Pull up a chair, advertising industry, it’s time we had a chat about women in their 40s+.

No, their worlds do not revolve around wrinkle cream, mom jeans, and taking a back seat at work. Women in their 40s+ are innovative, powerful, bad asses who can rock any style of jeans they please—wherever, whenever. At this year’s 3% ‘Beyond Gender’ Conference, using advertising as a backdrop, CLEVER Founder, Stefania Pomponi, took to the stage to share her personal story and challenge everyone to think about “older” women differently.

Stefania’s PechaKucha presentation—speaking to 20 photo-driven slides, each for only 20 seconds—was bold and revealing. Below is an inside glimpse of Stefania’s powerful session from the 6th annual 3% Conference.

Think of a woman over the age of 40.

What attributes would you ascribe to her? Who is she? What is she into? What qualities come to mind? Who are you thinking of?

If you are over 40 years old, chances are your perceptions are very different from those in the room who are under 40.

I’ve been interested in challenging the notion of what it means to be over 40 in the world ever since I turned 40, eight years ago.

I strive to live a vibrant, curious, adventurous, active life. My goal is to live forever. I’m only half-joking.

The people in my life who are over 40, by-and-large, are the same. They aren’t giving up or sun-setting. They are, as my friend Chris says, “Living solid lives. They are self-actualized, mostly. Good role models, often. Fully actualized and killing it. Still learning and energetic. They seem to defy the concept of age.”

They are my heroes.

When I was younger, people over 40 were largely invisible to me. They were my teachers. My parents. And, eventually, my professors and bosses. We had nothing in common.

What were their interests or hobbies? What did they do in their spare time?

Shrug.

I didn’t know and didn’t care. They were too old for me to care about. I was too busy thinking about myself.

 

When I asked my contemporaries what they thought about people over 40 when they were younger, I got a variety of responses that probably resonate with you.

This slide shows some examples. One friend remembers feeling happy her mom had a second chance at love later in life—at age 43.

 

Just for fun, I had Kayla, one of my millennial colleagues, ask her peers the same question, and the responses she got—probably a not surprise to anyone—reflect the fact perceptions really haven’t changed much over time.

This concerns me, but I’ll get back to that.

The first person who challenged my perception of what it meant to be a woman over 40 was Jane Fonda.

It was the 80s. I think I was a freshman in high school when I first saw her workout videos.

My girlfriends and I did them together and thought nothing of the fact that Jane Fonda was 45 at the time.

We just wanted that slammin’ body.

Over the years, mainstream media has portrayed women over 40 in a variety of ways.

But mostly, we are dorky, ridiculous, out of touch, and uncool.

We are invisible.

My daughter wears mom jeans.

In years past, mainstream media has reinforced the fact that women can—and do—get older, we just can’t look older while we do it.

There is still such a thing as being too old for a wrinkle cream ad.

Meet the new face of Dior’s anti-aging line. She’s 25.

Older women this is your skin goals: look 20.

Today, it is possible to see “actual older women” in ads for wrinkle cream: Helen Mirren.

But even better, women my age, like Gwen Stefani, are being tapped to partner on beauty lines that have nothing to do with aging. Check out Gwen Stefani’s recent sell-out collaboration with Urban Decay or Kerry Washington’s advisory role at Neutrogena helping women of color finally get the right shade of “nude.”

Research shows the over 40 demo is interested in retaining their looks and maintaining good health, as well.

Eighty-seven percent of women say they actively seek beauty information with 91% saying that they trust word of mouth when it comes to beauty products and treatments—something brands should consider when targeting 40+ women via social media channels.

Still, when I look at ads that are supposedly targeting me and my over 40 peers—and I’m using ads to make my point on purpose because this is an advertising conference—I don’t see myself at all.

Do you?

Side note: what does that funeral ad even mean? I’m supposed to trust someone who is true to her word…most of the time?

And if we look to Hollywood for examples, it’s even worse.

Women over 40—the way I see myself and my peers—are invisible.

There are three distinct “age types” for women in Hollywood:

  1. Sexy love interest
  2. The tough-as-nails district attorney (maybe she’s a mom, too—but probably a single mom)
  3. Driving Miss Daisy

As I mentioned before, the fact that millennials still think we are out-of-touch, technologically inept, and about to keel over at any moment concerns me, and—as ad folks—it should concern you.

Psychographically, 20-50-year-olds are closer together than ever before.

Chronological age is becoming less and less of a measure by which to segment audiences.

Different generations can and do enjoy similar interests and pastimes.

You know who understands this? AARP.

When I look at these covers—for a magazine targeting the over 50 set—I actually see myself.

Why?

I will put money on the fact that they have 40-50+-year-old people—LIKE ME—making creative decisions.

