3, AD5, AD9, AD10, AD11, and AD17, and is labelled ‘Happy
and Affluent Retirees’. All of the models in this group are depicted as content and
enjoying life. An ad depicting a lady in a stairlift declares that she has ‘regained’ her
‘freedom’ so that while she may, in some respects, align with group one characters, her
situation is more optimistic than theirs and she is smiling (thus we had previously
characterized her as a ‘Coper’). Quite a few of the ads in this group show older people
with well scrubbed young children, an obvious elicitation of the joys of being a
grandparent. Four of these ads also depict the older people as couples. The group offers
an interesting contrast with the types found in our earlier research. Given the presence of
small children, we had characterized the ads with children in a type we called ‘Perfect
Grandparent’, and AD10, the sole example without children (a couple appearing happy in
front of their new conservatory the product being advertised), as ‘Golden Ager’. The
participants, however, evidently did not find these components of the advertisements
salient. Rather, what struck them as the key feature upon which to cluster them together
as similar was the positive portrayal. Some respondents noted that the models in these ads
appeared as old people are supposed to appear, particularly in terms of their dress and
overall image. The gist was that the respondents found these individuals ‘reassuringly
typical’, and to be ‘proper old folk’ they were not infrequently labeled as ‘normal’.
To other respondents, the positivity found here was unrealistic. Participants
commented upon the ‘unrealistic’, ‘overly positive’, ‘fake and posed’ nature of some of
the images, and it was so obvious that the characters were models, mere actors, families
and couples were unrelated to one another in real life. Upon reflection, this makes
Typology of images of older people
perfectly good sense in the advertising context and illustrates a degree of media literacy
in the way our participants responded, but it also demonstrates that these ads stood out
from the set (after all, the others were also ‘actors’) as being particularly unrealistic.
Group Three
Labelled ‘Mentors’, this group is composed of AD4, AD7, AD12, and AD18.
Interestingly, the exemplars here are all male and they have a certain gravitas and they
are shown as employed career figures and in roles communicating authority. Our
thematic analysis of the larger sample reveals a goodish number of images of females
fitting the gravitas profile. Our content analysis had previously conceptualised the
predominant image in this group of ads as an authority figure, an information provider, a
problem solver, a mentor or teacher, in a category likewise labelled ‘Mentor’.
Participants in the present study made similar attributions to this group, adding such
qualities as commanding presence, and being the main focus of the ad. This group also
marks another interesting split from our earlier types: we previously had a group labelled
‘Celebrity Endorser’, and it included AD18, featuring Desmond Tutu (advertising an
insurance company). The participants, however, did not remark upon his fame, but rather
his gravitas. Note that of the three advertisements in the present sample that did picture
celebrity endorsers, none was singled out or grouped with another for that feature.
Group Four
We labelled this ‘Active and Leisure-oriented as the best fitting label given that the
group was composed of two groups identified by content analysis ‘Comedic’ and
‘Sporty’. AD1, AD8, AD6, AD13, AD14 and AD15 comprise this set. Some of the older
models in these ads were portrayed as whimsical, or playful and rascally while others
were being portrayed as fit and active. Our thematic analysis identified many other
examples of these types of advertisement that did not appear in this sample. For
example, there are others in which the humour is at older people’s expense and appears to
be much more pronounced, to the point of ridicule, buffoonery, and perhaps even malice.
AD14, showing a man flexing his bicep (in an ad for flu jab), was originally in the
Celebrity Endorser group, as the protagonist, Henry Cooper, is a famous former boxing
Typology of images of older people
champion in the UK. Here, however, the mild whimsy was apparently a more salient
feature upon which to make judgements of similarity.
This group also elicited, perhaps, the widest range of responses from the
participants. Some remarks in the questionnaires indicated a mere recognition of the
humour implied. Other remarks indicated the respondents were outraged at the evident
shabby treatment the older models received as the objects of derision, particularly AD1
(depicting an old man looking inappropriate in teenager’s clothes, advertising soap
powder, with the caption ‘keep your clothes looking younger, if nothing else’). Several of
the older respondents postulated that the older models appeared to be embarrassed by
their pose.
But this group also includes AD6 (on older man wearing nothing but swimming
trunks (bathing costume), walking alongside a swimming pool, advertising a well known
brand of swimwear). Also, AD15 (an older woman wearing sports clothes depicted on a
bicycle, advertising a type of bread, branded as health food) and theses characters are not
comical or whimsical but are sporty, fit and athletic. Respondents comments included
‘fit’ ‘athletic’, ‘robust’, ‘vigorous’ and ‘healthy’.
It is our contention that this type of advert might reflect changing lifestyles of older
people within the past 30 years, and therefore perceptions of older persons changing for
the better, to reflect this. Respondents comments that these images ‘defied expectations’
give weight to this contention. We have yet to document it, but our understanding is that
such characterisations did not, for the most part, exist even 30 years ago. Contrast this
type with the one-off violation of expectations depictions of previous decades. Such
images of Eurasian people allegedly over 100 years old lustily eating yoghurt, 85 year old
grandmas parasailing off Tenerife, 92 year old granddads lifting weights, and the like. It
has been theorised that such ‘exception to the rule’ images of older people actually had a
deleterious effect on the typical older person (e.g., see Harwood, Giles, & Ryan, 1995).
