Feminism in Boardwalk Empire Research Log

Research Log

For my article i wanted to look at how women are shown in the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire as it is set at a time when women were perhaps not portrayed as equal as men were. I wanted to look at how the examples i find of feminism in this TV show can link to the power balance between men and women in a relationship we see today and how to relationship between men and women in this era may be exaggerated so i will be analysing the show through the eyes of a feminist. Below is the title i came up with for the article i am to write which clearly suggests the topics i will be looking at.

“What does the portrayal of women in Boardwalk Empire say about the power balance between men and women in a relationship”

Boardwalk Empire

America in 1920: The Great War was over, Wall Street was about to boom and everything was for sale, even the World Series.

It was a time of change when women got the vote, broadcast radio began and young people ruled the world. From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of The Sopranos and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire is set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States.

On the beach in southern New Jersey sat Atlantic City, a spectacular resort known as The Worlds Playground, a place where the rules didnt apply. Massive hotels lined its famous Boardwalk, which featured nightclubs, amusement piers and entertainment that rivalled Broadway. For a few dollars, a working man could get away and live like a king legally or illegally.

The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City was the towns treasurer, Enoch Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a political fixer and backroom dealer who was equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role. Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, the town was a hub of activity for rum-runners, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a days drive from Chicago. And Nucky Thompson took full advantage.

Along with his brother Elias (Shea Whigham), the towns sheriff, and a crew of ward bosses and local thugs, Nucky carved out a niche for himself as the man to see for any illegal alcohol. He was an equal-opportunity gangster, doing business with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

As Boardwalk Empire begins, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Nuckys former protg and driver, returns home from the Great War, eager to get ahead and reclaim his rightful place in Nuckys organization. But when Jimmy feels things arent moving quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands, forming a deadly alliance with associates of Nuckys that sets the Feds, led by Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), on his mentors tail. Complicating matters further is Nuckys burgeoning relationship with Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) a woman in an abusive marriage whom he tries to help.

Season Two begins in January 1921, and sees Nucky’s rule of Atlantic City come under threat as a group of disgruntled former allies plot a coup to remove him from power.  This betrayal brings havoc to Atlantic City as deals are made with notorious criminals and much blood is shed as the balance of power is upset.

A relative calm is restored to the boardwalk in Season Three, as many of our heroes are forced to deal with the bloody aftermath of the attempt to oust Nucky as Governor. A new crime boss, Gyp Rosetti arrives on the scene and causes problems for Nucky’s business affairs and Eli struggles to cope with his new role in the political world of Atlantic City.  

The Feminism and Anti-Racism of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ 

Boardwalk Empire returned for its fourth season on Sunday, Sept. 8. This season is poised to continue important representation of struggles involving gender and race in the award-winning show, which is aesthetically gorgeous and well-written.The few, but incredibly important, female characters on Boardwalk Empire arefascinatingI wrote last year about the remarkable story lines in season 3 that focused on birth control and reproductive rights. Boardwalk Empire has alwayskept a keen eye on women’s issues–from suffrage to health care.

Season 4 is set up to be more of the same–long-form debauchery and violence with moments of poignant sub-plots featuring the female characters. Gillian is slipping deeper into a heroin addiction, and is selling herself instead of selling her house. Cora escapes a violent bedroom scene (which we will revisit in a moment). A young actress attempts to take Billie’s place in Nucky’s life for her own gain, but he rejects her. Richard has traveled to reunite with his twin sister, Emma, on her farm.

As often is the case in these seemingly masculine dramas, women are essential to the plot, even if they often aren’t the focus of most reviewers, or even the bulk of the action. Nucky is king, Al Capone is pulling strings, and Chalky is set to be a power player.

Drink, talk, shoot, repeat.

But those moments that the women of Boardwalk Empire are on screen are among the best of each episode. Their parts are small. Their scenes are brief. But each is meaningful and powerful. The women characters are complex–evil, moral, conflicted, good mothers, bad mothers, addicts and everything in between. They are three-dimensional. This is a good thing.

