Internalized Ageism with Cynthia and Derek

Internalized Ageism

Internalized Ageism with Cynthia and Derek

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Cynthia: Hey, everybody. Mike Peacock is on hiatus, and I was thinking to myself, “Cynthia, you could be a podcast host. After all, I do love to talk.”

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Cynthia: Welcome to Cosmic Soup, 3rdPlus’s podcast about everything to do with providing services to people who are in their 3rd 3rd of life. Which, by the way, is where the name 3rdThird comes from.

If you don’t know 3rdPlus yet, we’re a group of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines including branding and marketing, health services, culinary operations, and even science. Our whole reason for being is to make organizations healthy and to make aging better.

Today, I’m excited to talk about one of my very favorite subjects with one of my very favorite people, Derek Dujardin, who is also our creative director. We’re going to talk about internalized ageism and how it affects your marketing.

Hey, Derek! How are you today?

Derek: I’m doing great, Cynthia. I can’t wait to talk to you about my favorite subject.

Cynthia: [Laughter] Awesome. I don’t know anybody who describes internalized ageism better than you do, so tell us what it is.

Derek: Yeah, a little bit of background. For a long time, we were doing these focus groups. During these focus groups were these warmup questions about how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are.

Over and over again, our focus groups would say stuff like usually about 20 years younger than their actual chronological age, and that happened enough that I finally started doing some investigation because I was curious about where was that coming from. It really turns out that we all have this lag between our actual age and then our chronological age, especially as we get older.

During some research, I came up with this psychological theory called Internalized Ageism. It also helps explain that when you’re doing a tour group for a senior living community that sometimes you’ll have a 90-year-old walk in. They’ll turn, look around, and say, “I can’t live with all these old people,” and they leave.

That disconnect was always one of those fascinations with me, and so internalized ageism – if you think about ageism as a topic – it’s how we think about stereotypes. Grampas are grumpy or old people can’t learn new things, et cetera. Right?

Then we have feelings around that, and those feelings become our prejudices. Then those prejudices end up as acts, as discrimination of one thing or another.

The problem is it doesn’t just happen out in the world. We turn that onto ourselves. When we turn it onto ourselves, it actually can be very destructive to our own well-being.

There was a study done in 2002 by Becca Levy, a gerontologist at Yale University. They basically said that older individuals with a more positive self-perception of aging lived, on average, 7.5 years longer than those with a less positive self-perception of aging.

If you think about it, internalized aging is actually a health and well-being issue, as well as having a lot of implications for how we market, how we talk to people, what our environments are like, how we use language. And so, for the last year, Cynthia and I have been touring around the country doing this presentation called Internalized Ageism for a lot of the leading age groups, and also even in Canada, we’ve been doing that.

We’re going to give you some high-level takeaways from that so you can bring a different kind of context to your own marketing and your own, you know, the way you face life and understanding how internalized ageism is often driving the bus and we don’t even know it.

Cynthia: Yeah. Thank you, Derek. You just explained that so well. In the theme of soup, Cosmic Soup, we’re swimming in it. We’ve been ageists since we were children. We learned it by making fun of grandma and grandpa. Aren’t they funny how they walk?

Not that it was intentional, and I think probably all ageism is unintentional because we don’t know that we’re doing it. I think the implication for senior living organizations is learning how to spot it in your community.

That comes down to language. It comes down to operations. It comes down to how the dining is designed. There are just so many things that can come from being more aware about it and that, from a financial standpoint, is how you market and how you brand.

Derek, what do you think? What do you tell your clients when you’re reviewing creative, and you’re developing creative? What are the key things that you think communities need to know?

Derek: Yeah, I think really starting with what the market is telling us. We really have found that with our focus groups.

First of all, people don’t identify with their age group or their cohort. They always identify at about 20 years younger than they actually are.

Basically, that means that people really don’t want to be defined by their age. We even call our community “senior living communities,” and we’ll kind of put people into these boxes.

They don’t want to be defined by their age or confronted with their age. They want to just talk about – they want to be in lifestyle. They don’t want care pushed in their face.

If you look at a lot of the advertising out there, it is very care-focused. It’s very clinical. Even when it tries not to be, try to have this sense of humor, it’s kind of demeaning like, “Okay, we’re going to show pictures of older people, but we’re going to dress them up in crazy hats and glasses and that sort of thing.” When that happens, people don’t respond to that because A) it’s not them, it’s not realistic, and it’s not relevant.

How do you make your marketing that’s more relevant? We get into the nitty-gritty on that, how we do that at 3rdThird Marketing.

