Experience is not a handicap

THE SHORT STORY:

Ageism has been a problem for a long time. The attitude that people have a “best-before”-date and that competence and employability are declining by the number of birthdays.

Ageism has been a problem for a long time. The attitude that people have a “best-before”-date and that competence and employability are declining by the number of birthdays.

This is especially problematic for the marketing industry, in three ways: 

First, the industry loses skills and experience. 

The whole industry becomes too homogeneous which also affects the possibility of understanding and communicating with all age groups.

There is also the problem with the constant focusing on younger target groups. This despite the fact that older audiences are larger, have more money to spend and willing to do that. The Mc Kinsey & Co-report “Urban World: The global consumer to watch” stated that future pensioners and the elderly, will be extremely important for global consumption during the period up to 2030.

Luckily things are slowly starting to happen. The debate on ageism is getting lively. And increasingly constructive. Even in Sweden. I would say that it is very much because of John Mellkvist. He is a PR consultant and futurist at Mindmakers PR in Stockholm and lit a spark a couple of years ago and has been feeding the fire ever since. From a heated stream of social media posts on the subject, he has become increasingly prominent in the growing debate.  

John Mellkvist has had a great impact on the discussion of ageism and was recently named “Swedish super communicator of 2019” by the trade journal Resumé.

Today John Mellkvist is also part of the government’s ”Delegation for Senior Workforce”. 

The issue is becoming more and more prominent. And we can se changes coming. Still small and slow, of course, but they are coming.

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“At the same time as the Swedish parliament has been presented with a proposal to raise the retirement age, employers are already beginning to hesitate before 35-year-olds!”, John Mellkvist noted in a Morning News-show on TV some time ago.

Of course, ageism is not just a problem for all those who are considered to be finished at the age of 40-50. It is also a gigantic problem for society in whole – financially as well as socially.

For the marketing sector, this is especially problematic in three ways.

First, of course, through lost skills and experience. Just like in all other industries.

For anyone who thinks that the brain is shrinking soon after the 40th anniversary, it can be a good idea to listen to the Professor Emerita and author Bodil Jönsson. She has said that the brain continues to evolve, throughout life. In addition, the contact between the right and left hemispheres gets better and better over the years. Something that makes it easier for us to see patterns and contexts.

Another problem with age discrimination in the marketing sector is that it becomes more difficult to communicate with mature consumers if all creatives are in their 30s.

Already in 1996, PhD Lorentz Lyttken called for intelligent advertising for adults.

“The problem is the attitude and prejudices of young advertising guys. If advertising were made by 40-50-year-old women, it would probably look completely different. Those who produce much of the advertising today belong to a young metropolitan elite who generalize from their own experiences and their own generation,” he said in an interview in Quo Vadis, in August 1996.

But not much has really happened in the last 23 years.

A third, negative factor with marketers with age bracket, is the focus on young target groups. The companies strive to ”rejuvenate the target groups” and they want to reach millennials.

But, just about a year ago, Mc Kinsey & Co presented the report “Urban World: The global consumer to watch”. There, nine consumer groups were identified, which will account for 75 per cent of consumption growth in the coming decades.

The largest group is the 60-plus group in well-developed economies. They account for 19 percent of consumption increases. McKinsey believed that this category of consumers – future pensioners and the elderly, will be extremely important for global consumption during the period up to 2030.

Only this age group will grow in Western Europe and Northeast Asia. In North America and Canada, the 60s account for 60% of consumption increases.

It is a category that is more urban, ethnically mixed and well educated. And it is definitely much more technically savvy than previous generations.

In Sweden, 3.9 million people are 50 years or older (December 31, 2018). If we stick to the 50-75 group, they are 3 million people. Nearly 1.9 million are between 15 and 29. However, given the youth focus we have, one would think the relationship is the opposite.

This constant focus on ”young and hungry”, ”rejuvenation of the target group” and ”anti age”! It’s so tiering. And it’s so wrong.

But maybe we should blame ourselves a little, we who were young in the 60s and 70s?

We may have succeeded just too well when we carried out a more extensive, widespread and peaceful cultural revolution than the world has ever seen. It spread from London to California, to Stockholm, Berlin, Tokyo and Paris.

It created the teenage generation.