Dimensions revealed by MDA
MDA analysis gives us an opportunity to interpret the dimensions underlying the
clustering of the ads into groups. These dimensions may allow us some insight into the
Typology of images of older people
implicit perceptions that influenced respondents to group the different ads together.
Taking dimension one (see Figure 4) we notice that the more ‘serious’ characters are
grouped at the top of the dimension while the more whimsical, lighthearted fit and active
portrayals are grouped at the bottom end. Perhaps there is an attractiveness element
involved here with the more attractive or affiliative older adults at the bottom of the
dimension and the more serious, less affiliative, less attractive ones at the top.
Dimension two seems to be divided into those who are retired (shown being more
typically ‘old’) engaged in more sedentary activities (e.g., reading, bathing, posing with
grandchildren) and perhaps slightly disenagaged from mainstream society to those who
are more active and engaged being at work (e.g., corporate, political figures or sporting
activities) or at play (being comedic) and doing things that are not typically associated
with ‘old age’ and retirement. This could represent an ‘active’ or ‘dynamic’ dimension to
the portrayals.
Dimension three may be a status or competence dimension having the working and
career oriented males at the bottom of the dimension and the frail, whimsical and, in
some cases, ‘silly’ elders at the top. Admittedly, these interpretations are somewhat
speculative. To be more confident we would need more data from more ads but on the
positive side, they do align very well with the three dimensions so often found to underlie
person perception and attitudes, namely attractiveness/affiliation, dynamism and
status/competence (see for example, Zahn & Hopper, 1985).
Following the Cluster and MDS analyses we recoded all of the ads in the data base
according to the groupings that emerged from this analysis. The frequency distribution of
the four emergent groups within the entire magazine sample (n=221) is displayed in
Table 2. The most common depiction (59.7%) of older characters aligned with group
two, the Happy and Affluent’ group of older people a group that also notably consisted
of rather typical portrayals of older people. Less frequent were groups three and four
the Mentor types and the ‘Active’ types, each accounting for about 17% of depictions.
Not surprisingly for an advertising context, the least frequent (5.9%) were the rather more
serious and ‘negative’ depictions of frail and vulnerable older characters.
Typology of images of older people
Insert Table 2 about here
General Discussion
Addressing RQ1 and RQ2, the HCA and MDS analyses demonstrated that distinct
groups representing significant themes emerged, as discussed above. We are
provisionally characterising the emergent groups as representative of frequent portrayals
of older characters used in UK magazine advertising. These patterns allow us insight into
the ways that consumers view portrayals of older people in British magazine ads.
Clearly consumers recognise the stereotypes that are used in advertising and these
co-incide rather well with stereotypes held more generally in Western societies. For
example, the Frail older person would correspond to a tamed down version of Hummert
and colleagues (2004) ‘Severely Impaired’ stereotype, the career oriented Mentor to the
John Wayne Conservative, the Sporty and Fit type might align with the Golden Ager.
Some of our Happy and Affluent retired people (labelled by some as ‘proper old folk’)
might align well with Hummert’s ‘Perfect Grandparent, while others fit with a type of
Golden Ager who do what is expected of them in retirement.
There are two issues that are noteworthy because they do not align well with
previously observed stereotypes. One issue is the comments made by some respondents
that some of the characters were ‘fake’. Clearly, consumers are media savvy and this is
reflected in their comments about fake, unrealistically and overly positive older people
and this observation is almost certainly unique to an advertising context.
The other issue is the role of the comedic older characters. Comedic older people
can be of two main types, those that invite consumers to laugh with them the fun,
playful and whimsical types and those that are being laughed at. The latter type elicited
expressions of dismay that such ads should poke fun at older people (these types of ads
were found to be disliked by both older people and college students in Robinson et al.’s
(2008) study of US magazine ads), but even some of the former type seemed to dismay
Typology of images of older people
consumers in that they felt that perhaps some of the images were not as dignified as they
should be. One ad for dentures depicted an older couple kissing some respondents were
uneasy about the dignity of such an image.
It is interesting, ye t entirely logical, that the types most frequently appearing in
British magazines are the rather typical happy retired people. It is the prevalence of this
type that we should perhaps be more concerned about because these images arguably
reinforce traditional stereotypes about how older people are or should be. Regardless of
their surface level neutrality or even positivity, we would argue that such images
potentially put limits on the range of contexts and lifestyles that we can imagine for older
people or indeed ourselves as we get older. It is also worth commenting that the least
prevalent were the ‘Frail’ images. It is not surprising that frail older people are not seen
as frequently as other more positive images in advertising (and where frail images do
occur in our data base, they are placed in limited conte xts of various aids and equipment
to alleviate, for example, mobility problems, or other health-related products and
services). The less frequent use of highly positive images of fit and active older people
perhaps reflects a common view that these are still unusual and remarkable in contrast to
the more traditional (‘proper old folk’) type of older person.
Comparing our results to previous research on older people in advertising, it is
important to note that our coding arose from the advertising context itself and was not a
previously constructed scheme imposed on the data. It is also important to note that we
took the innovative step of asking consumers themselves to judge the ads. Miller et al.’s
(2004) recent coding of ads that used Hummert et al’s stereotypes indicated that positive
images were most frequent in their data. But our findings add an important rider to this
because in some cases consumers themselves recognise that such images are ‘unrealistic’.
