At $7M a spot, Super Bowl ads have big stakes and are sometimes more entertaining than the game itself. At Assured Allies we care deeply about how older adults are portrayed in popular culture, and so we watch closely every year for how they fare on advertising’s biggest stage. Compared to some really mind-blowingly ageist ads in past Super Bowls, the 2024 slate shows glimmers of mild progress. That said, we still have a long way to go.
Still in stride at 80+
The BMW ad, one of the best according to the NYT’s ranking, features 80yo Christopher Walken as himself, suffering gladly the everyday fools who flatter him by trying to imitate his signature verbal cadence and twang. But no one has the real deal: there’s only one Walken. This vintage actor has earned his BMW by being a maverick, an authentic original who has only gotten better with time.
A related ad is STōK Cold Brew with 86yo Anthony Hopkins, also playing himself, who makes fun of his serious actor reputation by donning a giant Wrex the Dragon costume and, fueled by Cold Brew, shouting “ROAR!” to Wrexham Soccer Club fans. The lampooning of Hopkins’ reputation, however, is nevertheless an indirect form of flattery. Hopkins is legend, and he gets the last word in the ad, a victorious “Ahhh!”
It’s great to see these two legends steal the show at age 80+. I just wish they had more diverse company. The only non-white-male legend who comes close is Glenn Close, 76, in the Booking.com ad, but she’s only featured as Tina Fey’s non-desirable body double, identified after she whips off her brunette wig to display a cloud of white hair. “My nemesis!” says the horrified Fey.
Older adults as comic foils
Hopefully, we have moved beyond the painfully obvious ageism in ads that make slapstick-style fun of older adult bodies like E*Trade’s 2018 “This is getting old” ad, the 2010 Betty White Snickers ad, and Taco Bell’s “Viva Young” 2013 ad.
But have we? The Doritos ad, which features two abuelas, Dina and Mita, chasing down a young man who steals the last bag of Dinamita chips at the store from their hands, comes awfully close. We’re supposed to laugh as the two “old ladies” ram their motorized shopping carts into his car, crash through a window, and zipline down from a tall building to flail-kick him into submission. The humor is grounded in the absurdity: these old, frail abuelas would never be able to do that! The playbook here is the same as the E-Trade toddlers playing pickleball: old people, toddlers, and animals are funny when cast in adult roles precisely because they in no way qualify for them.
Oh how achingly sweet!
Older adult characters who function mainly as opportunities for younger people to show heart, loyalty, or compassion are a common sentimental trope, and the 2024 Kia ad is true to type. A father races his daughter, who has just won a figure skating championship, to her ailing grandfather so she can skate her winning ice dance in person for him. The grandfather, who improbably lives alone in a cabin surrounded by wilderness, is unable to even come outside and writes a “10” in the foggy glass window to score her performance.
This ad is a tear-jerker of the “so close and yet so far” variety that in many ways echoes the Chevrolet 2023 Christmas ad where an empathic young woman goes way out of her way to make a human connection with an older female relative who has dementia. Older people are going, going, gone—fading from relevance—and so if you make an effort to value or recognize them or bring them back to life, then you are way above the unfeeling masses (in fact, you’re so special that you might want to buy a Chevrolet or a Kia).
The best age-positive ad
In terms of age positivity, the Superbowl 2024 winner is, somewhat surprisingly, the Microsoft Co-Pilot AI ad. Featuring a slew of anonymous Gen-Z types secretly burning with ambition despite society’s dismal view of them—”they say I’ll never make my movie”—the ad then ups the ante with tantalizingly brief glimpses of a long-haired older man smoking cigarettes and a middle-aged female medical professional with the copy: “they say I’m too old to learn something new, too young to change the world.”
The fact that the secret sauce of all of these future talents is outsourcing all their thinking and production to Co-Pilot AI is a bit weird, but kudos to Microsoft for allowing older adults into the AI party at all, and for illuminating the natural alliance between the “too young” and the “too old,” both of whom suffer from age bias in our society. I just wish there were more older adults featured. Only 2/15 are older than 20-something, and neither of them returns at the end like several of the young people do to demo their prompt-writing skills on the AI app.
In conclusion, we’re making progress, but it’s slow. There are so many opportunities for advertisers to break the mold in 2025 and really show older adults as, well, adults. Let’s just start there.