How the over 50s are using TikTok to hit back at negative stereotyping

How the over 50s are using TikTok to hit back at negative stereotyping

We’ve got a perception problem when it comes to getting older and it’s clear why.

In 2020, the Centre for Ageing Better identified the dominant UK media narratives around ageing. The top two? Dementia and vulnerability. This is reflected across Western culture, where a 2021 study of 1.1 billion written words in the US and UK found negative representations of ageing outnumbered positives by six to one.

Marketing and mainstream culture have their part to play in exacerbating these negative images, but there is a surprising source of more positive representation of an older audience….

Enter TikTok.

Hundreds of millions joined TikTok during the pandemic, and a large chunk of these were older people who started using the platform to paint precisely the kind of picture we need and, most importantly, can learn from.

That’s why this TikTok trend is encouraging. Research shows older people are using the platform to actively hit back at negative stereotyping.

They’re poking fun at the frail and vulnerable images portrayed in the media and actively calling out ageism where they see it.

In over a thousand TikToks analysed in a 2023 study, positive representations outnumbered negative by ten to one.

Marketers have a long history of reticence about targeting campaigns towards older audiences for fear of alienating younger cohorts. But TikTok shows us a clear appetite for more positive representation – those videos shared an incredible 3.5 billion views.

We’ve learned to accept the modern divide between generations as an inevitable chasm of values and priorities. But elements of this TikTok trend suggest the seemingly impenetrable barrier is coming down. And marketing is following suit.

Using TikTok’s unique features – like the ‘duet’ and ‘stitch’ functions, which encourage users to interact and collaborate on content – older users are building connections with people decades younger than them. 

Given the opportunity to interact, both groups are discovering rich commonalities around their interests, their energy and their feelings of marginalisation.

This year an article in the Daily Express highlighted the ones to watch. Take Frank Hackett for instance or ‘Grandad Frank’ to his 7.2 million followers, who regularly posts videos of himself and his 17 year old granddaughter performing dance routines and lip syncs. Or Joe Allington, 89 and his granddaughter, with 6 million followers, and couple Joan and Jimmy O’Shaughnessy from Merseyside with 2.4 million followers.

And it’s not all about dancing.

An older audience is creating content about music, travelling, make-up, fashion, politics, community, cooking (check out Tea with the Thompsons recipe for Camembert with Tear and Share Cheesy garlic bread), and pretty much everything that younger generations are doing. Clearly, people want to see different generations represented authentically and often united in their passions and interests – we’re all human beings after all.

There’s a clear lesson here for brands around the power of authentic representation to connect and engage rather than alienate. 

And when multiple studies demonstrate how beliefs around ageing significantly affect whether people stay happy and healthy, giving older people an opportunity to share their positivity might be one of the healthiest social media trends we’ve seen.

Lead image credit: iStock/ljubaphoto

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