THE BUSINESS WORLD: Social Change Will Be the Next Great Revolution ; A Desire to Live in Harmony Is Surely an Important Insight

By McRae, Hamish | The Independent (London, England), May 17, 2000 | Go to article overview
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THE BUSINESS WORLD: Social Change Will Be the Next Great Revolution ; A Desire to Live in Harmony Is Surely an Important Insight


McRae, Hamish, The Independent (London, England)


SO TECHNOLOGY will be the main force shaping the world economy in the early years of this century? Wrong. The main force will be social change.

This is the proposition of a report by the communications consultants Bamber Forsyth. It is an extraordinarily important issue so deserves a wider airing. Several authors worked on the report, each taking a different view, but two particularly struck me, one on ageing, the other on the way companies are giving greater emphasis to social and environmental reporting.

The ageing theme will be a familiar one to any reader of the business pages. But it is usually discussed in "hard" terms - the impact on unfunded state pension schemes, or the shortage of younger workers.

This report gives a different perspective, discussing in "soft" terms how communicators should approach ageing. The suggestion is that if you are going to talk to older people without patronising them, you have to realise they will not live for ever. The social historian, Peter Laslett, uses the idea that people live - or rather until the present "me" generation have always lived - with their "future selves". In medieval times we accepted that our lives were brief and during them we followed the traditions of our ancestors, and these would be followed by our children.

This intuitively makes sense. Most older people want to leave money to their children and grandchildren, though they gain no direct benefit from this. People plant trees, knowing they will never live to see them fully grown. For communicators this is rather a novel idea.

Advertisements are typically directed at younger people and usually emphasise what the buyer will get out of the purchase for themselves. You could almost say communicators are trained to tickle people's desire to consume, rather than their idea to live as fulfilled members of a community that includes their ancestors and will include their descendants.

Even advertisements aimed towards the old use the same selling proposition as those targeted towards the young. Look at the advertisements for cruises in the Sunday papers and you will see what I mean: it is an older version of the pitch for Club 18-30.

The best examples I have seen of a pitch that acknowledges older people want to fit in with Laslett's "future selves" comes in the alumnae magazines of US universities. Here the pitch is, "Give money to us and by educating the next generation of young Americans you will give them the same benefits you yourself enjoyed" - though the point is put in a more subtle manner. The appeal is to people's desire for continuity in society rather than their greed. Done badly, this pitch can be as toe-curling as some holiday ads for older people.

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