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Two recent celebrity suicides sparked off a lot of discussions about mental health issues. Both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were unlikely victims of suicides because they appeared happy, perky and financially sound. Yet, both of them had suffered from depression and addiction for a long time and they both chose to hang themselves to end their “misery”.
Their deaths coincided with a new report released last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity. In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the people had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives.
Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem, but a public health one. Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the U.S. in 2016 – more than twice the number of homicides – making it the 10th leading cause of death. Among people aged 15 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
In Canada, the situation is equally stark. According to The Globe and Mail, about 3,000 people worldwide die by suicide every day – including 125 in the United States and 10 in Canada. Statistics Canada figures indicated that in 2009, there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, a rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people. The suicidal rate for males was three times higher than the rate for females (17.9 versus 5.3 per 100,000). Although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, those aged 40 to 59 had the highest rates. Married people had a lower suicide rate than those who were single, divorced or widowed.
For seniors, the situation is even worse. Over 10 seniors (60+) die by suicide every week in Canada and approximately 1,000 older adults are admitted to Canadian hospitals each year as a consequence of intentional self-harm. Seniors are, in fact, one of the most at-risk demographic when it comes to suicide. Of that demographic, men over the age of 65+ are the most at risk.
For older adults, in particular, depression is the most common mental health problem due to loss of family and friends, debilitating sicknesses or disease, and a loss of independence and the isolation that can ensue. In an interview with CTV, Dr. Leon Kagan, the director of Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Alberta, suggests that isolation is a key factor in driving thoughts of suicide among seniors. “These older individuals are having everything taken away from them in terms of their work, their health, their families and finding their role diminished. For some of them, taking their own lives seem to be the only option that they have.”
But suicide rates can be reduced by confronting and talking about depression and offering help to those suffering from prolonged sadness. The Globe and Mail pointed out one of the saddest aspects of the stories about Kate Spade was the revelation that she hesitated to get help for her crushing depression because she worried it would hurt her brand, built on cheerful and brightly-coloured handbags and clothes. Depression is often hidden behind a front of happiness. There is also the stigma of mental illness – victims and family members often feel ashamed of talking openly about their condition. Although this stigma has gradually been fading, the greatest barrier for many is not fear of seeking treatment, but access to treatment.
In Canada, the waits for psychiatric care are disturbingly long. The barriers to accessing psychological services tend to be financial – psychotherapy is not covered by publicly-funded health insurance and private insurance tends to offer limited coverage. The media should tell people that mental illnesses are treatable and instead of glorifying celebrity suicides, they should report on cases in which mentally-depressed patients have recovered by seeking proper treatment. Many people who consider or attempt suicide do get help and they get better.
For older adults, the magnitude of death by suicide is a fact that is under-reported and needs to be discussed more openly so that caregivers and families of older adults can better understand the warning signs of depression and suicide and offer up the help they need.
According to the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention (CASP), the events that trigger suicide thoughts in seniors are unique and can differ from those that might lead to depression or mental health struggles within a younger demographic. While sadness is the most obvious system of depression, depression can actually exist without sadness.
The CASP website indicated that if an older adult is exuding the following traits, they might be at risk for depression or suicide:
Fatigue (difficulty falling asleep)
Loss of interest in hobbies or pleasurable pastimes
Social withdrawal and isolation
Loss of self-worth
Weight loss or loss of appetite
Fixation on death
Recent passing of a loved one
Lingering health problems
The most useful way to offer help to anybody suffering from depression is to to tell them that they are not alone. Let them know that there are people who want to help, and that with the right support, they can find hope again. In addition to having an open conversation about depression and suicide, you can suggest a change in routine by encouraging the people at risk to be involved in activities within their community. Some people need to talk regularly about how they feel in order to shift perspectives, so you can help them out by doing the research on professionals to talk to and, if possible, offer to drive them to and from appointments. When someone knows that others need them to live, it can discourage them from taking their own life. You can organize family time whenever possible and surround the person at risk with love, affection and reassurance that they are not alone.