The female-centric subplots in Boardwalk Empire are treasures buried in a pile of empty whiskey bottles. Most reviewers, however, focus on the men. Hollywood Life only mentions the male characters (except for the mention of Nucky getting smarter about women). The Huffington Post mentions Gillian briefly and Cora (but not by her name). Rolling Stone does do a better job of fully describing and summarizing the episode.

The fact that critics often ignore or reduce women characters isn’t surprising, although it’s always frustrating. What’s horrifying, however, are a few critics’ responses to the aforementioned violent sex scene.

Just like Boardwalk Empire has woven in subplots of women’s struggles, it has also presented the endemic racial tension in Nucky’s world in a way that makes viewers uncomfortable (especially since our culture is still so steeped in racism). Not everyone seems to get this, though.

From left, Dickey, Cora, Dunn and Chalky.

At Chalky’s new club, he sits watching the new talent with his right-hand man, Dunn, and a white talent agent, Dickey, and his girlfriend, Cora. Cora sketches an erotic drawing of her and Dunn, and asks him to come upstairs. The two start having sex, and Dickey makes himself known in the room as he draws a gun against Dunn. Dunn scrambles to put on his pants, and Cora immediately says he had forced her. This is all a game, though, for Dickey and Cora. Dickey forces Dunn to resume having sex with Cora, and all the while Dickey is throwing racial epithets, heavily peppering his slurs with the N-word and claims about how black men behave.

Dickey starts masturbating. “It’s all just some fun,” Cora says with a smile.

Then Dickey says, “There’s no changing you people.” With this, Dunn breaks a bottle over Dickey’s head and proceeds to stab him repeatedly and viciously. We are surprisingly comfortable with this outcome of the scene, because Dunn’s humiliation and objectification is so visceral, as is the racism. This scene is indicative of not only the racism and degradation of black Americans at the time (echoed by Nucky’s almost-mistress who says the Onyx Girls are “deliciously primitive”), but also the demand that they perform as objects for whites’ entertainment and sexual purposes, without agency. The power that Dickey wields over Dunn–his whiteness, his gun, his hand down his pants–is nauseating and historically accurate. This scene is about racism. This scene is about power, humiliation and resistance when one is caught up against a wall of disgusting degradation.

However, the aforementioned reviewers had a different reading of this scene.

From Hollywood Life:

“…Chalky finds out that being the boss requires a lot of cleanup. Like when after his sidekick Dunn Purnsley (Erik LaRay Harvey), in the most awkwardly violent scene of the episode, murders a booking agent after the guy catches him sleeping with his wife — and then forces Dunn to continue while he watches. Boardwalk Empire, ladies and gentlemen!”

Certainly a brief show recap isn’t always the place for heavy cultural analysis, but to brush off the scene with such flippant commentary? Privilege, ladies and gentlemen!
Not to be topped, the Huffington Post saw Dunn’s actions as self-defense:

“So Dunn did what he had to do, smashing the guy’s head with a liquor bottle to get himself out of danger. And then he went the extra murderous mile, repeatedly stabbing the guy in the throat with the broken bottle, because it’s Boardwalk Empire.”

Are you kidding me? Dunn murdering Dickey had nothing to do with him being in danger. It had everything to do with him being degraded and humiliated.

Rolling Stone acknowledges Dunn’s true motivations, but still misses the mark:

“He may have moved up the ranks from jail antagonist to kitchen worker to Chalky’s right-hand man, but Dunn doesn’t know shit about doing business, especially with white folks in 1924. I can’t blame him for pounding a broken bottle into Dickey’s face repeatedly – not only was he forced to have sex with Cora at gunpoint, but Dickey degraded him even further with regular use of the n-word and vicious taunts like, ‘There’s no changing you people.’ Except Chalky knows that you can’t go around killing Cotton Club employees (Cora manages to escape) just for ’15 minutes’ worth of jelly.’”

Yes, perhaps Chalky knows how to do business with white folks, but his “jelly” comment is inaccurate–that’s not what Dunn killed for. Except for killing Dickey (which even this reviewer acknowledges a motivation for), Dunn didn’t really do anything wrong.

And perhaps most egregious, buried in an approximately 2.5-million-word recap from New Jersey:

“‘It’s all just some fun,’ the wife assures. Not to Purnsley who, after they begin the humiliating deed, blasts a whiskey bottle clear across Dickie’s face. It’s doesn’t just stop there, however, the beating continues until the booking agent is dead and his wife, in horror, escapes through the window, naked. Purnsley stands there a bloody mess.”

