14 November 2011


Good word. 

Graywashing was minted by Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA).  From a recent article in The Journal on Active Aging®:

Tackling Graywashing (PDF)
by Marilynn Larkin
“Graywashing refers to the act of misleading consumers regarding any purported age-associated benefits of a product or service,” Milner explains … “Graywashing gives older-adult consumers a false sense of security by positioning a product or service as uniquely beneficial to them…”

…. On the opposite end of the stereotyping
spectrum are campaigns that suggest
all older adults should be superstars.
“Portrayed in the media and marketing
materials as healthy, wealthy and defying
aging, ‘superstar’ older adults present
an image that also distorts reality,”
comments Milner. “Such stereotypes
imply or explicitly state that ‘aging well’
requires health, independence, vitality,
economic wherewithal and social
connections. Not surprisingly, these are
qualities we equate with youthfulness,”
he states.

Way back in 2005 I wrote about similar issues:

Don’t Paint Too Rosy A Picture (Excerpts)
imageA recent article in USA Today asks us to “take a moment to journey forward to 2046, when 79 million baby boomers will be 82 to 100 years old.”  A paragraph later, the reporter asks, “So just what kind of America will be forged by this crowd of geriatric goliaths?”

Excuse me for being an unassuming ‘David’ (or even worse, a genocidal Grim Reaper) but I doubt very much that all 79 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. will still be alive in forty years, swaggering like giants – unless the medical establishment is holding out on me.

The good news you know: many Baby Boomers will live longer, healthier lives – more so than in any previous generations. The bad news you also know: by 2046 a huge chunk Boomers will have passed on, and another huge chunk will be dealing with acute diseases and afflictions. 

The problem is that well-meaning articles in the press like the USA Today piece, along with mountains of 50+ marketing fodder, are setting up Boomers for a psychological fall.  There will be a backlash.

And I’ve blogged about them through the years:

Boomer Backlash II
If every time someone over fifty sees a commercial targeting them and it’s always for an age-related product or service, pretty soon their eyes will glaze over, they’ll get itchy and grumpy.

The Era of Oversell is Over
There’s nothing wrong with being positive and aspirational – you just have to temper it with dollops of reality so your marketing won’t be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

Uh-oh. We’re in trouble
Rapped on the knuckles…

imageMarilynn Larkin interviewed me for the article.  I put up a tongue-in-cheek post about it:

The Best Anti-Aging Products, Services, and Activities: Guaranteed!
There are plenty of anti-aging products, services, and activities that are staggeringly effective.  They stop the aging process almost immediately…

So quotes from yours truly are splattered throughout Tackling Graywashing – along with trenchant comments from Lori Bitter and Dr. Bill Thomas.

Thanks, Mr. Milner, for coming up with a masterful phrase to describe it all.