The most frequently found images were those that were ‘typical’ and ‘reassuringly
so, proper old folk . This implies that most media advertising images are stereotype
reinforcing, depicting older people as they ‘should be’ (in terms of appearance, and
typically in home setting, for example). We see this as potentially limiting for older
people in terms of lifestyle and identity models. The most positive status-ful, fun-loving,
sporty and fit images are much less prevalent. This is an important finding that can only
have been derived from asking consumers themselves to judge the ads.
Typology of images of older people
Addressing RQ3, the characteristics of the groups were largely compatible with the
previously proposed emergent types. However, some interesting differences were noted,
and the implications are discussed above.
Limitations and Further Research
This study examined individual advertisements as constituents of groupings,
making our measurement on the group level. This was, at this stage of the research, a
deliberate decision. We considered the exigencies of human subjects’ fatigue levels,
attention span, and so forth, as well as our own laboratory resources, and made the
decision to limit the evaluation tasks the participants undertook to the sorting task
reported here. After the group sorting data were analysed, we felt that participants’
evaluations of individual advertisements would also have been informative and valuable.
To the extent we cannot systematically ‘unpack’ the possible reasoning and criteria used
for the sorting, we might find our ability to faithfully account for the respondents’
decisions constrained. The data we have elicited are assessments on the resultant groups,
not the separate exemplars. To enrich and continue our analysis in the future, some
means of pursuing this inquiry should be sought. This could include recruitment of
subjects for multiple task sessions, or recruitment of individuals with a means to enable
extended time in the laboratory. Our current research involves focus group discussions of
the exemplar ads in order to further confirm the groupings, but most importantly to
explore respondents’ reasoning about the ads (Ylänne & Williams, 2008).
The stimulus sample was representative, but nonetheless a larger sample might have
provided a richer field from which to generate ratings. Our sample did not have an even
sex or age balance and although we pre-tested for possible effects it would be desirable in
future research to investigate possible sex and age effects with a more evenly distributed
sample. As with the above remarks regarding participants, future research would profit
from a substantially larger sampling of advertisements. This could take the form of a
similar study design with, quite simply, many more magazine issues, ads, and exemplars.
Typology of images of older people
Or, perhaps, multiple analyses of approximately the same size as presented here, but
covering other exemplars, would be the best solution.
Another area of consideration, but outside the remit of the research grant we are
working under, would be exploring potential effects of the advertising images. As has
been well documented, priming of images of old age can have profound effects, both
positive and negative (Hummert, 1994). These effects might extend to individuals’
health and emotional well-being and life satisfaction (we’re currently investigating the
health messages salient in our advertisement database vis-à-vis older age). Even old age
activists can fall victim to negative self-stereotyping in the presence of subliminally
presented negative stereotypes (Levy, 1996; Levy, Ashman, & Dror, 1999; Ryan, Giles,
Bartolucci, & Henwood, 1986). More generally, adverts can function as models for self-
stereotyping among older individuals, that is, as resources for how to be old and behave
as older adults. This is where the predominance of adverts in our sample that were
judged as ‘Typical’ are of particular importance and interest: it would be worth
investigating further both younger and older people’s understandings of ‘typical’ old age
and its portrayal in advertising imagery. And what do we know about the range of effects
of so-called ‘positive’ images? As Featherstone and Hepworth (1995) pointed out, the
potential for seeing wealthy old people in a glamorous lifestyle depicted as the ‘norm’
could have a serious negative effect (in terms of self esteem, for example) on the many
older people who do not have the financial means to afford such things. And finances
aside, one person’s rosy glow and positive portrayal of old age could be anathema to
In conclusion, while applauding the benefits of content analysis, our research
moves away from categories imposed a-priori and into a more contextual and semiotic
based analysis with a typology based on images emergent from the advertisements
themselves. This typology is broadly confirmed by the sorting task reported in this paper
and thus enriched by participants’ own groupings, labels and comments. In this way our
research is seeking a deeper understanding of the ways that older people are portrayed in
the media specifically advertising and an understanding of how consumers
themselves view and evaluate such images.
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Zhang, Y.B, Harwood, J., Williams, A., Ylänne-McEwen, V. Wadleigh, P. M. and
Thimm, C., (2006). Older adults in advertising: Multi-national perspectives. Journal of
Language and Social Psychology, 25(3), 264-282.
Typology of images of older people
Appendix A
Images of Older People: Typology
Group 1 ‘Frail and Vulnerable’
An advert for a cancer care charity in which a grey-haired woman is lying in bed in her in
her bedroom, covered by bedclothes, apart from the top of her body dressed in a
nightgown. She is propped up by two large pillows. Her arms are crossed across her
chest. The caption above her reads in capital letters: ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.
Here’. Above the caption are 13 lines of text, written in the first person, outlining aspects
of the woman’s life, illness and family situation and highlighting her wish to die in her
own home. She is looking straight at the camera and has a neutral expression.
An advert for a portable personal alarm in which an older woman is sitting on the floor in
her bathroom (indicating a possible fall or feeling unwell). She is wearing a nightgown
and slippers and is clutching the personal alarm placed round her neck. Her expression
signals anxiety and distress and her gaze is to the right of the camera into the distance.
At the bottom of the advert, the caption reads: ‘Don’t leave safety to chance’.