We also need to tackle the societal problems that can fuel and trigger mental illness and suicidal thoughts – sexual and physical abuse, bullying, trauma, isolation, poverty and more. Anyone can help and little gestures matter. There is hope and we CAN reduce suicide rates if we try harder.
According to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News, the NDPs have overtaken the Liberals as the “anti-Ford” party. Thirty-five percent of the poll respondents say they would vote for Andrea Howarth’s party, up six points from last week’s polling. The Liberals would only garner 22 percent, down four percent from last week. Most tracking polls show that with nine weeks to go, the Ontario election is Doug Ford’s to lose. But this is the reason why support for the NDPs has surged in recent weeks. Many progressive voters, yours truly included, might have to vote strategically for the NDPs on June 7 in order to prevent a victory by Ford. This is particularly true in Toronto’s 416 region, the NDP has the stronger lead, with 38 percent of respondents saying they would vote orange. Another 34 percent say they would vote for PC, while 26 percent picked Liberal. As a press release from Ipsos reads, “With the rising belief that the NDP is the better option to stop Ford, the anti-Ford vote is coalescing behind the Howarth banner.”
Progressive voters like me would do whatever we can to stop Ontario from having our own version of Donald Trump as a leader. Last time when the NDP was in power in 1990, Ontario experienced the worst recession the province ever had. But with the Liberals’ policies now leaning from centrist to left, there are, in fact, not a lot of differences between the NDPs and the Liberals.
Here’s what Andrea Howarth’s party has pledged to do if they were elected:
Drug and dental coverage for all Ontarians
Thousands of hospital beds and an end to hallway medicine
A hydro plan that cuts bills by 30% and puts Hydro One back into public hands
A plan to take on student debt by converting new provincial student loans to grants, plus eliminating and refunding interest
Tax the rich: the most profitable corporations; those who earn $220,000 or more; those who buy luxury vehicles; and those who speculate in the housing market.
65,000 new affordable homes, funding to repair social housing and legislation to curb above-guideline rent increases and ‘renovictions’
Childcare that’s free for those who earn less than $40,000 and costs an average of $12 per day for all other families, plus 202,000 new not-for-profit, licensed childcare spaces
50% operating funding for municipal transit, which means immediate improvements to services and more affordable fares
At election times, senior citizens are the most important constituents because unlike the millennials, they vote. Out of the NDP election promises above, the top three will all appeal to seniors. Most politicians know that about 75 percent of Canadians over 65 are reliable voters. According to the Statistics Canada General Social Survey, they voted in the last federal, provincial and municipal elections. Among 25- to 44-year-olds, the proportion of reliable voters is closer to 45 percent. Targeting older voters is clearly an efficient way to campaign.
The Liberals are also betting big on seniors’ care, drug and dental coverage in their 2018 pre-election budget which covers billions in funding for seniors, including a $750 yearly benefit for those 75 and over who still live at home. The Healthy Home Program will cost $1 billion over three years. Another $650 million will go toward boosting the number of visits by caregivers to clients’ homes.
For seniors in long-term care facilities, the Liberals plan to spend $300 million over three years to hire a registered nurse in every site in Ontario and provide an average of four hours of personal daily care for each resident by 2022. The Liberals also plan to introduce a program to help cover costs of pharmaceutical drugs and dental care for Ontarians without workplace benefits, regardless of income or pre-existing OHIP coverage. Wynne already committed to expanding the existing OHIP program to cover prescription drug costs for seniors 65 and over, a promise with a $575 million price tag.
The Ontario Drug and Dental Program will reimburse 80 percent of eligible drugs and dental expenses, up to a maximum of $400 for a single person, $600 per couple or up to $700 for a family of four with two children, or $50 per child.
But the problem with this Liberal budget lies in the fact that the 2018 budget outlines a total of $20.3 billion in new spending over three years that will put the province back into deficit after finally balancing the books last year.