There are some pretty pertinent details missing here. In this review, Dunn seems to be painted as a savage villain, lashing out for no clear reason. That’s not what happens.

Reviewers saw Dunn acting in self-defense (which further reduces his perceived power), not understanding how to do business with white people (blaming his sexuality and ignorance), or lashing out in savage violence without clear motivation.

Reviewers ignore the implications of racism.

Reviewers sideline female characters.

Reviewers do this because too frequently, the lens they are looking through is of the white male experience. This is privilege.

Even when the artifact itself deals with gender and race in a way designed to challenge viewers, reviewers often overlook it. I was uncomfortable, horrified and excited during the premier of Boardwalk Empire this season. I continue to see complex female characters and pointed commentary on racism.

Sally, Margaret and Gillian.

I’m disappointed, then (and even horrified), when critics ignore these aspects, or get them terribly wrong. Their recaps and analyses help shape the conversations surrounding these shows, and if they just focus on those smoke-filled rooms and the power brokers, without fully paying attention to the other characters, they are insulting women, people of color and those who work so hard to write about and represent them.

However, if we can look past the critics, there is much to be excited for in season 4. Still to come this season, Patricia Arquette will play a speakeasy owner andJeffrey Wright will play a Harlem gangster who is seeped in the politics of the Harlem Renaissance. These moments that have made Boardwalk Empireexceptional–the moments of clear gender and racial historical context and commentary–are poised to take center stage in season 4. Hopefully we can all look through the clouds of white male smoke to see what lies ahead.


Boardwalk Empire’s Lady Problem


So, last night’s Boardwalk Empire was pretty great! Seven episodes in and the show is blossoming, the story developing, the characters becoming more nuanced, more interesting. This week we learned about Nucky’s (Steve Buscemi) not-so-great childhood, Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) continued to map the limits of her special relationship, Jimmy (Michael Pitt) took further steps toward becoming a full, frightening bad guy, and we were introduced to a psychologically rich, heartbreaking character who had half of his face blown off during the war. It’s in the context of this — the series’ now established ability to create compelling characters with deep psyches — that we have to call bullshit on one of the show’s now established tendencies: to use the female characters not named Margaret Schroeder as little more than purveyors of the tits, ass, and, in last night’s episode, hot lesbian action HBO feels contractually obligated to provide its viewing audience.

Last night, it was revealed that Angela (Aleksa Palladino), Jimmy’s baby mama, is having sex with a woman. Previously, it had been intimated that she was having sex with said woman’s husband, but nope! Angela is actually in the throes of a Sapphic affair, rendered in golden light, with half-opened robes and much protracted nudity. We’d be more optimistic about this as an interesting character development if, up until now, the character had been interesting. Prior to this, Angela’s been accorded little solo screen time. Mostly, we know that she’s unsettled by Jimmy’s postwar personality but is willing to go down on him anyway, and that she’s not really keen to abandon her toddler son to be raised by his stripper grandma.

Sure, Boardwalk is taking place in a different time, when women were more likely to be thought of as sex object or mothers than equals — but so does Mad Men, and even Betty Draper’s a model of the well-rounded character compared to these chicks. Furthermore, Boardwalk is taking place as women are about to get the right to vote, a historical moment the show has written about. Yet, somehow, this looming event only affects the life of Margaret Schroeder, the show’s one well-developed female character. The other three women are stuck without the vote, just naked plot devices.

This leaves Jimmy’s mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol), who has flitted in and out of this season, trailing suggestive relationships with both her son and Nucky behind her. Mostly, however, she has appeared servicing Lucky Luciano and his formerly malfunctioning penis. Despite services rendered, he still calls her a “slash” in public. Gillian, like Angela and Lucy, is another underdeveloped character with an overdeveloped sex life.

Sure, Boardwalk is taking place in a different time, when women were more likely to be thought of as sex object or mothers than equals — but so does Mad Men, and even Betty Draper’s a model of the well-rounded character compared to these chicks. Furthermore, Boardwalk is taking place as women are about to get the right to vote, a historical moment the show has written about. Yet, somehow, this looming event only affects the life of Margaret Schroeder, the show’s one well-developed female character. The other three women are stuck without the vote, just naked plot devices.

