A WIDER LENS

Dr. Rebecca Swift

Photograph by Flashpop

“It is not that photographers, brands or photo editors are ageist, it is merely the legacy of how age has been perceived for decades”. Getty Images is doing something about how age is portrayed.

Photograph by Catherine Ivill

The sitting down, the smiling on as everyone else has fun, the relentless walking on beaches. I have seen it all and it doesn’t look like much fun.

Every piece of research we have conducted in recent years has shown that if you are under 50, you are twice as likely to be represented in advertising and the media than those over 50.

We have consistently found that the over 50s are not seen in advertising in the same numbers that they are present in the world. And even then, if white, in a heterosexual relationship, with children/grandchildren and able bodied they are more likely to be pictured than anyone else. And it gets worse. The older you are, the more likely you are to be seen being taken care of – a third of visuals of the over 60s are about medical or healthcare and you are less likely to be seen using technology or receiving home deliveries.

So that’s why we (Getty Images) partnered with AARP (The American Association of Retired Persons) to build The Disrupt Aging® Collection in 2019. The concept was to depict aging in an authentic, positive and more inclusive way.

We’ve committed to telling a multidimensional story of aging.

By conveying the everyday experiences, lifestyles and relationships of adults aged 50 to 100-plus, we’ve committed to telling a multidimensional story of aging, centred around everything from business and technology to caregiving, fun and fulfilment across a wide range of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic lines. To do this, we created guidelines for creators to check their own biases about growing older and are changing the way that our clients are talking about aging too. The collection is proving to be really popular which I think is down to the fact that it is closer to not only the realism of a life well spent in later years (which is afterall what advertising is all about) but it is also shot in a way that feels realistic to a younger audience. The best example I can think of is how the colour palette of images of young people is vibrant and colourful and yet as the people in the images gets older, the colour palette changes to something more insipid, something paler so it becomes almost a manifestation of how the photographer sees older people. I recently saw the advertisement for retirement living in Australia. It is so spirited and feels relevant for all ages without being absurd. If we can create diversity in the style of imagery that features older people as well as including a diversity of life stages, lifestyles, cultures, ethnicities and physical ability then we are getting closer to reality.

It is not that photographers, brands or photo editors are ageist, it is merely the legacy of how age has been perceived for decades. This is because it was seen as niche or was industry specific (think pensions, medical care and cruises) and was intrinsically linked with retirement at 55-60 years old. The research is unanimous, we are living longer and healthier lives. As a result, the over 50 age group is just as likely to have kids in primary school as they are to have grandchildren. We just need to work on bringing advertising up to date with reality!

Dr. Rebecca Swift is the Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images.

Photograph by Anne Clements

The over 50 age group is just as likely to have kids in primary school as they are to have grandchildren. We just need to work on bringing advertising up to date with reality!

More Information

The Disrupt Aging® Collection

While older adults live increasingly full lives, aging is often depicted in images as a time of isolation and dependency, or a lifestyle of leisure devoid of intergenerational friendships. In fact, 80% of people 50 and over say they are stereotyped by marketers.

Launching with over 1,400 images, the Disrupt Aging® Collection captures everyday moments that help break stereotypes and combat ageist biases.

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