Adult incontinence and denture products long have had a stigma, but a new wave of ads for such products aims to overcome that by portraying users as younger, vibrant, and anything but debilitated.
While it may be a stretch to ever see these categories as sexy, an aging population has made them strong single- and even double-digit growers in packaged-goods and consumer-products industries starving for growth. So brands and products that once induced dread among consumers, marketers and agency creatives alike are getting new attention and creative approaches.
Just a year ago, ads for Poligrip and Polident denture adhesives and cleaners from GSK Consumer Health featured solemn testimonials from people concerned about getting kiwi seeds stuck under their gums or showed people with partial dentures losing their cellphones and keys but hoping not to lose any more teeth.
But in a new "Live Loud" campaign that broke last month from Grey in the U.S., based on a campaign that began running in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, a mix of older and middle-aged people are living it up at parties or on motorcycles. The U.S. version has a few more direct product performance pitches -- and glimpses of kiwi seeds or corn on the cob -- but it still aims to show denture wearers as active and anything but victims. A spokeswoman for GSK said one in five adults wear dentures, so most people know someone who does without even realizing it.
The Poligrip/Polident effort follows new ads for Depend from Ogilvy & Mather (Organic now handles the brand) showing attractive younger women wearing nothing below the waist but the brand's new Silhouette briefs that look more like regular underwear.
Playing down the problems and playing up the normalcy and competence of users of aging-related products is a new tack for marketers to address the stigmas that are among their biggest stumbling blocks. Shame associated with age-related conditions leads some people to resist using related products for as long as possible, said Kenneth Southall, researcher at the Institute Universitaire de Geriatrie de Montreal.
While one in three women need adult incontinence products, only one in nine buys them, according to Procter & Gamble Co. And while the average age that people notice they need hearing aids is 60, the average age when they go to doctors to get them is 69, said Peter Hubbell, a former Saatchi & Saatchi executive who last year launched BoomAgers, a New York agency specializing in marketing to baby boomers.
Mr. Hubbell overcame the ad industry's aversion to people outside the 18-to-49 demo in 2012, when he realized that boomers are twice the size of the multicultural market and would be entirely outside that demo by 2014. A longtime executive on P&G brands, Mr. Hubbell won a place for BoomAgers as lead creative shop on last year's launch of the company's Always Discreet in North America and Europe.
More women in the U.S. now have adult incontinence than are using menstrual products, Mr. Hubbell said. To play down the stigma and normalize the condition, Always Discreet TV ads show middle-aged women dancing or in yoga class while presumably wearing incontinence products to deal with "sensitive bladders," a term that's less stigmatizing, Mr. Hubbell said.
"The category has used humor to defuse the taboo nature of the subject, but in doing so can run the risk of making it look as though we're laughing at the condition," he said. "Our advertising took the approach of 'pee happens.' Bladder leaks can feel like no big deal."
There's a risk of people feeling patronized if ad portrayals seem inauthentic, Mr. Hubbell said, but surveys consistently show boomers feel 10 to 20 years younger than they are, with the gap between real and perceived age growing as they get older.
Boomers in Hollywood and Madison Avenue are largely responsible for the stigmas, Mr. Hubbell acknowledged. "Now we want to change the rules," he said. "The good thing is there are so many of us."
To that end, he's still looking for an endorser for hearing aids like Mick Jagger to say "I blew my ears out on rock and roll, and now I want to hear every delicious drop of life." It would of course be a far cry from the Rolling Stone mocking the man on the radio telling "how white my shirts can be" and farther still from his band's "what a drag it is getting old."