Group 2Happy and Affluent Retirees
An advert for a stairlift in which a white-haired woman is sitting on a stairlift, positioned
at the bottom of a staircase in what looks like a home setting. She is dressed casually in
trousers and a knitted top, with the addition of a stylish light scarf. She is wearing
glasses and looking directly at the camera, smiling. She is wearing make-up. Her arms
are resting on the armrests of the stairlift, hands joined with fingers crossing. The caption
above her head reads: Stairlifts regain your freedom.
An advert for a walk -in-bath which has two images. The one higher up is of two girls
(about 6-8 yrs old), outdoors in summer sunshine wearing light summer dresses, smiling
and in an embrace. The caption next to the girls reads: ‘Grandma and Grandad have
more time to spend with us since they had a [name of product] Walk-In Bath fitted…’.
Below is a picture of a grey-haired man, dressed in a bathrobe, walking out of the bath
through its side door. He’s looking down, smiling. His appearance is well-groomed and
fit. The caption continues beside ‘grandad’: ‘getting in and out of the bath is so much
easier for them now’.
Typology of images of older people
An advert for a life insurance policy aimed for people aged 50-80 yrs. The caption at the
top of the ad reads: ‘Aged 50-80?’, followed by “Here’s the ideal low-cost insurance
policy your acceptance is guaranteed!” The quotation marks imply that the words are
uttered by a well-known British actress, June Whitfield whose picture is on the top right
hand corner of the ad. She is wearing pearl earrings, a pearl necklace, a blouse under a
cardigan. She is well-groomed with white-blonde hair and wearing make up. She is
looking directly at the camera, smiling a little. Her signature is under her portrait. This
advert has quite a lot of text, explaining the policy and its benefits, and there’re also
pictures of four free gifts available for subscribers.
An advert for a conservatory in which a couple is depicted in the bottom left hand corner
(underneath a large picture of a conservatory in the middle of the ad, cutting across the
ad). The man is standing behind the woman, with his right hand on her right shoulder
and his left hand on her waist under her left arm. He is grey haired, wearing a checked
shirt and trousers. She is blonde, wearing a polo neck jumper and trousers. They both
look directly into the camera, smiling. The main caption on the top part of the ad reads:
‘A house is only bricks and mortar. Let [name of product] make it a home’.
An advert for incontinence underwear in which an older couple is depicted with a young
girl (about 4 yrs old), who is sitting on the man’s shoulders. The man has his left arm
around the woman (who has her left arm across the man’s waist across his front) and he
is holding the girl’s left leg, dangling down his shoulder, with his right arm. Everyone is
looking directly into the camera, smiling. They are depicted outdoors in what looks like
a park with lots of greenery in the background. They are dressed casually in short sleeves
and casual trousers. The adults are grey haired, the girl is blonde, wearing pigtails. The
caption underneath the picture reads: ‘Forget weak bladder problems and enjoy life to the
An advert for retirement apartments in which an older couple is depicted outdoors in a
park setting, together with a small girl (about 5 yrs old). The woman is sitting on a
bench, her legs crossed, browsing through a magazine (or possibly a travel brochure).
The man is sitting on the lawn next to the girl, his left arm on the ground behind her. He
appears to be listening to the girl talking to him. The woman is grey haired, dressed in
light trousers and a ¾ length sleeved top, wearing sunglasses. The man is grey haired
and balding and wears light coloured trousers, a long sleeved shirt and a sleeveless
cardigan. The girl has long light brown hair and wears a T shirt. The caption across the
top of the ad reads: ‘Enjoy your retirement’.
Typology of images of older people
Group 3 Mentors
An advert for microwaveable rice and noodles in which an oriental-looking well-known
celebrity chef is sitting on the floor, cross legged, holding an hour glass between his
opened palms. He is bald, dressed in black trousers and black T shirt and he’s looking
directly into the camera, smiling. His face is visibly wrinkled. The product bears the
chef’s name and the name is prominent on three packets of the produce placed on a low
table in front of him. The caption reads: ‘To the Far East in 90 seconds’.
An advert for a global communications company in which 5 men and 1 woman wearing
business attire (suits or shirts and ties) are pictured in a company boardroom round a
large table. The word ‘Singapore’ appears in the top right hand corne r. Through the large
windows, a city scene with sky scrapers is visible. Four of the people, sitting in the
background are younger (in their twenties or thirties). At the front and positioned
centrally in the advert are two older men, one sitting down (appearing in his fifties), one
standing up, arms crossed, leaning against the table (appearing older, in his sixties; he is
bald and visibly wrinkled). Both men are wearing glasses, looking straight into the
camera and smiling. The caption underneath the picture reads: ‘Choosing [name of
company] for our Asian network was the smartest decision we’ve ever made’.
An advert placed by an upmarket food store for their Extra mature Parma ham. The
name of the store is prominent in the top right hand corner of this two page advert.
Central to the advert is a figure of an older man, with only his upper body showing. He’s
sitting in an ornately carved chair, his head leaning against his right palm. He’s gray
haired with a receding hairline and he’s wearing glasses. He is casually dressed in a
cardigan. He is looking directly into the camera, smiling, with a very warm expression.
To the left, printed to overlap with his forehead is information about the product and its
price. In the bottom left hand corner of the ad, it is explained who the man is, he’s named
and his age is stated as 87, and he is said still to be supervising the production of the ham.