In the first episode of the series, Nucky and his crew arrive at a working funeral home to inspect the distillery hidden underneath. A mortician is readying a body for burial: It’s a completely naked woman, with autopsy scars and a bouffant of pubic hair. Creepy goofball Mickey Doyle, who has since proven to be a distasteful, sneering moron of the highest order, leeringly points her out. Nucky and Jimmy, our heroes and protagonists, are unimpressed, too mature and worldly to get cheap thrills off a naked body. Maybe in the second half of its first season, Boardwalk Empire will remember to follow their lead.


Boardwalk Manpire

Warning: This post is filled with spoiler alerts for Boardwalk Empire. I tried to avoid them but it was impossible.

Boardwalk Empire is an HBO series based on the bootleggers during the prohibition in Atlantic City. It is written, produced, and often directed by The Sopranos producer/writer Terence Winter, stars ex-Sopranos actor Steve Buscemi, and is produced by Martin Scorsese. When these three men join forces to create a gangster series two things are guaranteed: the show will be brilliant and visually stunning and that the audience will not have to search hard to find sexist tendencies upheld. When I first began this blog I simply started writing all the sexist stereotypes I saw, but considering that this show has already logged 30+ hours of screen time the list became quite exhaustive. Through further analysis I have noticed that the ever apparent sexism can be simplified down to typical Freudian ideals exemplified by the fulfillment of the Oedipus complex, the Victorian virgin-whore dichotomy, as well as a strong case of penis-envy.


In Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique she points out how Freud supports the classical Victorian view of women(1) and Harry Bensoff’s paper(2) points out that the Victorian view of women includes the virgin-whore complex which is easily noticed in Boardwalk Empire. Perhaps the easiest character to fit into a stereotype is Lucy, as the quintessential whore. Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson runs the whole city politically and financially as a Republican political boss. To begin the series, Lucy is Nucky’s girlfriend . She is constantly the most provocatively dressed woman on the show (see above image), she is sexually agressive, and has no other role than to solidify Nucky’s role of masculine power by being a concrete sign of his own sexual endeavors. Nucky only introduces her at private parties and never during his public events. If Lucy ever attempts to speak to Nucky about anything substantial he deflects the conversation or ignores her altogether. Nucky leaves Lucy altogether when she takes her sexuality too far and scratches his chest. After Nucky, Lucy sleeps with a prohibition agent Nelson and becomes pregnant. Her pregnancy with Nelson does not reveal anything about her character (except that she is depressed when she cannot be drinking and sleeping around) but the interaction exists purely to develop the character of Nelson as Lucy’s pregnancy marks the beginning of a dramatic character shift. While one could argue that Lucy’s character is representative of a more sexist 1920’s, the fact that her only role in regards to character development and plot progression is to make for more dynamic male characters shows that the present day filmmakers are upholding sexist tendencies. In simpler terms, Lucy could portray the 1920 whore while still playing an important role in the show, but she doesn’t.


Margaret Schroeder is the main female role in the show and really the only female character that is arguably transgressive. She is introduced as the Irish Catholic, housewife, Victorian “virgin” stereotype. She is married to an abusive alcoholic husband, dresses in very modest clothing (see above image), and has no visual sexual life whatsoever. Her husband is killed and she is taken in by Nucky. As her relationship with Nucky grows she gains a personal voice and power in the plot. She becomes overridden with guilt as she becomes involved with such an immoral man. Her guilt is first exposed in this scene with her priest:

She expands her virgin stereotype to become a religious zealot and lowers her own standards to those of the greedy bootleggers that surround her. This leads her to become distant if not disliked by many of her formal friends. This show celebrates men who disregard morals to support their alcohol sales/rise to political power but as soon a women takes part in semi-ganster activities to support her church and other benevolent causes (such as a prenatal center in the hospital) she is ostracized by both her fellow characters and the audience.

