Why your marketing campaign to sixty somethings might not be working

Is your marketing to people in their sixties working?

Many businesses are vying for the attention of people in their sixties, but are they doing it well?  In this article, I suggest that marketing that uses stock imagery of older people shows them living empty lives.

This thought really came home to me when I was looking for images of people in their sixties for my recent presentation for the ‘Retirement is all different now’ webinar. So many of the images I found left me feeling uncomfortable in a way that I couldn’t quite define.

To figure out what was going one I conducted a more deliberate content analysis. I used three different stock image websites, using the search terms ‘woman in her sixties’ and ‘man in his sixties’. True to my semiotic training, I knew that meaning comes from difference, so I also repeated the search but this time typed ‘twenties’ instead of ‘sixties’. *

How ‘sixties’ and ‘twenties’ images were different

There was much more diversity in the images of younger people. There was a mix of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Some people were active, some weren’t. Some were at work, some weren’t. In contrast, people in their sixties were generally white, sedentary and well-groomed. What really struck me though was that older people seemed to be living in a kind of empty world where nothing happens.

An empty world where nothing happens

To illustrate my point, I have chosen some images that show older people who

  1. Were on their own
  2. Seemed to have been doing nothing before the photo was taken
  3. Seemed to be doing nothing when the photo was taken

Older people were on their own

Older people were often shown gazing out of the image directly at the viewer. This gaze suggests that nothing else is going wherever the person has been photographed. Nothing is happening there; no one is talking to the person in the image. He or she is not listening to anyone else in the room at the time.


In contrast, younger people had company. Even if they were shown on their own in the image, they were shown at an angle or looking sideways so they seem to be looking at or listening to other people.

Older people had been doing nothing before the photo was taken

Older people were more likely to be sitting upright wearing crease-free clothing without a hair out of place as if they had been doing nothing before the photo was taken.

In contrast, younger people had been active. More younger people were shown in casual poses. Some were active. Others were lying down, sleeping, or slouching as if they had finished what they had been doing. They were wearing loose, crumpled, or creased clothing.

Older people were doing nothing now

Some older people seemed to be doing nothing when the photo was taken, just staring at or smiling at the camera. Some were shown with a phone, laptop or tablet that they were staring at or smiling at.

Younger people were more likely to be doing something - doing yoga or buying a coffee for example. If younger people had some technology with them were using it not just staring or smiling at it.

Is this why pre-retirees fear retirement?

So, this analysis showed that stock imagery shows more older people than younger people looking as if they had been doing nothing before the photo and were doing nothing in it, and had no one with them. Younger people looked as if they were currently doing something or were relaxing after being active and were communicating with someone else.

Many pre-retirees we have interviewed in our ‘Over Sixties’ projects talk about their fears about retiring. One of those fears is that that they will be lonely and will have nothing to do.

I wonder how much images like these have contributed to that fear?

  * This resulted in pages and pages of images, so for ease of analysis I just focused on the first fifty in each case.

To discuss how to research the over sixties market to really understand their needs and perceptions, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tags: Retirement decisions, Retirees, Pre-retirees, Sixties, Babyboomers, Seniors