An advert for a Swiss credit company depicting Archbishop Desmond tutu in the centre
of a black background. Only his head, upper body and hands are visible. His hands are
clasped in front of him, partly covering his mouth. He has white hair and is wearing
glasses. He’s looking directly at the camera, with a serious expression. Underneath him,
a caption, a quote from Tutu, reads: “Of course, faith is a risk but one I would never
risk living without”. Underneath the quote, the author and protagonist of the advert is
Typology of images of older people
Group 4Active and Leisure-oriented
An advert for soap powder in which an older man, dressed in teenage style clothing, is
standing, hands on his sides, covered by a black jacket, legs apart. The background is
neutral white. He’s looking slightly past the camera with a neutral and serious
expression. He is bald but a little grey hair showing along the sides and he has prominent
wrinkles under his eyes. He’s wearing a T shirt, knee length shorts, socks and trainers and
there are two gold chains around his neck. The caption to the left of him reads: ‘Keep
your clothes looking young, if nothing else’. At the bottom left hand corner, under a
picture of the product, it is explained that the product ‘helps keep clothes looking young’.
An advert for private personal health service, offered by a well known private hospital.
The advert is designed as a quiz around 9 questions ‘Is there life in later life?’, which is
the prominent caption across the top. The questions centre on health issues (with an
answer presented as one out of 3 choices, a, b or c). In the lower right corner of the ad,
an older man appears with a broad grin, teeth showing and these holding a white, long
stemmed rose. The man is bald, but a small amount of white hair on top and he is visibly
wrinkled. He’s wearing a T shirt and only his upper body is showing. At the bottom of
the ad, some further information is provided about the service, after a statement ‘people
are living longer than ever before’.
A two page advert for swimwear. The left side of the ad is taken over by a full size
figure of an older man walking alongside a large swimming pool (which itself seems to
be by the sea), wearing small tight fitting swimming trunks and a swimming cap. The
shot is from the side with the back of his body, the left side of his face and the side of his
left leg in the frame. His neck is wrinkled, his legs visibly muscular but lined. On the
right hand side, the caption reads: ‘Endurance swimwear. You’ll have to replace it
eventually’. Further down on the right, it is stated: ‘Old age. It comes to every swimwear
eventually. But to Endurance swimsuits it comes much later in life’, followed by some
further information about the product.
An advert for dental fixative cream in which an older middle-aged couple is shown close-
up, kissing. Only their heads and necks are shown. They both have some visible lines on
their faces and the man is graying. Their eyes are closed. The caption across the faces
reads: ‘Make the earth move. Not your dentures’. The picture covers 5/6 of the space,
with two lines of text and a picture of the product underneath. The benefits of the
products are stated and the advert ends: ‘So you can forget all about them [dentures] and
concentrate on your knees wobbling instead’.
Typology of images of older people
An advert placed by the health service for flu jabs. ¾ of the advert is taken up by a
picture of Henry Cooper, a well known former British boxing champion (but who is not
names in the advert). He is wearing a short sleeved shirt and is lifting his left sleeve up to
reveal a plaster, by implication covering his recent jab mark. The background is white,
indicating that of the clinic. He is flexing his left arm, with his fist clenched so that the
muscles in his left arm are prominent. He is balding with white hair and has visible
wrinkles. He’s looking straight into the camera with a slight smile. The caption
underneath the protagonist reads: ‘Don’t get knocked by the flu, get your jab in first’.
An advert for a brand of bread branded as health food. On the top left quadrant of the
advert, a late middle-aged woman is depicted on her bicycle, but with her left leg on the
ground. She’s wearing sports clothing with lycra bottoms, a snuggly-fitting bright
coloured top and cycling gloves and appears to be carrying a rucksack on her back. She’s
looking straight into the camera, smiling broadly. She has gray hair and is made up,
wearing bright lipstick and is slim and fit looking. The bike appears to be a mountain
bike onto which is secured a water bottle. The caption to the right of the woman reads:
‘A Natural Choice. What we eat and drink has a great impact on how we feel and our
general well being’. There are three images of the bread on the right hand side, and a
recipe for a filling on the left, underneath the woman.
Typology of images of older people
Table 1
Agglomeration Schedule for Hierarchical Cluster Analysis
Cluster Combined Stage Cluster First
Stage Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Coefficients Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Next Stage
1 2
2 11
3 10
4 6
5 4
6 5
7 4
8 1
9 3
10 1
11 4
12 1
13 1
14 3
15 1
16 1
17 1
Table 2
Four Emergent Groups’ Frequency of Appearance in Total Magazine Sample
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative
1.00 13 5.9 5.9 5.9
2.00 132 59.7 59.7 65.6
3.00 39 17.6 17.6 83.3
4.00 37 16.7 16.7 100.0
Total 221 100.0 100.0
Typology of images of older people
Typology of images of older people
Figure 2
Scree Plot indicating number of dimensions for MDS solution
2 3 4 5
Solution Dimensions
Typology of images of older people
Figure 3
Typology of images of older people
Figure 4
In both Figures 4 and 5 each plotted point represents an advertisement. Numbers
correspond to those in the description of ads and to those plotted on the dendogram.