AARP features my interest, not my age: hip-hop, Brad Pitt being praised for laying the smack down on Harvey Weinstein, and my idol Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida at age 64, about which she said:

Endurance is not a young person’s game. I thought I might even be better at 60 than I was at 30. You have a body that’s almost as strong, but you have a much better mind.

So, where am I going with all of this? As I mentioned, my personal mission since I turned 40 is to challenge assumptions on what it means to be 40+ both in my personal life and in my work life.

It’s not just a hiring issue.

We all know age discrimination is illegal.

But as we’ve just seen, if we are over 40 at work, we are invisible to millennials. We have no interests or hobbies or valid opinions.

I live in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, and as a friend recently told me, “I fully expect to be pushed out of tech world due to ageism in, say 5-7 years.” She went on to say, “People are just generally liked better and given more opportunities if they happen to be young bros.”

Up until recently, ads for the 40s-and-beyond market were geared towards things like retirement planning, pharmaceuticals, and selecting your senior living accommodations.

Fortunately, times have changed, and I find I’m being targeted more on my interests rather than my age.

My favorite social channel is Instagram, and I am a sucker for shoppable content featuring workout gear, beauty products, and fashion. Whatever Beyonce is currently doing on IG, I’m adding it all to my cart.

Brands have woken up to the fact that women like me aren’t sitting around waiting for life to happen, we are living life like we don’t have time to waste. Because we don’t!

So, yes. My friends and I are paying attention to what’s happening online. We are connecting with friends, planning events, consuming content, shopping. But we’re also indulging in past passions and hobbies. Or, more accurately we never stopped indulging.

I have been taking hip-hop classes since I was 15 years old and still take 2-3 hip-hop classes a week. Why would I stop? We’re still going to concerts, festivals, gigs and comedy shows.

My friend Briya sums it up like this: “I’m 45, and I realize that being in my 40’s is lit. I can come and go as I please, my kids are adults, and I’m finally getting to do things that I couldn’t in my 20’s because in my 20’s I had energy but no time or money, and in my 40’s I have BOTH. Woo!”

Why should agencies be bringing people with a 40+ perspective, not only into the workforce but also recognizing the immense value they can bring to projects and teams?

We can draw parallels from a recent ad disaster.

Who remembers the Pepsi commercial?

What was the first thing you asked yourself when you saw this?

Who approved this? Were any people of color a part of the team?

This is what happens when your creative team lacks diversity. The same goes for gender and age diversity, as well.

When you have age diversity in your creative teams, it makes complete sense to tap this adorably stylish 60+-year-old woman to feature in a round-up of Fenty beauty products, as Buzzfeed recently did.

It’s Friday afternoon. You get a quick-turn RFP request from a travel adventure company or a luxury beauty brand or an auto manufacturer who wants to target the 40+ demographic. Is this the team you put together to get that RFP out the door? Are you winning this business? Anyone see any issues with this? I want to stress: that’s not to say that millennials can’t understand today’s GenX psychographics.

My point is: see the value that diversity—different experiences and perspectives—brings to any collaboration, especially creative ones. Hopefully, we can avoid Pepsi-level mistakes.

What changes can we make to open more employment opportunities for older women? Let’s be clear that ageism and an overemphasis on youth culture in our country are deeply ingrained. Nonetheless, we can bring about change by not buying into the myth that some women are too old to do certain jobs or learn new skills.

We can make friends of all ages and point out age bias when we see it. Most importantly, though, we need to join forces and speak up about the issue of ageism. We need to challenge the assumptions about older women as workers and hire older women when we are managers.

To quote Kat Gordon, “Agencies or individuals that are bored with diversity are approaching it entirely wrong. If it feels like an act of forced compliance, then you are actually not bored, you’re angry at how it’s being implemented inside your agency. Are you bored of colors or flavors or music or air? Of course not. The lifeblood of an agency is the mashup of creative perspectives resulting in something fresh and original. That’s true diversity, and it is many things, but never ever boring.”

I’ll add one more piece of advice from Elisa Camahort Page: If you are committed to diversity (in all aspects) but don’t know how to go about it: SEEK HELP.

Going back to the initial slide, when I ask my friends now how they feel in their 40s.

Their responses:

Reclaiming my time.

Fuck yes.

Not here for it (presumptions and assumptions).

Not afraid to fail—we’ve done it so many times.

We like to keep people on their toes.

We like to challenge the notion of what it means to be over 40. I hope I’ve made you think differently today.

 

About The 3% Movement

With a rally cry of Diversity = Creativity = Profitability, the 3% Movement is an organization established by Kat Gordon with the mission to raise the dangerously low number of female Creative Directors in America—3%—and the even lower representation of people of color. Conference attendees took to Twitter to share their reactions to Stefania’s open and powerful presentation.

 


Photos used in this presentation:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35

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