Older adults are extremely offended by advertisements portraying them as being out of touch or objects of ridicule, says a study by Ball State University.

A study of 39 people with a median age of 71-72 found 61.5 percent would stop buying products featured in a "negative or offensive" advertisement.

The survey also found that 67 percent of respondents said negative portrayals are potentially harmful because they lower older people's self-esteem and reinforce negative perceptions of seniors by younger people.

"Advertisers may have underestimated the sensitivity of seniors to their own images in advertising," said Robert Gustafson, who conducted the study with fellow journalism professor Mark Popovich.

"Seniors are acutely aware of advertisers who use them as comic foils in order to attract young buyers," he said. "Seniors also are outspoken in their dislike of these practices. They have a strong understanding of the ramifications of these images among seniors and young people."

Such negative images may make older adults feel vulnerable, insecure, misunderstood, exploited and powerless, Gustafson said.

Advertisers have long focused on people 18-49 while failing to realize America has a large and growing number of older Americans with plenty of disposable income.

Consumers over the age of 50 have 52 percent more disposable income than average consumers. By the year 2025, 40 percent of adults will be seniors, while the under-49 audience will remain flat.

"This study supports previous findings that stereotyping any generation or group of people may have potentially harmful side-effects," he said. "Marketers and advertising agencies should be more concerned with the unintended effects of their efforts. The advertising industry needs to be just as concerned about its social esteem as it is about selling effectiveness. In the long run, the two are related."

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