Old Man My Ass! - Eternal Youth in 21st Century Storytelling
An emotional state of decline, indifference, lack of planning. An intellectual attitude of refusal, reactionarysm; for the longest time, this was the definition of ‘old-aged’ to marketers and the entertainment industry.
But times are changing.
In the last decade, elderly characters have been given more time in the spotlight, having starring roles in both TV and film. Think Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, Alan Arkin, Jane Fonda – all still riding high well into their years.
The slow-killer of the concept of ‘old-aged’ can be found in a combination of three mass socio-cultural and scientific phenomena: mindfulness, longevity and eternity.
We are more and more embracing lifestyles and philosophies focused on the hic et nunc (here and now).
Mindfulness became popular at the turn of the century in psychotherapy as a way to help people cope with anxiety. But it soon became the new mass Western secular religion. Being rooted in the present, to fully enjoy it and to feel in harmony with the universe is the new recipe for happiness.
‘40 is the new 30’ is just the beginning. Every passing year, medical science is taking continuous revolutionary steps towards our wellbeing. Studies on stem cells (albeit controversial), nutrition, healthy lifestyles, treatment and prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and cosmetic surgery are helping us greatly prolong the life span in which we can feel young inside and out.
Mankind has stopped considering immortality as an impossibility and has begun to actually pursue it. According to professor Yuval Harari, the manifest objective of the most advanced science is to invest in the search for immortality. Studies on cell regeneration and genetic replication could be the starting point towards making our lives endless.
The collective imagination has already been touched by this topic; think about the success of TV series like Altered Carbon or Westworld. They’re both built on the assumption that sooner or later the possibility of harvesting our consciousness from our old bodies and implanting it in new bodies will be within our reach.
The world of marketing is certainly not neglecting these cultural and sociological phenomena. Today it is increasingly common for brands to celebrate old age as a time to continue to live your life to the fullest.
An example is the Kia Stinger campaign ‘Feel Something Again’, in which we see Steven Tyler (at 71) experiencing emotions so intense that he feels like he was 30 years old again.
Just a few years ago IKEA launched the campaign ‘Start Something New’ starring an elderly gentleman who does not resign himself to feeding the pigeons at the park.
There’s also Pepsi’s ‘Uncle Drew’ saga – which was recently made into a feature film. NBA superstar Kyrie Irving plays an old champion of the city’s small sports grounds who gets back into the game and begins a new and exciting sports career - along with a ramshackle gang of other old but lively players.
These few examples (there are many more) indicate a new era of brand communication. Only a few years ago older people would often appear as extras in a story of young people. Or as the typical role of the wise figure who dishes out life advice because they have already lived their own lives.
Ever since branding was born, the most effective communication is the one that doesn’t address age groups or mere functional needs, but rather dramatises behaviours, desires and life plans.
What marks the 21st century is the awareness of companies and brands that those needs of the soul, those desires, those plans can be in us at any age.
Luigi Accordino is head of strategy at VMLY&R Italy