Cynthia: Yeah, and I think that one easy way to spot this is to think with the mindset that getting old is not getting sick or being sick. I think that for some reason some communications, firms and/or designers, kind of equate that, like, “Oh, this is an older person. Therefore, having a care person hovering over them with their arm around them is something appropriate,” when in fact it’s inappropriate because, number one, they’re interfering in the personal space of the person. Number two, they’re kind of hovering over them from behind, which is never a respectful way to communicate with somebody.

And they’re not sick. Maybe they need some assistance, but that doesn’t mean they’re ill. Even if they do need some assistance, let’s not make this look medical.

Derek: Yeah, and I think there are two really important points and distinctions to make there. Of course, we have internalized—

We have – what do you call it? – assisted living and, of course, we have independent living. So, independent living people, they really want – especially baby boomers, they’re really focused on how can I be well, how can I stay well, how can I stay connected?

A lot of times, communities in that way, if you’re able to focus on, okay, what if we bring somebody who comes to us that’s other than care, like when you move here, you’re going to have more wellness. When you move here, you’re going to have more social connection. You’re going to have more of an artistic lifestyle.

Really looking at some of those values that people have, that have nothing to do with aging, as Michelangelo said that curiosity and creativity is something you can never use up. The more you use it, the more you get. And so, looking at those things that are really timeless and ageless, focusing on that versus, okay, you need this help, you need all these things.

When it comes to assisted living, we actually recognize a lot of assisted living people, even if they can’t participate at the level of independent living, the fact is that they still want those things even if it’s not necessarily going to be exactly at the same level as somebody that’s maybe in independent living.

Cynthia: Yeah. Spot on because, really, assisted living should look no different than independent living.

Something that you said I think bears repeating, which is, give people good news about aging. Be pro-aging. I’m pro-aging. Are you, Derek?

Derek: Yeah. You know what? I had to really overcome my internalized ageism and, in this process of doing these workshops that you and I have been doing, I keep peeling back the onion that I have more and more of these layers of ageism.

One thing that comes up over and over again, especially when we look at how baby boomers are approaching their own aging, this came through in this longitudinal study called The Generation Study. It looked at basically attitudes and trends for the last 35 years. Actually, since 1987, I think, so probably longer than that.

They looked at these trends, and one thing that showed up over and over again for baby boomers, this is the number one goal (even though it’s kind of an anti-goal) is “I don’t want to end up in the nursing home,” and that drives a lot of their behavior. It’s driving the bus in a lot of different areas.

This is in the forefront and even in the back of their minds. “I’m doing everything I possibly can not to end up in the nursing home.” Yet, when we show clinical images of what looks like a nursing home or people in these care images, we’re actually triggering their biggest fear. It’d be like we’re trying to sell cars we knew people didn’t want to be in car accidents, and we showed pictures of our brand new car in a car accident and expect that they would find that appealing.

We’re taking that, looking at it, and then saying, okay, so how do we do this differently? We can talk about some of the ways we do that at 3rdThird, if you want to move into that.

Cynthia: Yeah, absolutely. I think, going back to pro-aging, as a community, your community could be pro-aging. What that means is embrace everything that’s positive about this stage in our life.

Gosh, we are containing every age that we’ve ever been, which means we have all of those experiences and we have potential for our future because we have no idea what we might do next (unless we have it planned). And so, what you can do is sell potential. You sell the potential of lifestyle, the potential of friendships, the potential of a gorgeous place, a gorgeous setting of a new pet. There are so many things that you can be selling, and none of them are necessarily specific to come and buy an apartment in this building. It’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle.

Derek: Yeah. I’m glad you said that, too, Cynthia, because it’s one thing that if you look at a lot of the marketing that’s out there, you can kind of put into two or three buckets.

The first one, it’s the care bucket, which we’ve already talked about.

The other one is show the building. It’s usually a picture of the front of the building taken from the parking lot. That doesn’t feel very attractive.

Or show pictures of seniors, and that made sense showing pictures of your target audience for the last 120 years of modern advertising. But as we know, through the research we’ve done, people don’t see themselves at the age that they actually might be.

Even though they’re 80 or 90, they don’t recognize an 80 or 90-year-old as them. Right? It also reminds them of something that they don’t necessarily want to be reminded of.

They’ll look in the mirror and go, “Oh, my God. There’s grandma looking back at me.” They don’t want to be called out in that way. They want to say, “What else is going on there? What else can I be engaged with?”