Typology of images of older people
Figure 5
... Moreover, although research in media studies has significantly informed us about the social representations of several marginalised groups (Daalmans & Ter Horst, 2017;Fung et al., 2015;Greco, 1988;Lee et al., 2007;Loos & Ivan, 2018;Miller et al., 2004;Williams et al., 2010), research specifically investigating how older individuals perceive and make sense of media portrayals of their group still has significant potential (Chevalier & Moal-Ulvoas, 2018;Durrer & Miles, 2009;Prieler et al., 2015) since most of the research on media representations of the elderly is decades old (Festervand & Lumpkin, 1985;Greco, 1988;Hofstetter et al., 1993;Miller et al., 2004;Moore & Cadeau, 1985;Robinson & Skill, 1995;Schreiber & Boyd, 1980;Vasil & Wass, 1993;Vernon et al., 1991). ...
... Research on portrayals of older consumers in the media has suggested that older consumers are presented in main roles only when they are the main targets of a product category (Greco, 1988), and they are frequently portrayed stereotypically (Festervand & Lumpkin, 1985;Hofstetter et al., 1993;Lee et al., 2007;Vasil & Wass, 1993;Williams et al., 2010) although not necessarily in a negative way (Williams et al., 2010). In fact, following evidence related to the negative consequences of negative portrayals of old age (Palmore, 1999), research has shown that media and other public information providers gradually began resorting to positive stereotyping (Fung et al., 2015), particularly since the 1990s (Loos & Ivan, 2018), although this change has been reflected more in terms of the attributes of older individuals than in terms of their social roles (Loos & Ivan, 2018). ...
... Research on portrayals of older consumers in the media has suggested that older consumers are presented in main roles only when they are the main targets of a product category (Greco, 1988), and they are frequently portrayed stereotypically (Festervand & Lumpkin, 1985;Hofstetter et al., 1993;Lee et al., 2007;Vasil & Wass, 1993;Williams et al., 2010) although not necessarily in a negative way (Williams et al., 2010). In fact, following evidence related to the negative consequences of negative portrayals of old age (Palmore, 1999), research has shown that media and other public information providers gradually began resorting to positive stereotyping (Fung et al., 2015), particularly since the 1990s (Loos & Ivan, 2018), although this change has been reflected more in terms of the attributes of older individuals than in terms of their social roles (Loos & Ivan, 2018). ...
How do older consumers in an ageing society interpret and make sense of cultural media products, such as advertising campaigns, portraying their cohort? A qualitative study analysing 626 advertisements and drawing from 18 consumer interviews in Brazil shows how older consumers reject stereotypical images of their cohort in advertising even when the images are positive. Older individuals seek to distance themselves from stereotypical social images of old age, placing themselves in a liminal state of being ‘not too old but no longer young’. This research speaks to the opportunities of cultural media producers to better align their messages with legislative and regulatory efforts to portray older consumers more realistically to successfully destigmatise this section of the population.
... Older advertising models are found to index specific qualities of the product, such as reliability or to imply that the company represented is well established (e.g. Swayne & Greco 1987;Williams et al. 2010a). The roles and contexts are likely to be age-marked in some way, suggesting that older characters tend to appear in adverts for a specific reason. ...
... In order to generate a representative sample of British magazine advertisements, we (Williams et al. 2010a(Williams et al. , 2010b, corpus 1) used Brad Monthly Guide to Advertising Media (March 2004), Willing's Press Guide to U. K. Media (2003) and the National Readership Survey (NRS 2003). According to the criteria of popularity (circulation figures) and demographic readership information (aiming for a varied audience), the following magazines were selected for corpus 1 (years 1999-2004): Radio Times (home), The Economist (business), Saga Magazine (older readership), ASDA Magazine (general, home and family), Marie Claire (younger women), Rugby World (men and sport), Men's Health (men), FHM (younger men), Good Housekeeping (women, home and family), Family Circle (older, home and family) and BBC Good Food (home) (see Williams et al. 2010aWilliams et al. , 2010b. ...
... In order to generate a representative sample of British magazine advertisements, we (Williams et al. 2010a(Williams et al. , 2010b, corpus 1) used Brad Monthly Guide to Advertising Media (March 2004), Willing's Press Guide to U. K. Media (2003) and the National Readership Survey (NRS 2003). According to the criteria of popularity (circulation figures) and demographic readership information (aiming for a varied audience), the following magazines were selected for corpus 1 (years 1999-2004): Radio Times (home), The Economist (business), Saga Magazine (older readership), ASDA Magazine (general, home and family), Marie Claire (younger women), Rugby World (men and sport), Men's Health (men), FHM (younger men), Good Housekeeping (women, home and family), Family Circle (older, home and family) and BBC Good Food (home) (see Williams et al. 2010aWilliams et al. , 2010b. For corpus 2 (years 2011-2016), the aim was to sample the same magazines. ...
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The focus of this article is the depiction of older adults in UK magazine advertising. Theoretically located in the broad area of cultural gerontology, with its central focus on culturally constitutive meaning of age(ing) (e.g. Twigg & Martin 2015), it applies social semiotic categories (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 2004) and draws on critical discourse analytic insights in investigating persistent trends in advertising images of older adults. These are linked with the role of advertising media in constructing and contributing to specific social “imaginary” or “imagination” of later life. A content analytic comparison between two corpora of adverts (221 ads from 1999 to 2004 and 313 ads from 2011 to 2016) reveals only minor changes over time. These include relative consistency in the product categories linked with older models, the adverts predominantly targeting older adults, but a decline in humorous portrayals. A semiotically oriented analysis of a subset of adverts further examines their compositional and affective dimensions, in addition to representational qualities. This uncovers strategies that are in line with aspirational third age discourse and imagery, but which also contribute to the marginalisation of older adults via a restricted portrayal of later life(styles) and can also be seen to problematise “ageless” depictions.