The PCs and the NDPs are no better. Doug Ford promised to cut gas prices by 10 cents a litre if his PC party wins next month’s election, saying he’d do so by cutting the provincial gas tax and scrapping the cap-and-trade system. But he was not clear on how he would replace the billions in revenue that would be lost by taking those actions. When asked how he would make up for the lost revenue, Ford only said, “We can’t afford not to do this.”
NDP leader Andrea Howarth, meanwhile, would not provide details of what families earning more than $40,000 would pay for child care under her plan for the province. The NDPs are proposing to fully subsidize public, licensed, not-for-profit child care for those earning less than $40,000. But The Globe and Mail correctly pointed out that the party has not given details on specific income brackets that may be established or said if there would be any caps. Howarth was asked several times for those details during the past week but would only say that it is a “sliding scale.”
Unfortunately, no matter how the incumbent Liberals are more experienced with governing and budgeting, this is a party that is most likely to suffer defeat after 15 years in power. No political party can be free from scandals and the Liberals have had too many of them for Ontarians to forget. So even though it’s a risk to vote for the NDPs, I hope their similarities with the Liberal policies to improve the livelihood of the mature population will win over the significant boomers’ and seniors’ votes and, at least, stop the PCs from being a majority party.
Because of my former profession as a communications consultant, it is only natural for me to become a news junkie upon my retirement. The media coverage of the recent van-attack tragedy that happened in Toronto on a beautiful Monday afternoon showed the real mettle of good journalism. The best media outlet, in covering tragedies, would be one which was not only able to be first, but also accurate and compassionate at the same time without unnecessary sensationalism.
The Globe and Mail claimed that it was not the first media outlet to report the number killed in the Toronto van rampage on April 23. Nor was it the first to report on a Facebook page purportedly operated by the suspect Alek Minassian that referred to dark online forums used by trolls and violent misogynists. But it claimed that the publication focused on getting the correct information. This might be true, but when all print media now also have online websites, the speed of reporting is almost as important as the accuracy.
I did not find out about the tragic news until about 4 p.m. that afternoon, and I immediately relied on CP24 for the latest news. The live news conference quickly put together by the Toronto police at around 4:30 p.m., involving the Deputy Chief Police Commissioner Peter Yuen and representatives from the three levels of government, was impressive as it pretty much summarized what the tragedy was all about and what the casualties were. At that early hour, we still did not know the name and motive of the alleged killer nor the identities of the victims. But the most important reassurances have been delivered: although nine lives were claimed at that time, the over 15 injured victims were frantically being helped at Sunnybrook Hospital which declared Code Orange for its emergency department; condolences were conveyed on air by the police and government officials; the public was asked to stay away from the stretch of Yonge Street from Finch to Sheppard in order to allow the police to carry on with the investigation; a suspect was arrested by a brave traffic cop without a gunfire being shot. What was most reassuring was that the Federal Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale informed everyone that this tragedy did not appear to be one that would threaten national security.
Under such circumstances, I was glued to my TV set while glancing at numerous social media feeds to get the latest updates. After watching all the national news networks – Global News from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. followed by CBC News and CTV News that evening – CTV News was the first to report on the name of the arrested suspect and his identity as a Seneca College student. CBC The National was the first media outlet to confirm a Facebook post by the suspect shortly before he started the van rampage. This post unveiled the digital trail which indicated that the suspect could have been motivated by the misogynist hate group INCEL (involuntary celibates). When Police Chief Mark Saunders gave the second live update news conference on CP24 later that evening upon his return from New York City, he was already able to update the public that the death toll had by then climbed to 10 and the name of the suspect was also disclosed although the first name was mistakenly given as Alex instead of Alek.
The Facebook post was actually already reported much earlier than the evening news by numerous social media. However, nobody in their right minds could believe these sources and verify whether they were true stories or fake news. So CBC was not the first to report on the Facebook post and the INCEL association, but they were the first to confirm that this rumor on social media was true and they verified that with Facebook as well before reporting on the news. CTV News was the first to confirm the name and identity of the arrested suspect via their Ottawa reporter which surprised me.
