Saturday, August 22, 2009

Marketing to old people: aesthetics

Thinking further about why stuff that is marketed to old people is usually so ugly...

My parents' generation had little choice. In New Zealand, imports were restricted and variety non-existent. Everyone had the same things, pretty much. Shopping for household goods, the choice was between ugly and less ugly.

No, that's too mean. I'm very fond of memories from the home of my parents-in-law: bevelled edge mirrors, pink china shepherdesses, multi-coloured crocheted afghans, speckled green cups and saucers, net curtains, pink candlewick bedspreads and altogether a plain, plain interior.

My grandmother Mim had charming, exquisite tea sets in Royal Albert bone china, and a dresser of Mason ware for everyday use. Raising six girls on a few hundred pounds per year, my mother served tea from a silver teapot. The women of our low-income family made their few house-ware purchases with pride and focus. They longed for beautiful things — but choice was minimal and money tight.

Then in the 50s and 60s, things changed. My big sister Jill also had to be acutely careful with money, but with an astute eye for beauty she was able to buy elegant things, simple and streamlined. The home of Jill and Graham, two penniless students with four children, gleamed with Poole Pottery twintone china (as in the photo) and Danish styled furniture.

Now what puzzles me here is that today, in 2009, marketers still use a fake Edwardian style in the goods they market to older people. We get a catalogue in our letter boxes called "Innovations". (Whoever thought up that name had a sense of humour.) It features fascinating, and often bizarre, and usually unnecessary, items for older people.

Often the wood is carved or the iron twisted into curlicues. Linen is embroidered in cross stitch.

That's all very well, but the people who are hitting 70 nowadays have lived a lifetime in homes with some variety and charm. So they're marketing to old, old people. Or maybe dead people. Wake up, marketers! We do not want that yukky stuff.

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