Certainly, the age group had existed at all times. But not the target group, to speak marketing lingo.

My older sister and her girlfriends most closely resembled younger copies of their mothers, with the same permanent hair and the same clothes. The boys became “men” directly after the confirmation.

But then we came, we who were born in the late 1940s and early 1950s. And with us teenage fashion and pop music.

New fashion stores just for young people were established, the music industry exploded, youth magazines flourished, and a series of new radio and TV programs started to entertain the large, young audience.

It was an exciting time.

But it was never intended that we, the teenagers, would become as prevailing as we did and the youth fixation grows firmly in all contexts and camps.

From previously scarcely to be expected at all, youth became the model for the normal and the desirable.

Along the way, the importance of experience and maturity faded.

But we who are peers with Bruce Springsteen or Madonna are just the same. In any case, inside.

Today’s ”seniors” are more to the number, healthier and can expect to live longer than their parents and grandparents.

And development continues.

The author Ludvig Rasmussonhas summed it all up in his book ”The Age Uprising”: ”The 40s generation is the one who helped create society as it is today and they are used to decide. They will not accept being treated like their parents”.

It would also be a terrible waste of energy, power and creativity.

Great advertising makes consumers want more advertising

THE SHORT STORY:

Great advertising has a value in itself. Sara Rosengren and Micael Dahlén, professors at the Stockholm School of Economics, have studied this phenomenon and established the concept of “advertising equity”, for advertising that is not only tolerated, but also popular. It creates both more value for the company and added value for consumers. This means that people will want to watch more advertising from these brands. 

Sara Rosengren
Micael Dahlén. Photo: Emma Blomgren.

A high advertising equity weakens the resistance towards advertising and instead of consumers trying to avoid the advertising, they choose to watch and even search for it. One effect of this is that the brand can communicate more efficient at a lower cost. 

This is of benefit for the brand, employees, consumers and even media.

Advertising equity is a form of trust capital. However, advertising equity is not captured by traditional brand strength measures. Or measures such as brand attitude, purchase intentions or loyalty. The traditional dimensions tend to focus on the value of the company’s products and services, while advertising equity focuses on the perceived value of the company’s advertising.

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The attitudes toward advertising is mainly negative by default. This was clearly illustrated in earlier research by professor Sara Rosengren and her colleagues. They studied advertising from ICA, the leading supermarket chain in Sweden. ICA established its advertising platform in 2001 as a sitcom set up in a small grocery store, which featured the retailer Stig and his employees.

One of hundred examples of ICA’s advertising. This time it the staff is recording a jingle about ICA’s branded products. Everyone is very pleased with the song, until the shop owner, Stig, starts to sing. The producers decides to cut his microphone totally. In Sweden, this is a funny twist, as the actor playing Stig is a former popular opera singer (Loa Falkman).

In their studies of ICA, the research team randomly presented two variants of the same question to two groups of consumers: “What do you think about ICA’s advertising sitcom?” and “What do you think about ICA’s TV-sitcom”. It became clear that if the word “advertising” was included in the question, the reaction was more negative than if it were not. An example of the generally negative attitude to advertising. However, many see ICA’s films more as entertainment than advertising. An example of this is the mobile app “ICA Play”, where the ICA-commercials are gathered, and you can order push notes when it’s time for a new one. When the app was launched in November 2013, it quickly became one of the five most downloaded in the Apple Store in Sweden. In 2007, ICA’s advertising appeared in the Guinness Book of Records, as the longest running television advertising drama. And it still continues today.

A similar, British, example is John Lewis. Their advertising is noticed, discussed and loved. Not least, it applies to their Christmas advertising. 

In September 2018, rumors began to spread in the media that Elton Johnwould participate in the John Lewis Christmas advertising of the year. This also proved right, when the campaign started two months later on 17 November. As is often the case with their Christmas advertising, the new campaign was first released on social media in the morning with immediate, wide sharing across digital platforms. The same evening, the campaign was launched on national television at prime time. The great interest in the forthcoming ad, the speculation about who would star, and then the rapid spread of the Christmas campaign are proof of the very strong advertising equity which John Lewis has built over a number of years.

Both ICA and John Lewis have both also realized the importance of working long-term and consistently at a high creative level. This has made their advertising equity strong, as well as their brands and profitability.

