July 24, 2002, Episode Twelve:  They Say It's Your Birthday, Na-Na-Na

Ageism is one of many prevalent stigmatizations in North American culture.  We seem to have a love/hate relationship with growing older, and we seem to focus on the oldest among us as problematic rather than celebratory.  Advertising plays a part in reproducing the memes of aging.  Our show this week focused on how advertising contributes both to the problems and solutions of ageism.  We talked with Dr. Malcolm Smith, who does research on aging, memory and marketing at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.  The transcript for the introduction is below.

Saturday is Pattie's 45th Birthday.  We discuss growing old, the problems of judging people strictly on their age and how marketers are affected by stereotypes and prejudices in their creation of ad campaigns.  

(Oh, yeah, and if you listen to the show live -- there's a contest.)


Malcolm Smith, Ph.D. 

Associate Dean of the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba 

Birthdays mark an annual ritual of celebrating and dreading aging. On the one hand, getting a year older is a positive thing. The alternative to growing older is dying, so a birthday can be a pretty exciting piece of news. On the other hand, each passing year seems to bring one closer to the inevitable and that can be, well, disturbing.

Added to the personal and spiritual aspects of growing older is the ways in which our culture views aging. North Americans have very distinct ideas about what it means to be a certain age. We expect children to act like children. We expect young adults to act like young adults. We expect our elders to act like senior citizens.  People warn us to act our age at all ages.

Like many other forms of prejudice, when these expectations become the exclusive basis upon which we judge another group of people, they create painful consequences in the lives of the members of that group of people. The prejudices based upon aging have come to be known as ageism.

Stereotypes are reproduced in culture through representations such as art, music, drama and advertising. Dr. Malcolm Smith, the Associate Dean of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, studies ageism in advertising. The focus of his research is marketing to older adults, and in particular, age-related differences in memory for advertising. As part of his research, Dr. Smith is concerned with the ageist messages and attitudes found in advertising and the people who produce advertising.

Dr. Smith also has an interesting hobby. He collects birthday cards. He often shares cards from his collection in his presentations of his research. It turns out that the collection provides an intuitive barometer of how the culture looks at aging and older people.

Recently we spoke with Dr. Smith by phone and he shared his thoughts on ageism, marketing and birthday cards.


copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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