Cole Haan understands that 85-year-olds are people, too. Their fall 2013 ad campaign taps four trailblazing luminaries who were born in 1928 to model Cole Haan gear, and celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary: the brilliant author Maya Angelou, the stunning model and fashion editor China Machado, the fearless astronaut Captain Jim Lovell, and the visionary photographer Elliott Erwitt.
The campaign, Born in 1928, is just as bold as the models themselves. Cole Haan has strayed from the pack of brands that solely market to the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic. When Pepsi introduced the Pepsi Generation campaign in 1963, it encouraged brands to adopt advertising models that targeted a younger crowd, and to lump older generations into a category that was seen as irrelevant, as far as advertising was concerned. The trend started by Pepsi has continued through today. When brands have used members of the silent generation (people born from about 1925-1942) in recent ads, it’s been in humorous and cheeky ways.
The advertising industry, and popular culture at large, treat older people as less than individuals. Young people are seen as cool. They’re plugged in! They’re unique! Old people aren't seen as dynamic individuals, and therefore, they’re not considered to be worth a company's marketing dollars.
When we encounter notable older personalities in the media, we’re charmed, or even amazed, by their overwhelming individuality. Iris Apfel, the 92-year-old, larger-than-life style maverick who's known as much for her age as for her loud prints and round spectacles, has essentially been dubbed the only relevant fashionista over the age of 70 (take, for instance, her recent recent interview by fashion wonder kid Tavi Gevinson). And New Yorkers flocked to art house movie theaters to see the documentary about then 81-year-old The New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham.
Looking past advertising, the fashion world is actually more adept at celebrating the older generation than you might think. Blogs like Advanced Style are dedicated to the stylings of this silent generation. Advertising may catch up, and with good reason: according to a recent Nielsen study, even though only 5% of advertising is geared toward consumers over the age of 50, they control 70% of the disposable income in the United States.
So it is with little surprise, but plenty of awe, that I view these stunning Cole Haan ads. I also feel a tinge of jealousy, because I have a feeling that China Machado can walk better in those black suede wedge booties than I can.
Even better than seeing Angelou, China, Lovell, and Elliott in their Cole Haan kicks is hearing their stories. Featured on Cole Haan's website, the Born in 1928 campaign includes personal photos and anecdotes from each luminary, and bite-size two-minute video interviews with all four figures, which celebrate the wonderful individuality of each spokesperson. We learn that China Machado still detests frumpy frocks that don’t show off her gams, how Elliott Erwitt finds the magic in photography, about the moment when Maya Angelou found her glory; and of the emotion behind Jim Lovell’s Apollo 13 journey.
Unlike most branded videos, Cole Haan's present relevant stories that I was actually interested in hearing. They also do a fantastic job of communicating the brand's message: bold, fearless, timeless style. That’s a message that anyone, young and old, can get behind. In the words of Angelou, "If I can say to people your age, and of your cultural generation, what I mean at my age — if I can say it really accurately, you will understand me."