There are, of course, several more examples of brands with high advertising equity. But unfortunately, there are also many examples of companies that have failed to manage and develop their advertising capital. Instead, they have changed concepts and embarked on brand new tracks. Sometimes because they just, themselves, wanted change and sometimes because new market managers wanted to make their own mark on the work.

So, what can you achieve with a strong advertising equity?

First:If a company’s previous advertising is perceived as worthy of attention, consumers are likely to want to see their advertising even in the future.The research indicates that strong advertising equity means more to the attention of a company’s advertising than both brand attitude and buying intentions.

Secondly:Advertising equity signals positive characteristics of the brand and shows respect for the consumer. The message is “We don’t just steal your time, we have made every effort to make you want to give it to us”.

Third:Micael Dahlén has in his research also found that companies that have made an effort in their communication are also perceived to offer better products and be better at product development. Sara Rosengren, in her turn, has shown that these companies are also assumed to take better care of their customers. As well as of their employees. In other words, the overall attitudes towards the companies are more positive.

Forth:Advertising equity is also of great importance internally. The theory has often been that if you care a lot for your organization, you like the advertising. In their research Sara Rosengren and her colleagues have found, that it might as well be the opposite. That is to say, if the employees like the advertising and perceive it to be effective, it gives stronger motivation to participate and contribute to the company’s development. It strengthens the identification. It is also important that employees perceive that the company has made an effort to make good advertising and that it fulfills a function.

Fifth: A strong advertising equity also adds values evem to the context of the advertising. That is to say, even the media where the advertisement is published serves on the advertising equity of the brand. Studies show that consumers have been prepared to pay more for media that contains advertising from strong brands, than for media with the same editorial content, but advertising from weaker brands. The same relationship has been seen when comparing high quality ads – in terms of production technology and/or creativity.

Thus, high-creativity advertising with high, production-technical quality makes consumers prepared to pay more for the medium itself. This can give advertisers room to negotiate better terms with media, which in turn gets added value through the brand’s advertising capital.

Sixth: A strong advertising equity can also open up to new collaborations. One such example is Volvo’s advertising with Zlatan Ibrahimović. This became possible since Zlatan himself saw Volvo’s commercials with Swedish House Mafia and wanted to cooperate with the brand.

How to measure advertising equity, and why

Sara Rosengren and Micael Dahlén have designed a simple model for measuring advertising equity. It is based on people’s overall impression of the company’s previous advertising.

They argue that it is worth-while to regularly measure advertising equity. Not least when deciding on future investments. How big they should be and what types of media should be used are some of the questions that can be answered when you know your advertising equity.

However, when measuring advertising equity, it is important to clearly define advertising, or perhaps even replace the actual “a-word”, in order to get around the problem with the automatic negativism. Instead of advertising one could, for example, describe the type of communication that the brand uses. When this is formulated, the questions can be relatively simple of the type “I think X usually do – interesting advertising/advertising that is worth paying attention to/advertising that is rewarding to take part of”, for example.

Sara Rosengren’s advice is that if the advertising equity is low, it is wise to work mainly with broad mass-media channels. If you have a high advertising equity, the possibilities of SEO, viral spread and earned media increases.

The advertising eqity can also be used as a tool to ensure the long-term view of advertising work and that it is steered in the right direction.

“Of course, it may sometimes be necessary to replace or update an advertising concept. The problem is only when you do it without first having known what advertising equity the concept has built. If there is no such analysis, it is easy for the decisions to be taken a little too easily. If we only evaluate the effect of advertising over time in terms of the brand, we will easily miss the long-term value of the advertising itself ”, Sara Rosengren emphasized earlier when I interviewed her on the matter. 

Get better results – in many ways – without stereotypes

THE SHORT STORY:

Good advertising is not only important for the development of brands and companies. It can also be a positive power in society.

By understanding and avoiding the stereotypes that are often used in advertising, it is possible to influence attitudes in a deeper and more positive way. These conclusions can be drawn from the research that Nina Åkestam did as a doctoral student at the Stockholm School of Economics. Her thesis was named “Understanding Advertising Stereotypes” and reported what happens when creative communication violates social norms and stereotypes.

Nina Åkestam studied the negative consequences of stereotypes in advertising. And the opportunities that open up, when you avoid the stereotypes.

