The media's portrayal of older individuals in targeted and nontargeted advertisements: A content analysis of magazine, newspaper and television advertisements

Thomas Eugene Robinson


At the present, older individuals in the United States represent 13% of the total population and, as the baby boomers begin to reach maturity, this group will not only have large numbers but will have more income, better pensions, be more educated, live longer, and have better health than today's older Americans. With their strong economic base, growth potential, and longer life expectancy, targeting the older consumer would seem ideal for advertisers. However there is little evidence that this type of marketing exists. When older individuals are used in advertisements they normally have limited roles and are portrayed in a stereotypical manner. The purpose of this study was to explore the level to which older Americans are targeted, represented, and portrayed in media advertising. To better understand the portrayal of older individuals in targeted and nontargeted advertisements, this research used a content analysis of advertisements on television and in magazines and newspapers. The advertisements appearing in a sample of 1994-95 issues of 10 magazines, 8 newspapers, and the 4 major television networks (for a total of 40 magazines, 48 newspapers, and 88 hours of television) were coded and analyzed. A total of 3,990 advertisements containing a total of 12,818 people were coded. The results indicated that the older population was underrepresented in advertisements and that there were fewer older females than older males. The number of advertisements targeting the older market was greater than their actual population number, but the majority of products targeted toward the older market were for health-related products. However, when the older market was the target, the portrayal of the older characters was positive. When the younger market was the target, the older characters received more minor roles and they were portrayed in a stereotypical manner. Changes in the representation and portrayal of older individuals in advertising are needed in addition to a better variety of products targeted toward the older market. Fewer portrayals should deal with "sickness" and "disabilities," and, in advertisements which target the younger audience, older characters need to be given more "major" roles with more "positive" characteristics.