Outside of the Lucy-Margaret, virgin-whore complex Freudian sexism comes to light in the form of the Oedipus complex played out by Nucky’s right hand man Jimmy. The Oedipus complex can be summed up by saying every child has the inner desire to kill their father and sleep with their mother. Jimmy doesn’t fulfill the Oedipus complex is some metaphorical way; he LITERALLY kills his father and sleeps with his mother. While Freud presents this complex as applicable to both sexes, it really is male centered. The character of Oedipus was a male and the entire theory rests on the age old father-son competition. A main opponent of Freud was Carl Jung and he recognized the fact that the Oedipus complex was too male centered so he developed the Electra complex, which is the female counterpart of the Oedipus complex (3). So Jimmy fulfills the perfect Freudian man as he adheres to his unconscious desires. Although this didn’t prove to be helpful to Jimmy’s character the exploration of the Oedipus complex shows how Boardwalk Empire is entirely male-centered.

Another way the Oedipus complex can be seen as sexist is by looking at Freud’s proposed mechanism for coping with our unconscious desires; men develop castration anxiety and women develop penis envy. It does not take a psychology expert to understand how that phallic centered viewpoint does not bode well for feminine expression. There is a case of penis envy in the show as well by the female character Gillian. It is first introduced in this clip:

It is then supported (more metaphorically) throughout the season as Gillian constantly battles for the power that the men have over the city. She is sexually expressive as a female but she still desperately craves the authority that comes with being a man in this era.

It is very difficult to understand feminine role in Boardwalk empire because it is a modern day show set in a more sexist society and it falls into the gangster genre which is historically male dominated. It is up to every viewer to decide how much of this sexism is by design and how much comes through subconsciously from the filmmakers. I believe that through the scope of Freudian psychology it can be understood that the show is entirely male centered and the opportunities for women to grow into favorable, powerful roles are shut down by the filmmakers just as quickly as the women would be shut down in the 1920s. And by doing research into the full cast it can be seen that 2/20 credited producers, 0/4 cinematographers, 0/4 art and production designers, and 2/9 writers are women(4) it is tough to argue that the filmmakers are paying particular attention to the role of women.

-Max Jacobs


Business Case studies


Management Structure

How they get income

How they demonstrate the necessary skills  required to run a small business

How the business obtains, maintains and deploys its resources

Capitalism and Marxism


A way of producing the needs for society based on private ownership. Examples of this include food, water, energy, homes, transport and education.

Bourgeoisie – people who own the means of production. Factory owners, own the Labour etc Buy the labour off the proletariat to create products they sell off the market and try to extract as much as possible for the lowest price.

Proletariat – people who sell their labour for a living. The Workers. Sell labour to the bourgeoisie creating products for them to sell for profit. Its their interests to avoid being exploited by the bourgeoisie and their pursuit of higher profits.

The Communist Manifesto – Too much exploration, history of all societies is a history of class struggle.

Ideology – Marxists believes that if the any media reflects, reproduces and promotes the values of the class that owns and controls the media

interpellation – so ingrained into the system you don’t realise the consumption of class.

What does a marxist critic do?

Showing differences between classes, Point out “false consciousness”, Promoting “Hard Work”, highlighting the struggle to pay bills, Religion is the opiate of the masses” distraction from the class struggle point out promotion of religious devotion, highlighting exploitation of workers, How money effects family life.

Factual Programming Research Log

Marketing to older customers

Marketing to older consumers

Marketing to older people — the very phrase can quickly conjure up clichéd images of retired couples strolling on the beach. And yet this huge and lucrative market is no niche — it encompasses consumers from all walks of life who just happen to be over a certain age. Rachel Miller investigates

“For individuals, old age is a relative concept,” says Mark Beasley, managing director of RHC Advantage, the UK’s only independent marketing agency to specialise in mature audiences.

Businesses need to make sure that they are targeting their products and services at all ages, including the over 50s. But older in years does not mean “old” in outlook.

“Nowadays, dads of 45 are wearing jeans, and they are not even dad jeans, they are trendy jeans and they’ve got trendy shoes on too,” adds Beasley.

Marketing to older customers: the savvy baby-boomers

Today’s 45-65 year-olds are the so-called ‘baby-boomers’ who have grown up with marketing and advertising and who have profited from social mobility, rising property values and decent employment pensions. Many of them are relatively well off but don’t fit a stereotype.