The image that the advertising traditionally shows is often far from reality and idealized images of people and situations that are often far from reality.

But it is not obvious that these images make people long and dream – or buy. They can just as easily create discomfort, shame and poor self-confidence.

In her research, Nina Åkestam has found that advertising that violates stereotypes and come closer to reality – for example create positive effects. For example, images of homosexuality create positive social effects in terms of empathy.

THE FULL STORY:

“Research on advertising is often done either from an economy aspect, when you look athow it affects social and business economics. Or, you do that from a psychological aspect and look at how it affects people in different ways,” Nina Åkestam explained when I talked to her on the matter.

She, however, wanted to see how these two areas affect each other.
Can good advertising, which communicates equally and affects people positively, also be more profitable?

Traditionally, companies have often regarded marketing as an isolated issue, while social affairs and CSR have been something completely different. “It’s nice if we can do something good, but we have to sell too”, is often the reasoning.

Nina Åkestam’s research shows however that there are no contradictions in this. Nevertheless, so much advertising is made from old stereotyped templates. Which people think still applies.

There are different theories in terms of the role and expression of advertising. The most common speaks of advertising as a mirror of society.
When agencies or advertisers sometimes are criticized for enhancing prejudices or negative trends in society, the defense usually is “advertising does not create trends, advertising only reflects and reinforces the trends that exist”.

But in this case, you could of course argue, that advertisers can choose which trends you want to reflect.
The German professor, Martin Eisendin Berlin, has done a comprehensive metastudy about gender stereotypes in advertising. He has among other things found that the theory of mirrors is quite reasonable, but the advertising is lagging by fifteen years and playing on old attitudes.

Nina Åkestam noted, that if advertising really would have reflected its contemporaries, it would not look like it does on several points:
* Because then every tenth of the ads would be homosexual.
* Every fourth person would have an immigrant background.
* The typical age of people in the advertisement would be 41 years.
* The average weight for model-long women would be 85 kilos, not 53.
* Men would be undressed as often as women.
* Furthermore, women would not become more and more sexualized.

But, as you know, it does not look like that at all. And it is no benefit for companies that the image is so skewed.

“Consumers are much more aware than companies often think. Many in the advertisingindustry also have an idea that people are much more conservative than they are. Maybe it’s the advertising industry which is conservative,” said Nina Åkestam.

In her research, together with her tutors and supervisors Sara Rosengren and Micael Dahlén, she studied how images of gay sexual couples in ads affect consumers in comparison with images of heterosexual couples.

They have then found that images of homosexuality create positive social effects in terms of empathy.

Other studies have looked at how people respond to different pictures in advertising. The interviewees were asked about their first ten spontaneous thoughts when they see ads.

Traditional, stereotype advertising met a lot of protests. People put it in a broader context and see it as part of what develops the world. They think about how prejudiced advertising affects others, if it can hurt people or how they affect attitudes of young people, for example.

The research has also shown that the closer you are, to the ideals of young, beautiful and slim, the more you compare yourself with the pictures of the advertisement. And the more they make you feel insecure and unhappy.

As a result, the advertisement does not strengthen the brand but rather creates reactance, that is, it builds resistance and instead of listening, consumers are disturbed.

“It’s also about the legitimacy of the industry. When I was working at an agency, I could feel discomfort about advertising that the industry rewarded, when rewarding themselves with advertising people do not like. I could be ashamed to be associated with such advertising, even though I have not been involved in it,” said Nina Åkestam.

Femvertising is a countermovement, where advertisers try to push development in a morebalanced direction. It is clear that it decreases the reactivity.

Nina Åkestam herself, together with her supervisors, has found that femvertising works. In all kinds of media as well as in both pictures and film. The reactance becomes so much less.

Instead of protesting against the advertisement, people become curious.
Today, much of this debate is about gender equality and advertising aimed at women, as well as gender stereotypes and sexual orientation. Of course, it is not just there, which much needs to be done. But it’s a good start, because so much more follows.

“Now, we are also looking at ethnicity and male gender roles in the ads,” Nina Åkestam explained, and noted that some of the problem is undoubtedly due to the fact that the advertising industry is so .homogeneous in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and function.

The lack of diversity, of all kinds, is striking.

It can of course affect the work done in the industry, more than you can imagine.