Pursuing appropriate lifestyles – ideological interpretations of texts in over 50s life insurance TV advertisements in the UK

Chin-Hui (Irene) Chen

Centre for Language and Communication, Cardiff University, UK

WS171: Age, image, identity: Exploring ageing and ageism in contemporary Britain

Advertising, influenced by consumer culture in postmodern era (Featherstone 1991), does not only sell values related to products, but it also transmits ideological expectations to its target audiences. Under the notion of consumer culture, it is suggested that everyone, young and old, is encouraged to pursue options to live in self-expressive, enjoyable and adventurous kind of lifestyles (ibid. p86). As the grey market gains an increasing importance in this ageing world, such observation might be intertwined in the discursive designs of texts in advertising targeting older people and, as a result, a ‘golden-ager’ type of stereotype is reinforced.

A corpus of British television advertisements of over 50s life insurance plans (1999-2007) forms the data for this paper. A particular attention is paid to how the impact of consumer culture is evident in the advertising texts and how it redefines the meaning of ageing in such commercialized contexts. A number of youth-oriented notions are addressed and naturalized as a means of enabling older people to transcend age restrictions to a more promising future life. The concept of “timelessness” (Katz, 1995), for instance, is observed, in which the status of “second childhood” is overtly resisted and older people being free from “chronological bonds” is also encouraged. The promoted meaning of old age seems to be in line with the observation of the “deconstruction of lifecousre” (Featherstone and Hepworth 1989) in contemporary western society. Apparently, in addition to “looking young” (Coupland, 2007), acting “young at heart” is also highlighted in advertising as another important life project to manage for older people.

A critical pragmatic perspective is adopted in this study for examining the presupposed cultural values embedded in the media content (c.f. Coupland, 2007) It is hoped that this analysis could bring more insights into how positive ageing images are commodified.


Coupland, J. (2007) Gendered discourses on the ‘problem’ of ageing: consumerized solutions. Discourse & Communication, 1(1), 37-61.

Featherstone, M. (1991) Consumer Culture & Postmodernism. London: Sage.

Featherstone, M and Hepworth, M. (1989) Ageing and old age: reflections on the postmodern life course. In Bytheway, B., Keil, T., Patricia, a. and Bryman, A. (eds.) Becoming and being old – Sociological Approaches to Later Life. London: Sage, 143-57.

Katz, S. (1995) Imaging the life-span : from premodern miracles to postmodern fantasies. In Featherstone, M. and Wernick, A. (eds.) Images of Ageing: Cultural Representations of Later Life. London: Routledge, 135-48.

Session: Workshop
Age, image, identity: Exploring ageing and ageism in contemporary Britain
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 02