Sony puts Grandpa into orbit.

Sony puts Grandpa into orbit.

Sony puts Grandpa into orbit.

Advertising deconstructed.
Nov. 18 2002 6:37 PM

Gramps in Space

Sony's new old strategy.

Although challenged from time to time, it remains an article of faith among many advertisers that younger consumers are more important than older ones. The result is that, apart from drug companies and some carmakers, hardly any advertiser makes an explicit pitch to potential customers over age 50. Skeptics have long argued that shifting demographics make this a shortsighted strategy that must inevitably change, and now we have a bit of evidence that someone is listening: a new spot from Sony that squarely targets the 50-plus consumer.

Turning gray into green
(Click the still to see the ad)
The ad.
An older man relaxes by the water, listening to Russian lessons on his portable Sony audio device. Then he's shown packing his bags (with lots more Sony gadgets, among other things) and checking the weather in Moscow on his Sony laptop. The background music is a cover of the Crosby Stills Nash & Young song "Carry On," performed by Alana Davis. There's a quick series of images of the man's trip to Russia, past a security check point and into … a rocket. He's doing the Lance Bass thing! And indeed, there's Gramps in space, pointing his Sony video camera back toward the shimmering blue Earth. He looks very happy. Titles appear on the screen: "When your kids ask where the money went … show them the tape."Damn, he looks happy.


Rewind. Now, a couple of obvious reactions spring to mind. Since such trips are said to cost around $20 million, the ad appears to be targeting a subset of the older-consumer group, the always-elusive zillionaire market. (For what it's worth, a Sony backgrounder on the campaign reveals that the fictional man "liquidated his assets" to make this journey.) The second reaction is to imagine what the "kids" might say about "the tape"—possibly something along the lines of, "Yeah, that's great, Dad, but you know, I've seen video images of the earth from space before. Thanks for nothing."

Zoom in. But let's set aside those knee-jerk, and possibly unfair, responses. What Sony says it is focused on here is a category of people called "zoomers," a U.S. News & World Report coinage. Basically these are our old friends the baby boomers, who are hitting their middle-50s and will soon "rewrite what it means to be a senior citizen." A second Sony ad will go a little softer on what meaningful senior citizenship might cost, featuring a woman "in her late 50s" entering a steel cage from which to observe sharks up close. (That spot also ends with the line about brushing aside "Where did the money go?" with "the tape.") The overriding theme—a reasonable and arguably even admirable one—is that, America's youth-obsession aside, life still has much to offer to those who have graduated from the hottest demos.

Often the most effective ads are those that don't so much try to convince their audience as confirm what their audience already, perhaps secretly, wanted to do, think, or believe. Could there be anything easier than getting boomers to buy into the idea of spending money for their personal fulfillment? Yes: Getting them to believe that doing so is not only not selfish—it's a an act of great cultural and societal import.

Anyway, this is a good-looking and well-paced ad that's likely to please its target audience—and annoy everyone else. And that seems to be part of the idea: pleasing the target audience, in part by annoying everyone else. At first glance it might seem that Sony wants older consumers to appropriate the in-your-face attitude of youth by effectively taunting younger generations with a variation on the familiar "I'm spending your inheritance" theme. But really, the message is more of a reminder to Junior that the people now called zoomers aren't stealing that attitude—they invented it.