... AEldre mennesker og aldring skildres ofte i massemedier og offentlige diskussioner i et udefra-perspektiv, hvor aeldre mennesker tales om af de "ikke-gamle" (Ågren, 2020;Uotila, Lumme-Sandt & Saarenheimo, 2010;Nilsson, 2008;). Williams, Wadleigh & Ylänne (2010) mener, at forskning har en tendens til at analysere billeder af aeldre og aldring i medierne, som enten "positive" eller "negative". Dette er også tidligere diskuteret i en dansk kontekst (Rørbye, 1998). ...
... Similarly, dominant representations of older people in entertainment media appear to be "positive" and associated with "a denial of old age" [17]. These identified "positive" representations of older people were aligned with stereotype research on a typology of older people [16,32]. Considering the dichotomy of positivity and negativity reflected in representations of older people, Hannah and Steeden noted that there is a deficiency of balanced representation of older adults that mirrors their actual life experiences [31]. ...
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This article investigates the generation of online representations of older people by institutions. Specifically, it discusses the ways in which public sector organizations generate online representations of older people from a production perspective. This article uses the following questions to frame its analysis: What do we know about online representations of older people generated by public sector organizations? What do we know about the way in which public sector organizations generate online representations of older people? And, how can public sector organizations improve online representations of older people from a production perspective? The analysis primarily draws on secondary data (i.e., existing literature and examples of public sector organizations) to address these questions. After summarizing existing research examining online representations of older people generated by public sector organizations, this article offers a specific example of a public sector organization generating online representations of older people (i.e., a Swedish municipality). A discussion of the approaches public sector organizations takes to generating online representations of older people is provided, and the argument is made that public sector organizations have a convergent position where they must take care of older people while presenting this care online. Moreover, this article discusses the generation of online representations of older people in the public sector concerning accountability, calling for greater accountability in representations of older people online.
... There is a vast amount of research on the portrayals of older people in various media, including advertising (Zhang et al., 2006;Williams et al., 2010). Most of the studies conducted have been from the United States of America and have included analyses of, for example, television programmes (e.g. ...
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This study focuses on the recent increase in the use of older celebrities in cosmetics advertising. It asks what kinds of ideas and values these images may attribute to discourses of ageing. Drawing on a Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (MCDA) perspective, this study focuses on L'Oréal UK and Ireland Web advertisements, examining how these advertisements use older celebrities to redefine/reposition ageing and exploring how they relate to the notion of ‘successful ageing’. In these advertisements, using cosmetics is presented as a positive, empowering choice. The advertisements simultaneously promote new discourses about ageing in which older women's sexuality is presented as a form of power. However, the analysis shows that the underlying discourse pathologises ageing and presents ageing as something which can be evaded through the consumption of cosmetics. It thus turns ageing into a choice, but one where the ‘right choice’ aligns with neo-liberal ideas about ageing well. For women, decision-making about ageing seems to be a never-ending process that requires constant construction, promoted through the older celebrity's sexualisation. Women are expected to always look good and present the best versions of themselves, even at the latest stages of life, which reproduces and legitimises sexist and ageist expectations about women's appearances, including the expectations that for older women to remain visible and attractive, they must hide outward signs of ageing.
... The authors argue that "counter-images" of older people who are active despite their age may be a type of infantilisation where stereotypes of problems associated with old age may be reinforced (Nilsson & Jönson, 2009). Williams, Wadleigh & Ylänne (2010) state that research tends to focus on analysing images of old age and older people in the media as either "positive" or "negative". Iversen and Wilinska (2020) argue that studies focusing on under-representations and misrepresentations, depart from a view of reality as given. ...
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This paper reports on the study of best practices in evaluation methodologies for aging in place technologies, and analyses their feasibility in a pandemic environment. The pandemic situation, with various physical distancing restrictions in place, especially for vulnerable older adults, has increased the importance of deploying health monitoring and social interaction technologies for aging in place. The pandemic also made it more difficult for researchers and developers of technologies to evaluate the usability of home health monitoring technologies. Existing technology evaluation methods mostly involve laboratory and home technology usability evaluations that could be problematic during physical distancing restrictions, and are not well suited for rapid evaluation of health monitoring technologies. The increasing trend in virtual doctor and health professional visits puts additional pressure to speed up innovation for home health and wellness monitoring and communication technologies without increasing risks for vulnerable populations. Researchers observed challenges with performing HCI research with older adults in a pandemic situation, including challenges with participant recruitment, obtaining informed consent for the study, shipping technology to the willing participants, assessing the ability of older adults to set up both digital health technology and remote usability tools, and research data collection. The need for low cost, low risk, easy to use and privacy-preserving usability evaluation methods and tools for home health monitoring is growing rapidly, and new remote usability evaluation methods and tools will add to the growing arsenal of digital technologies used in the public health response to COVID-19 and beyond.