In fact, many businesses ignore this age group on the basis that they want to catch their customers young and try to keep them for life. The perceived wisdom is that older people are unlikely to switch brand allegiance.

But this is quite wrong, argues Beasley. “First, it ignores the commercial potential of older age groups and second, it makes the blanket assumption that ‘advertising does not work’ for older consumers.”

Older customers represent huge potential

There’s no doubt that older people form a massive customer base. Given that there are currently more adults in the UK over 45 than under, the over-50s represent a huge market for businesses.

“Anyone who is foolish enough to devise and operate a campaign which ignores almost half of the adult population is likely to have an ill-conceived campaign on their hands,” stresses Beasley.

But what’s needed is the right sort of advertising. Research by direct marketing agency Millennium in 2008 found that 55% of over-50s believe that advertising treats them in a patronising manner. Businesses should also make sure their activities are lawful under theEquality Act 2010, advises Beasley.

Marketing to older audiences

When it comes to addressing the needs of this market, businesses often fall back on clichés. “Older people are not a single segment,” Beasley points out. “This market is too large, too diverse and too complex. The other mistake that businesses make is in believing that there is something different about older people.

“Older people don’t behave any differently from anyone else,” he adds. For example, it’s a mistake, he says, to think that older people are more set in their ways. They are just as likely as anyone to switch brands and suppliers if their needs aren’t being met. Neither are they more inclined to respond to discounting than anyone else.

As this is a group of experienced consumers, how do you market to older customers? It’s all about inclusivity — and not stereotyping. “Inclusivity means not excluding older people, rather than actively targeting them,” concludes Beasley. “For instance, some brands seem to go out of their way to appeal to younger people, even though older people are also potential customers.”


Over 60 and overlooked

Everyone knows the world is ageing. So why is business doing so little about it?

IN THE next few decades, the “baby boomers”, the large generation born in the 1950s and 1960s, will grow old. As they do, their sheer numbers and their different attitude to age will create new markets in the world’s rich countries. Yet business remains largely obsessed with youth. Many companies seem blind to the fact that their customers are greying. Some have started, with uneven success, to market and advertise to an older population and to design products and services that meet its special needs. Few, though, see the elderly as an exciting group to sell to.

In industrialised countries, the over-60s already account for 20% of the population—compared with less than 12% in 1950. By 2050 that proportion is expected to rise, on average, to a third, reaching over two-fifths in Japan (see chart 1). However, companies still spend 95% of their marketing and advertising budgets on the under-50s. Many businesses have not yet shed the outdated view that the mature market is made up of stingy old-timers set in their ways. Unless you are in the business of prescription drugs or retirement homes, the argument goes, why bother?

One good reason is that the old are wealthier and healthier than ever, and the self-indulgent baby-boomer generation in particular is determined to enjoy itself to the end (see chart 2). According to the United States Census Bureau, the poverty rate among Americans over 65 has dropped from 35% in 1960 to 10.2% today, compared with a fall from 22% to 11.3% for the population as a whole. Senioragency International, a consultancy specialising in marketing to the elderly, says that the over-50s own three-quarters of all financial assets and account for half of all discretionary spending power in developed countries. Over two-thirds of them own their own homes, three-quarters of which are unencumbered by a mortgage. In America, they control four-fifths of the money invested in savings-and-loan associations and own two-thirds of all the shares on the stockmarket.

Not only are the elderly wealthier, they are also healthier and have more time to spend their money. A few decades ago, most people had only a few years to live by the time they retired. Most workers retiring today can look forward to 15-20 years of free time and, thanks to medical advances and healthier living, remain active for most of it.

Free time and health, combined with relative financial comfort and a greater readiness for self-indulgence, are creating a mature market eager to consume and explore. Over the past two decades, consumption by the over-50s in Europe has increased three times as fast as that by the rest of the population. In industrialised countries, people over 50 buy about half of all new cars and have a weakness for the top end of the range. Even Harley Davidson, the maker of the legendary motorbike, cannot escape the age wave. Long gone are the days of young easy riders: the average age of its customers today is 52.

