How do people get into television commercials

TV advertising usually makes old people look young

Researchers at the Institute for Sociology and Gender Research at the German Sport University in Cologne investigated the image of older people staged by the television advertisement. Old people rarely appear in it, and when they do, they usually don't look old.

Theresa Hoppe and colleagues analyzed TV commercials for their study in order to gain knowledge about the representation of the 50+ generation in product advertising. The proportion of commercials with older protagonists averaged 10.5%. There were differences between public and private broadcasters. 25% of spots in the former and 9% of those in the latter were related to age. For comparison: The proportion of 50 year olds and older in the population of the Federal Republic is around 44%.

The researchers analyzed 114 advertising films in more detail. Around three quarters of the older people depicted could be assigned to the young old and identified as old mainly because of latent wrinkles. Mostly men were shown (72%), older women were clearly underrepresented. If it were up to the picture in advertising, old people only have sunken mouths in 1.5% of the spots. Prostheses are even rarer (0.8%), as are walking aids or walkers (0.8%). There were no wheelchairs.

Food was advertised in around 21% of age-related commercials. Like cosmetics, insurance companies were represented with 9% each. These were mainly regenerative, practically never beautifying and rarely products for body care. Medical aids, travel and medication were also advertised. Around 5% of the spots were about technology, such as cell phones or vacuum cleaners. If older people were to be seen in commercials, the message was mostly not about age-specific, but about age-independent products. The characteristic “age” was therefore not mainly used to generate communication specifically “for the elderly”. Rather, it can be assumed that the spots with this strategy also appeal to older people, i.e. have an inclusive effect and that certain content is symbolized and conveyed via older protagonists, according to the Cologne researchers. In commercials that advertised an age-unspecific product, age was mostly portrayed positively. In contrast, where age-specific products were concerned, it was visualized negatively.

The representation of older people in advertising is avoided due to the connection with often negative characteristics in order not to negatively influence the mostly positive advertising world, conclude Hoppe and employees with a view to the low degree of representation compared to the population. And old people would get even less attention than young old people. "The staging of old age in advertising focuses on the 'young age', while old age hardly appears," write the researchers.


Again a campaign for the nursing professions. Happy old people beam at me, well dressed and pug-loving. Surrounded by family members, you advertise on large posters that (young) people learn the care profession. The brochure from the Federal Ministry of Health - Care Strengthening Act - also here the attractive old person. I ask myself why, with these pictures, young people should get the idea to take up the care profession? The old guys seem to be getting along quite well. Even my beloved professional association shows attractive people in need of care in image-supported campaigns.

T. Hoppe and her colleagues have investigated what image old people convey in our advertising. 44% of the people in Germany are older than 50 years. However, these rarely appear in commercials. And when we see old people in them, 72% of them are male, gray-haired, “young old”. They promote nutrition, regenerative cosmetics and insurance. Age is transported through wrinkles, shadows under the eyes and bags under the eyes, sagging neck areas and glasses. Rollator? Walking aid? Hearing aid? Missing teeth? - Nothing. These signs of age do not appear in advertising. What image of the elderly does our society convey? Are we afraid of reality? In the course of demographic developments, increasing poverty in old age, and changes in the care structures, we must generally accept a more honest picture of old age in public. Otherwise we as a society will fail to ensure a decent life for our old people (and in the end ourselves) - regardless of whether they need care or not.


  1. Hoppe T et al. Staging of old age (es) and the elderly in TV commercials. Z Gerontol Geriat 2015, online July 7; doi: 10.1007 / s00391-015-0923-y

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  1. rb

  2. Wannsee Schule e.V., Head of Nursing Schools, Zum Heckeshorn 36 14109, Berlin, Germany

    Christine Vogler

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Correspondence to Christine Vogler.

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rb, Vogler, C. TV advertising usually makes old people look young. Health professions67, 28 (2015).

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