Struggling to uncover the new trend in marketing



This was a no brainer. Make a couple of short phone calls to folks whose job it is to sell ideas – and products – and get their take on why it’s suddenly cool to be old.

Diane Keaton is cool. She’s on the tube shilling Age Perfect skin care cosmetics for L'Oréal. Andie MacDowell is cool. She’s also in the getting-old-without-wrinkles cosmetics shill.  William Shatner is – god help us – cool. And out there selling All-Bran – presumably to constipated baby boomers. Dove got a bunch of no-name boomer women to promote Pro-Age face, skin and hair products. That was cool. Grey Power is busy selling home and auto insurance to those over 50 – that’s not cool. But who wants a cool insurance company anyway?

It’s not rocket science. According to the latest census, baby boomers are the largest population group in the country, a cohort of more than 10 million. According to Andrew Findlater, a manager at the Baby Boomer Marketing Division of National Public Relations, the aging hippy generation controls more than 50 percent of Canada’s disposable income and owns about 80 percent of its wealth. Small wonder generations X and Y whine about being shortchanged when it comes to media attention.

Advertisers would be stupid to ignore folks who are holding the purse strings, right?
And they’d enthusiastically wax lyrical – without having to pay for the privilege. Right?

Not always.

L'Oréal, which paid Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton to be their spokesperson, at first responded with enthusiasm.  After the exchange of more than a dozen emails to the U.S., and contacts with four different representatives, they were pretty sure an interview could happen; on the condition that they saw a list of questions in advance. Reluctantly, Convergence agreed.

Suddenly, the marketers got cold feet. Excuses ranged from “we handle (only) U.S. press” to an explanation that the Keaton ads were old and that the company had “stopped publicizing that campaign.”

Presumably the folks who run the TV networks – which at the time of writing still run the ads -- didn’t get the message.

In the U.S., L'Oréal said in the future, all Convergence questions must be directed to their Canadian branch. But then went on to explain that regardless of which branch was contacted, it would still have to be cleared by their U.S. branch.

A call to Keaton’s agency to see if she would comment on the ads got nowhere. Both Keaton and her representative were on vacation until an undisclosed time, and therefore would not be available to comment.

L'Oréal folks pay well.

Contacts with Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising firm behind Dove’s recent commercials faired much better.

Dove was proud and willing to talk about their ads, which was surprising, since their “Pro –Age” campaign, selling the idea that “beauty has no age limit,” was more edgy.  The ads featured middle-aged women, tastefully naked and baring their diminutive shoulders, body wrinkles and graying hair.

It may have been shocking to see brown spots and wrinkles, but Janet Kestin, chief creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather’s Toronto office, says the ads speak directly to the target audience.

“If you go into a magazine store and looked at all the shelves of magazine covers you would believe that there are no women over 50 alive on the planet,” she said. “My dad, who is quite a lot over 50, is offended by the way advertising talks to older people because he thinks that they are treated like they have no brains and no pride.”

One out of three – we were on a roll.

That is, until we called Grey Power.

David Callan, manager of marketing in Canada, said he didn’t think the boomers targeted by his company’s automobile insurance ads would be interested in the advertising process. “I don’t think a consumer really cares who your agency is.”

Mr. Callan said he was “hesitant” to talk in greater depth. “Hesitant” came up a lot during the brief discussion. Naming the creative brains behind the campaign might open Grey Power to “competitive assault,” he muttered darkly.