The question that we always do is, what do we show? How can we show people that is in such a way that is positive and, at the same time, really respects their psychology because, at the end of the day, we’re not going to change a lifetime of inculturation and socialization?

A lot of people then go, “We’ll just go ahead and show messaging that age equals decrepitude,” but I always feel that’s not even ageless and ageism as well, the idea that just because people are older that they’re in decline or they can’t improve.

Yeah, so anyways, do you have anything to jump on and add to that?

Cynthia: Yeah. I think that those are all really good points. Then the question becomes, well, what can we show?

There are so many things that you can show without having a person up close and personal with the camera. You put them out in the setting. Have them walking. Have them visiting. Have them having quality time in nature.

You can also, if you have a big, beautiful campus, shoot your campus because that’s where people will walk, which is staying fit. They will experience nature, which we all know keeps your brain healthy.

You can show a lot of different imagery without showing people all the time, which in fact is a good way to market because you’ll notice in resort advertising, oftentimes they aren’t really focused on a person. They’re focused on a setting, a place, a time, a feeling. And so, those are some tips, creative tips for your community to follow.

Derek: Yeah. I always say, look at what high-end hotels are doing. Look at what spas are doing, vacation rental, that type of thing where they might have people, showing people doing something, but they’re within an environment and a context. It’s not just a big closeup on their face or holding hands or whatever.

The other thing that we like to do is we like to take a conceptual approach to advertising. Usually, this is using visual metaphors and analogies, abstract images, comparisons, a really strong headline of some sort.

We’ve used a picture of Michelangelo of David, and it was for a community that was basically going through a redevelopment. We basically made this comparison that even David was a work in progress and that this community is undergoing a renaissance. In doing that, we were able to make this comparison that, “Oh, yeah. There’s something that we are also like.”

Think about what are you also like in your community.

Another community we were able to use a picture of a mermaid. We made this connection that this community was very rare. It was this rare scene, this mermaid at Green Lake. Making that connection, even though it was relevant and fanciful or fantastical, by doing that people were still – you go for all the eyeballs. You go for all the attention.

It’s not saying, “Oh, we know that our target audience is 82 years old and makes $100,000 a year, and she has a dog,” so the idea is, let’s show an 82-year-old with a dog who is well dressed. But the thing is not only will that 82-year-old not recognize herself or not be inspired by that image. It could turn her off, and she’s just going to flip right through it.

Where if you go with something that’s going to really capture everybody’s eyeballs and not just that 1% or 2% of people that you’re trying to get, if you get everybody’s attention, then in your subhead you say this is a 62+ community, or in some other way you define what your community is. Then people will self-select whether they want to keep reading the ad or engage with the advertisement on a deeper level.

But I’m a big – you know I always say that if you’re going to bother to spend the money to be in the newspaper or in the mailbox or on the computer that day, make sure you get the best attention. That you’re going to be the best ad that people see that day. Not just think, “Okay, let’s throw some stock photography on here and a headline that could work with any community.”

Cynthia: Yeah, and that comes from the roots of our backgrounds because we used to work in the general agency space, and we did a lot of work for telecoms like T-Mobile and Voice Stream Wireless, which was T-Mobile before it became that, and a lot of software companies. We had to market to software engineers, and you’ve never met a tougher audience than software engineers because they’re cynical. They don’t like mail. They hate email.

How do you communicate with those people? You have to disrupt them somehow. Show them something that’s so interesting, funny, or beautiful that no matter what, they’re going to have to look at it.

We used to say this to our clients all the time. At the end of the day, we’re all people. We’re humans, and humans love to be entertained. They love to see beautiful things.

Then there’s also the fear factor, which of course, we would not want to use in this space.

There are techniques that we use. We brought them from the general agency world into the senior living world.

Derek: Yeah, and I think I’m going to ask you a question now about the role of meals are marketing and how we’ve used good culinary as a marketing tool, both in our advertising and in our direct mail, et cetera.

Cynthia: Yeah, that’s really good. A good thing maybe we’re wrapping up soon.

With food, you can also express ageism through dining, which our Culinary Coach division focuses on helping organizations to successfully self-operate their dining or successfully manage a food contractor that’s operating their dining.

But what’s interesting about food is the dining or the dining options you provide to your residents speaks volumes about the value that you place on esthetics. You can also offer modern dining. That would be trends, following some trends.

Certainly, many communities are now offering Starbucks in their organizations with bistros. That’s so cool. But you could even be providing Blue Apron type meals. For independent living residents or assisted living who have kitchens, provide cooking kits so that they can cook in their apartment.

