The Truth Behind Anti-Aging Marketing

Companies are going after your money, playing on your fears of aging

One of the great benefits of getting older is wisdom. Yes, it may take us longer to make a decision, but in the end it is often a wise one. However, when hope — or wishful thinking enters the picture, our decision-making abilities may become fuzzy. In short, it’s easy to succumb to “graywashing,” especially if you’re a Boomer concerned about aging.
I coined the term “graywashing” after reading about “greenwashing.” The latter describes what companies do when they remove a chemical or two from their products then promote those products as environmentally friendly. It’s a deception. And so is graywashing. Graywashing is when companies position a product or service as beneficial for people over age 50 when it really isn’t. Graywashing is a tactic the so-called anti-aging industry uses to promote its products, while it plays on fears of growing older.
Case-in-point: I asked my wife to go online to do some research for this blog. She Googled the term “anti-aging” and found a trove of age-defying advertisements. She was particularly affected by one ad, that promised a “Younger Looking Face and Eyes in Minutes.”
"Maybe I should try this," she said.
Two images told the story. The first showed a heavily wrinkled woman. The second showed her miraculously transformed, looking 20 to 30 years younger. The message: Apply this elixir and decades of wrinkles will vanish instantly; it is now possible to turn back the hands of time.
Or is it? Not if you read the small print, which admitted that these were “simulated images.” (Oh, the power of Photoshop!)
The anti-aging industry takes in $80 billions a year, according to Global Industry Analysts, a market research firm. But, as the National Institute on Aging has stated, “no treatments have been proven to slow or reverse the aging process” — therefore, “anti-aging” is a misnomer. Yes, you may look younger by undergoing cosmetic surgery or using Botox or other fillers. But these products aren’t turning back the hands of time. Nor can any type of supplement make you grow younger rather than older. So why are we throwing money away?
A Discount or a Waste of Time?
Companies that sell anti-aging products aren’t the only ones that use graywashing techniques. Your local fitness club may offer a “senior” discount as a way of saying the club is “senior friendly” and can meet your changing needs and capabilities.
But if you take a look around, you may see that the club is still completely youth-centric. All the factors that originally turned you off may still exist: the intensity of the classes — and the volume of the music may still be too high. The equipment may not be accessible or adjustable for people with limited mobility or abilities. The letters on the instructional signs, brochures, class schedules and membership contracts may still be too hard to read. And the staff members don’t seem particularly friendly and may even ignore you.
Graywashing’s impact goes far beyond misrepresenting products and services; it assumes a lack of wisdom, supports ageist stereotypes, and dismisses the possibility that age can bring with it some very real positive attributes. The underlying messages: aging is not a natural, inevitable process — it’s something to “fight”; you are no longer sexy or vibrant; you can’t function well, much less excel at physical activities; you are a burden to society. And the punch line: you can change all that if you buy a graywasher’s products and services.

Caveat Emptor
How can you avoid falling prey to graywashing techniques? Here are some tips:
  • Realize that products will not stop you from aging, no matter what the claims.
  • Understand that you can obtain the energy you need to feel more youthful by getting more sleep, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
  • Before joining a fitness club, seniors center or retirement community, look around and ask yourself if the services offered and the customers you see match what you are looking for. If they don’t, move on. No matter what all the literature, ads, signage and sales people say, it’s not the right fit for you.
  • Remember that everyone grows older from the moment they’re born. It behooves us to embrace the inevitability of this natural process and the many benefits that can come with it.
Colin Milner
By Colin Milner
Colin Milner is founder and chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA), a member of  the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils, and an adviser to, among others, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Administratiion on Aging and the U.S. National Institute on Aging. Milner has been involved in the health and fitness industry since 1982. Prior to establishing ICAA in 2001, he was president of IDEA Health and Fitness Association. Milner’s efforts were recognized by the Canadian Fitness Professional Association in 2010 with the Can-Fit-Pro Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the Canadian fitness industry.

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