Interview: The Media Brand Changing The Age Conversation
Before his talk at CXI 2018, Ageist's David Stewart describes why the site, dedicated to an aspirational view of people over 50, appeals to readers of all ages
While we generally view increasing longevity in a population as a positive trait, changing demographics have brought about a cultural shift that few companies have adapted to: there are many more people who can and want to work into older age. But their interests and creative pursuits continue to be marginalized by traditional outlets.
Ageist is an online publication that aims to break down this age-based prejudice by showcasing inspirational people over 50 who are making waves in their professions. Before joining us as a speaker at our CXI 2018 conference on May 18, the site’s founder and creative director David Stewart followed up on his previous conversation with PSFK founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes to discuss how Ageist’s content aims to inspire people of all generations.
David Stewart: We’re well aware that longevity is increasing and the global population as a whole is aging. People are going to want to stay in the workforce longer than they have in the past. The giant impediment to harmonizing an increasing lifespan with working life is this “anti-age” culture that we’ve created.
Piers Fawkes: Can you tell me a little bit about Ageist?
At Ageist, we don’t talk about ageism as such. What we do is present an aspirational view of people who are over 50. To do that, we’re very careful about the verbiage we use. We feel that so much of the language around people our age is loaded, and not very effective or productive. It has to do with medicalization and infantilization—seeing getting older as a liability. The next thing we did is change the visual vernacular by making the people we photograph feel powerful and aspirational, like they’re at the peak of their lives, rather than how they’re often presented in the media as a problem that needs to be fixed.
So you’re taking what is considered possibly a boring sector and rethinking it.
I will say almost half of our readers are younger than 45. One of the first things we want to do is explode the myth that if you want to attract a 25-year-old audience, you have to show another 25-year-old, and if you want to attract the business of a 50-year-old, you need to show a 50-year-old. The readership of Ageist demonstrates that this just isn’t true. If you’re telling compelling, aspirational stories, it works up and down the age column. One of the massive mistakes that’s made in communication is the breaking up of the demographic, this slicing and dicing into very specific groups.
That sounds a little bit ironic—in some ways you have created an age group-focused media company, yet you’re proving that there could be an end to age-based delineations.
There is a tremendous dearth of role models out there over a certain age. Everybody comes up with the same two or three people. What we’re finding is that people in our age group need role models and north stars, but the same is true of people who are younger. We show people who are in their 20s and 30s that this is actually great. That appeals to them.
It has to do with the specificity of communication within this group—it tends to be generic because the demographic is so split along educational, health, income and most importantly, the value that they ascribe to: How do they see themselves in the future?
How long do they think they’re going to live? What do they want to accomplish in the next 50 years of life? It’s a very fragmented demographic, so people trying to communicate with this group will say, “All right. We’ve got a product or a service and we want to sell this to 55-year-olds. Therefore, we need a generic 55-year-old.” What you end up with is something that doesn’t appeal to anyone.
We get into the specifics of it. This is a specific person. This is specifically what they’re interested in. This is exactly how they got to where they’re going, and these are the mistakes they’ve made in the past. This messaging seems to appeal up and down the age column.
Lead Image: David Stewart. Photo by Rainer Hosch