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Ageism is a social problem that has harmful effects on the wellbeing of older people and needs to be tackled. It is pervasive and evident in the media (e.g., films, television, print and social media). Despite the fact that non-individual actors have adopted social media on a large scale in contemporary society, the social media representation of older people generated by those actors has remained insufficiently studied. This thesis aims to increase our knowledge of social media representations of older people and improve our understanding of ageism in the media. The knowledge obtained from this research can be used to inform policy and practice in terms of mitigating ageism in the media. This thesis consists of four articles, which examine social media representations of older people generated by local authorities and media companies, with a particular focus on exploring how older people are represented in social media and how social media content about older people is produced. Articles 1, 3 and 4 present empirical analyses of social media texts about older people generated by Swedish local authorities and Chinese media companies, serving to identify the representations that may lead to ageism. Article 2 offers an empirical analysis of the production process for social media photos of older people within local authorities, serving to explore the ways in which stereotypical third-age representations are generated. This thesis employs the methods of content analysis and thematic analysis to examine representations of older people on various social media platforms (i.e., local-authority-managed Facebook pages, Tencent Video as a video streaming platform and Sina Weibo as a microblogging platform). It also employs the method of thematic analysis to analyse interview transcripts concerning the production of social media photos of older people within local authorities. The results of the thesis reveal the complexity and nuances in the representation process and the meanings generated by those representations of older people on social media. More specifically, the thesis illuminates three ways in which the social media representations of older people lead to ageism: (1) the stereotyping of older people through signifying practice; (2) the generation and negotiation of the meanings surrounding older people among social actors with different power relations; and (3) the use of formal and informal rules within social media in the representation activities of mediatized institutions. A synthesis of the findings from the four empirical articles indicates a process of establishing the stereotypical third-age representation as a convention for social media, which can be seen as institutional ageism. The synthesis also indicates that this stereotypical third-age representation appears to be prominent in different contexts and across the various types of social media under examination. In this regard, it is necessary to promote knowledge and raise awareness about the risks associated with such representations of older people in the media. This thesis deepens our understanding of ageism in the media and generates evidence-based policy recommendations for media producers to inspire more thoughtful and reflexive media representations of older people and later life.
This article discusses how three Finnish regional newspapers represented older people's digital competences and internet use in their daily coverage. The study explored media representations from the perspective of social representations and sought to answer the following questions: In what kind of internet user roles do the articles portray older people? How and with what kind of images do the articles portray older people's digital competences in various internet user roles? How are older people positioned at a societal level in the articles? The analysis revealed that older people were portrayed as incompetent outcasts of a digitalised society. However, there was a clear difference according to whether older people were portrayed as recipients of public services or as consumers of private services. As targets of public services, older people were predominantly portrayed as happy targets, who welcomed the services provided for them. This result can be interpreted as part of the promotion of government digitalisation policies.
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This paper reports a content analysis of 778 television commercials. Commercials were examined for the presence of older adults. Commercials featuring older adults were then examined more closely to describe the nature of the portrayals. Consistent with previous research, older adults were shown to be underrepresented in the commercials examined, as compared to their presence in the population. This effect was particularly strong for older women and for members of ethnic minorities. However, older adults were found to be presented in a relatively positive light—as active, happy, and strong. In addition, older adults were shown to be least underrepresented in advertisements for financial services and retail chains, and most underrepresented in advertisements for automobiles and travel services. The results are discussed in terms of the changing position of the older adult consumer in the marketplace. Suggestions for future research are provided.
In this updated edition, Palmore provides a comprehensive review of many different forms of ageism - including the interesting notion of positive ageism, which projects onto the elderly as a group traditional virtues like wisdom and thrift. He discusses both the individual and social influences on attitudes toward the aged; analyzes institutional patterns of ageism; and explores ways to used to reduce the impact of ageism on the elderly. This book is a valuable resource and text for students and professionals interested in the sociology of aging in our society. Erdman Palmore has studied prejudice and discrimination toward older people in various ways throughout his distinguished career. Since publication of his ground breaking first edition, 10 years ago, there has been a growing interest and acceleration of research on the topic of ageism. In nontechnical language, Palmore provides a comprehensive review of the many different forms of ageism, including positive ageism, discusses the individual and social influences on ageism, analyzes institutional patterns, and explores methods that could be used to reduce ageism. This book is a valuable resource and text for students and professionals interested in the problems and opportunities of aging in our society. Useful educational tools include: A revised Appendix of the Facts on Aging Quizzes, as well as a totally new Appendix of Abstracts of recent publications on ageism.
A content analysis of 814 advertisements from three major television networks was conducted to assess the representation and role portrayal of senior citizens in television advertising. While 12 percent of the current U.S. population is over 65 years of age, only seven percent of the advertisements containing people utilized elderly characters. In the majority of commercials, the elderly are not typically cast in major roles, but instead appear most often in home settings with members of other age groups present. In those advertisements where older persons are portrayed as major role advisors about a product or service, the advisor is likely to be male.
The current study was undertaken to develop a typology of “secret tests,”—that is, social strategies that people use to acquire knowledge about the state of their opposite-sex relationships. Furthermore, the influences of relationship type and respondent sex on strategy use were assessed. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were employed with data obtained from a total of 181 respondents. Findings suggest 14 basic categories of “secret tests” that comprise 7 cluster types in a two-dimensional spatial representation. Passive, active, and interactive strategy types were evident. Females reported more secret test strategies than did males, and people in opposite-sex relationships that were in transition from platonic to romantic reported more strategies than people in either platonic cross-sex or romantic cross-sex relationships. Differences were found as well in the type of secret test most likely to be employed as a function of respondent sex and relationship type.