Cannes, France — Pfizer showed people two sets of portraits: the first, smiling people in their 30s; the second, smiling people in their 70s. They asked participants to describe the them. The first group was described as happy. The second was described as old. Just old.

It’s just one clue into the persistent ageism in the U.S. In fact, the word old has become a derogatory one. Even by the dictionary definition, it’s used to describe someone advanced in years and also something tiresome.

Negative beliefs about getting older can actually harm our health. One Yale study showed a 300% rate of cognitive decline for patients who hold negative stereotypes about aging. That’s physiological changes in the brain connected to negatives stereotypes. Researcher Dr. Becca Levy attributed the impact to stress: “We believe the stress generated by negative beliefs about aging can result in pathological changes to the brain.”

So where are the better role models? Older people have virtually disappeared from consumer media, despite their impact on the economy:

  • 50% of U.S. consumer purchases are made by Baby Boomers
  • But only 10% of marketing budgets are spent against them
  • And an even a smaller number of brands represent them

Notice all those marketing terms mentioned? That’s right, advertisers, it’s our fault. Comedian Craig Ferguson shared some of this history in a late night quip: “In the 1950s, a bunch of advertising guys got together on Madison Avenue and decided that what they were trying to do is sell products to younger people because then they’ll buy them for their whole life … And what happened in a strange quirk of fate is youth became celebrated by society in a way it never had been before … it became fashionable to be young and stupid.”

Pfizer believes healthcare is the industry best positioned to change that. It’s the one category that’s showing aging in a way that’s both realistic and aspirational. And, our products are somewhat responsible for those longer lives – contributing up to three-fouths of the increases in longevity over recent decades.

Pfizer created Get Old to help people feel optimistic about aging by finding a tribe of like-minded people and the inspiration to rethink their perceptions about getting old.

The plan:

  • Show people doing amazing things
  • Fight fear with wisdom
  • Reframe what’s possible
  • Personalize potential

And do it on social media where most people over 50 (79%) are spending time.

The Get Old site features a section called “Oldspiratation” that provides quick fun and intriguing quotes on a variety of topics to change up the conversation about getting old. Its #FOGO (fear of getting old) hashtag collects advice, infographics and personal experiences. The FOGO quiz lets you know just how much of all that good stuff you personally need. The Life Forecast lets you know what to expect. And its latest extension on indiegogo sponsors and promotes crowd-sourced ideas to promote health and wellness as we get older.

Millions of people have used the Get Old content and it has a bottom line impact for Pfizer, too: A 55% improvement in perception.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.