Speedo guy and racing Rosanna: images of older people in British advertising

Virpi Ylänne, Angie Williams

Cardiff University, UK

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

This paper reports findings from a study which forms part of a larger project on representations and perceptions of older people and old age in British advertising. Based on a sample of 260 UK print media advertisements depicting older people, published between 1999-2004, a typology of images was devised. This typology draws from earlier work on stereotypes and attitudes towards older people (e.g. Schmidt & Boland, 1986; Hummert et al, 1994) and applies it to an advertising context. Our analysis uses visual semantic notions, as well as discourse analysis, looking at both the visual and the textual elements of the advertisements. The next stage of the study examined the extent to which the typology holds true for readers/consumers of various ages. In this audience research, a magazine advertisement sorting task was carried out by adult volunteers of various ages. Focus group discussions were held to explore participants’ reactions to these advertisements. In those, participants of different ages position themselves vis-a-vis the images presented by either distancing or associating themselves with the images. Issues of age identity and contemporary stereotypes of old age play a part in people’s discursively expressed likes and dislikes of different advertisements in these discussions.

The findings from this study challenge the widely held notions that elderly people are routinely denigrated in the media, and evidences heterogeneity of such images in advertising. Yet, older people seem to appear in adverts for specific purposes and effects which at times challenge and at other times perpetuate ageist notions. These may be understood differently by people of different ages.


Hummert, M. L., Garstka, T. A., Shaner, J. L., & Strahm, S. (1994). Stereotypes of the elderly held by young, middle-aged, and elderly adults. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 49, 240-249.

Schmidt, D. F., & Boland, S. M. (1986). The structure of impressions of older adults: Evidence for multiple stereotypes. Psychology and Aging, 1, 255-260.

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