A marketing challenge

Getting to know long-ignored older customers, however, is hard work for marketing youngsters who are used to lumping all people over the age of 60 into a grey basket of frailty, tweed and stinginess. Advertising’s creative types, the people who dream up commercials, are considered ancient by the time they are 35. Finding the right way to communicate with an older audience is a challenge for them.

Many advertisements still caricature older people in order to make younger audiences laugh—as in the soft-drinks advertisement that portrays an adolescent using his grandfather’s trembling hand to shake his can. Yet the over-50s make up the largest share of TV audiences, spending 30-40% more time in front of their boxes than the rest of the population.

Jean-Paul Tréguer, the French founder of Senioragency International and author of “50+ Marketing” (Palgrave, 2002), says that not so long ago European company executives would laugh when he tried to convince them that they should pay more attention to older consumers. Now, he says, everybody is talking about them, but no one knows what to do.

America is a few years ahead and has developed a better understanding of the nuances of marketing to the old. The Centre for Mature Consumer Studies at Georgia State University, for example, segments the elderly into four groups—“healthy hermits”, “ailing outgoers”, “healthy indulgers” and “frail reclusives”.

Ken Dychtwald, author of “Age Power: How the 21st Century will be Ruled by the New Old” (Putnam, 1999), prefers to segment them according to stages in their life—tracking people as they become, for example, empty-nesters and grandparents, or (sometimes) single again. Travel companies such as Grandtravel and FamilyHostel have followed that road with packages for older travellers and their grandchildren.

Better segmentation, however, does not mean that marketing departments always get it right. When Gerber, a maker of baby food, realised that many older consumers with dental and stomach problems were buying its products for their own use, it decided to launch a line of similar food called Senior Citizen. Ageing shoppers, however, had no appetite for showing up at the cash register with purees designed for the elderly, and the product was withdrawn.

The most successful advertising campaigns targeted at mature consumers focus instead on active and healthy lifestyles and introduce positive role models. Rejuvenated patients cycling with their grandchildren or practising tai chi are far more effective than the stereotype of a frail arthritis sufferer.

Even the youth-obsessed cosmetics industry—Lancome once ditched Isabella Rossellini as its model because she was considered too old at 42—is getting better at portraying women over 50. Since such women make up more than half the market for face cream in developed countries, that is a wise move. Last year L’Oreal recruited the then 57-year-old French actress Catherine Deneuve to promote its hair-care products, while Estée Lauder asked Karen Graham, its star model in the 1970s, to be the face for a new cream for the mature market.

It is not all about image and communication, however. Products and services also need to suit older consumers. Some companies are catching up with the need to adapt to older users—the food industry in particular. Unilever’s margarine products were in decline until it launched its Proactiv spread, which reduces cholesterol. The advertising campaign focused on happy consumers—mostly over 50—attesting to their lower cholesterol levels. According to Jean Marc Liduena of Unilever Bestfoods Europe, the success of Proactiv was responsible for turning round Unilever’s margarine division.

Packaging and design are also slowly adapting to the mature market. When Danone, a food and beverage giant, decided to target older consumers with its new calcium-rich Talians mineral water, it made sure that customers would have no problems with the bottle. The label was designed to be clear and readable, while its larger and easy-grip cap is simpler for arthritic hands to open.

Design for all

A similar approach has been adopted by other industries as well. Once it had identified the older population as a promising growth market, NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese telecoms company, launched a new mobile phone. Called Raku-Raku, or “easy-easy”, it has a panel with larger buttons and easier-to-read figures. After its launch last September, over 200,000 units were sold in less than two months.

Products and services adapted to older customers often benefit everybody. Three years ago RATP, the Paris public-transport network, asked its older passengers what they disliked most. The metro map layout came high up their list. So the RATP introduced 150,000 copies of a simplified and more readable map, originally supposed to co-exist with the old one. But its instant success with all passengers—old and young alike—led to the old map being replaced by the revised one.

Mr Tréguer argues that designing for the young excludes the old, while designing for the old includes everybody. With its population of over-60s reaching almost 25%, Japan has been at the forefront of a trend to create so-called “universal-design products”—products that can be used by anyone, regardless of age and ability. In 1999, members from 17 industrial associations created the Kyoyo-Hin foundation—the foundation for universal products—and in 1998 the Japanese government proposed to the International Organisation for Standardisation a new global standard for products and services accessible to people of all ages. New guidelines were published last November.