You could offer a studio kitchen where people can take classes and have wine tasting and experiences around food. Bayview Seattle is one of my favorite communities in Seattle. They have a beautiful teaching kitchen.

Anyway, meals are marketing, and you could win. If you had a community that was built in 1971 and let’s say you just did not have the funds to remodel it completely, have amazing food and make the news. Get some press out on that. You could beat your competitors every day with great food, awesome drinks, fun events that involve food. We’ve seen it, and we help organizations do that.

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, and I think you nailed it with the Bayview example. Bayview had a great chef, and they used him and his work with live events. As people came in, even though they are under construction, the food was so good.

It’s like eating at a dive restaurant. You’ll excuse a lot if the food is really good. I think that’s also true. Even if the carpeting is old, if the food is really good, you’ll still enjoy it.

Then, of course, let’s talk about the adult daughter and the role that she plays in all this.

Cynthia: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one. One of my very favorite work stories was, I was in Texas and we were helping an assisted living community that we had recently branded so some lead generation.

I showed up at the event. It was a really fun Spring in Paris event.

The community was stunning. The whole concept was built for the adult daughter. The design was impeccable.

The coolest thing was for me to see these three generations (a grandmother, a mother, and a granddaughter), and the granddaughter was probably ten. They come into this community, the beautiful lobby, and I hear the granddaughter yelling, “Mom, I can just tell this is so grandma. It’s just beautiful.”

It just speaks to, generally, that for adult daughters, and I am one, you have to match what the adult daughter’s expectation is because there’s enough guilt already built into the situation where I can’t take care of my mother or my mom doesn’t want to live with me or I don’t want her to live with me. There’s just built-in guilt there.

To overcome that, the product has to be good enough for the adult daughter, and the advertising has to be good enough for the adult daughter so that she feels comfortable referring her mom to your community. That’s just another clue about marketing and advertising and ageism.

Derek: Yeah, that’s perfect.

00:24:02 We’re a little bit limited in the fact that we are doing an audio podcast as opposed to a video blog or something like that because we don’t have as much to show, but if you go to our website and look at a lot of our samples, you’ll see that, for us, how we tackle this idea of what do we show, how do we show it, how do we get away from showing pictures of seniors or pictures of buildings, how do we tackle that. That’s something that, if you wanted to go check out, I think it’s pretty relevant. If you go to the photo galleries that we have on our website as well as our samples, you’ll probably be able to see what makes us different in that way.

Derek: So, I’ve had a lot of fun talking about internalized ageism, and if you have more questions, you can reach out to us. Also, we recommend you actually look at our website and some of our samples there and photography and how we have tackled this challenge. And we’d love to hear from you.

Here are some – we’ll probably finish up with some dos and don’ts. The dos are, lead with lifestyle. We think focusing on food is great. Really promote potential and promote wellness. We think those are huge.

And then one thing we didn’t talk about is feature the local area. When people are moving to a community, it’s not just the community. There’s also a lot of times there’s a neighborhood or a park nearby. Make sure that is involved as well because that’s going to be something that adds to the community.

And then the care, so don’t lead with care. Don’t show vulnerable, older people. And don’t use medical imagery or something that feels very clinical.

Cynthia: Yeah. Then last of all, remember, all of us are culture editors because we create messages that go out into the public. When people see those, we can actually change how they feel about themselves. Even if somebody is never going to move to your community, it would be really nice to give them some confidence and really good feeling about how they’re aging, so we’re all culture editors.

Derek: Yeah.

Cynthia: And I think that’s a wrap, Derek. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Derek: No, that is a wrap. I really think what you said is going back to just underscore and put in bold print the idea that people that have a more positive attitude toward aging will live 7.5 years longer than those with a less positive self-perception of aging. If there was a drug that made you live an extra 7.5 years, that would be, could be, a trillion-dollar drug. But here it’s just a matter of changing our attitudes and that reflects on, as cultural editors, how do we change that in the messages and images we put out in the public.

Cynthia: Yes. Amen. Thank you so much, Derek, for talking about this with me. I just love—

We could be here all day, but I think we’re ready to go. We’re going to go back to our regular programming.


Cynthia: Which is making great creative.

Derek: Sounds good. All right. Thanks so much.

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Cynthia: Thanks to everybody for checking our show. As always, don’t forget. Send us your questions, your thoughts, your comments, and ideas to, and follow Cosmic Soup and 3rdThird Marketing on all of your fancy social media sites. Thanks again for hanging out with us and we’ll talk to you soon on Cosmic Soup.

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