The approach has worked for Fiskars, an American company: its “soft touch” scissors, which operate like secateurs and are therefore easier to use, but are also modern-looking, have been a hit with people of all ages in America. The same goes for Oxo’s arthritis-friendly, contemporary-looking range of cooking utensils.

To help young designers to understand older users’ limitations, Age Concern, a British non-profit organisation, has developed a “through other eyes” training programme for retailers. It tries to simulate the physical limitations that older customers experience when shopping. Ford, a car maker, has come up with something called “the third-age suit” to help its design engineers—most of whom are under 40—grasp the needs of ageing drivers. The outfit adds about 30 years to the wearer’s age by stiffening the knees, elbows, ankles and wrists. It also adds material at the waist—a rotund stomach affects people’s ability to sit easily—and it has gloves that reduce the sense of touch. Ford’s lucky designers also have to wear yellow scratched goggles to find out what it is like to have cataracts.

The exercise has been fruitful. Thanks to the third-age suit, the company’s cars are now easier for everyone to get into and out of; their seat belts are more comfortable to wear; glare has been reduced; and the controls are more readable and reachable.

Such initiatives, however, remain the exception rather than the rule. Despite the prevalence of grey hair in boardrooms, companies are only just waking up to the impact that shifting demographics will have on consumption. The vast majority of them are ill prepared for a transformation that, as Mr Dychtwald puts it, will turn a world focused on the young into a gerontocracy.


Secondary Research

I created this questionnaire to ask people about some of my final pieces to find out if there is a strong message behind these posters that i have created and to find out which ones they prefer out of my first drafts. This is a copy of the questionnaire i created.

VOV Questionnaire

These are the different responses i got from the questionnaire.

1, I prefer the right blue image, and the green one on the left.

2, An old man has got an iPod, one of the slogans has song lyrics. Saying that boring people have dial up phones.

3, they are trying to use up to date advertising techniques to show old people being left behind.

4, Other than health and health insurance you’ve got no chance.

5, its not fair because everyone should be given the chance to see new products at whatever age. Just because it’s a new iPod doesn’t an older women doesn’t want it.

1, Out of the blue images, I prefer the image on the right and the left image for the green ones.

2, They look like they are a play on the advertising techniques used by Apple and look like they are aimed towards an older generation.

3, I think the message being put across is how advertising is perhaps aimed mostly towards the younger generations.

4, To be honest I don’t think the elderly are considered much in the world of media and advertising.

5, I can understand why perhaps the older generation are not considered in different types of advertising but it isn’t fair as the older should be considered in the world of advertising.

1, I prefer the left image out of the blue pictures. I also prefer the left out of the green images.

2, They seem to be some sort of advertising images aimed towards older people rather than young.

3, That maybe advertising should be aimed for older people rather than the younger people as you usually see in advertising of today.

4, Thinking about it you don’t see much advertising which is aimed towards older people.

5, It isn’t fair because why should the elderly get the same recognition in the media as the younger get.

1, I prefer the right out of the first images and the right out of the second images.

2, The link between the elderly and the advertising, rotten apple reference of this. The “older Generation” also a link to older people.

3, It looks like the images are trying to say that advertising should be more for older people rather than the younger audiences that they are usually intended for.

4, The elderly do not seem to be included in the majority of todays advertising however i have not really thought about that before.

5, I think it is probably because most of the products being advertised are for younger people probably because the business expect to get the business from this audience of younger people.

Feedback Analysis 

From the feedback i gathered that many preferred the right image from the blue pictures and the left image which which matched my opinions on the final pieces. I thought this was important to get this feedback as i wanted to make sure the final message was quite clear but enough to make the viewers to stop and intake the image which will make the meaning stronger. Many of the people answering my questions realised that a lot of todays advertising is aimed towards the younger generations and thought it was unfair which all of the responses and emotions provoked my question are exactly the responses i was looking for from my final pieces. My posters have also raised question which is also what i want and have left the viewers thinking about the situation.