Kudos go to CTV and CBC for breaking news fast and accurate. I was disappointed with Global TV News not only because they were not able to be the first, but also because of the lack of compassion in the reporting. Although one news anchor was covering the tragedy live on Yonge Street and the other in the newsroom, neither one of them showed grave concern on their faces. Instead, the ambulance-chasing attitude and goofiness on air were major turnoffs.
After the initial shock and update on the first day of the tragedy, my attention was then turned to the print media on the second day to see which reporter or media outlet was able to give the best in-depth report. The best reporting prize on the aftermath, in my opinion, should go to John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail, whose article, The Truths Canada Needs To Remember, was a beautiful commentary on the attack that brought tears to my eyes. As he wrote: We will remember that violence against the innocent brings out the best in Canadians, not the worst….What matters is, once again, we have collectively been wounded. And, collectively, we will heal, as we have healed in the past, by mourning and supporting, rather than accusing…We are not going to let anyone take our peaceful, free, diverse, safe streets away from us.
Recently, the attention paid to loneliness as a public-health issue has increased all over the world. In Britain, the Conservative government went as far as appointing a minister for loneliness. The Dutch government announced this month that it is investing $40.8 million to combat loneliness among its elderly population. In our own country, Canada, it was reported that 1.4 million elderly people experience feelings of loneliness.
More of us are living alone than at any point in the history of our nation. But living with someone does not preclude loneliness, as anyone in a bad marriage can tell us. And alone is not equivalent to being lonely. Which brings me to my key point – whether you are lonely or not, whatever your age, is a state of mind and an attitude. There is a social stigma that single people, particularly elderly people who are single, are naturally lonely. This is a myth that should be debunked.
I have posted twice in this blog throughout the years that grey divorces are on the rise. In Canada, divorce is spiking only among 50-plusers and becoming an increasingly common event for couples 65 and older. According to Statistics Canada, about one in five people in their late 50s were divorced or separated in 2011 (about 21.6 percent of women and 18.9 percent of men), the highest among all age groups. In the U.S.A., the divorce rate has decreased in every demographic since the 80s – except among baby boomers, where it has actually doubled. It is a similar story in the U.K. and Europe. In Japan, in the past two decades, couples married 30 years or more have seen their divorce rate quadruple. This international trend is so unusual that it has been dubbed the grey divorce revolution.
There are many reasons behind the grey divorces. With financial independence, boomers also want emotional and physical freedom. Turning 50 or 60 is no longer viewed as the gateway to dotage. With life expectancy now at around 80, the idea of going gently into that good night is no longer valid. The people who prefer to fly solo seem to be very content. The prospect of going it alone at a mature lifestage is scary – lifestyle adjustments, financial uncertainty maybe and telling the kids will be hard. But they are all young adults now. This is your time and you want to be free and happy! In an AARP survey of this trend, one theme surfaced again and again: It is now or never!
The long-term prospects of happiness for grey divorcees are extremely rosy. Eighty percent of the AARP respondents reported having either a somewhat or very positive outlook on their post-divorce lives. And the good news for those interested in finding another relationship at this mature stage of their lives is that most people who are interested in finding one eventually do. To debunk another myth that baby boomers are not technologically-savvy, the number of boomers 50 or older using online dating sites has grown twice as fast as any age group in recent years. Men tend to re-partner more frequently after a divorce, because they typically have a much harder time than women being alone. Women are more comfortable relying on girlfriends when they need to share their experiences in life.
Having said that, between the years 1996 and 2006, the percentage of divorced Canadians intending to remarry dropped from 26 percent to 22 percent. In addition, more than 60 percent of divorced people stated they had no intentions of getting remarried at all. The steady divorce rate has been one of the contribution factors in the record number of one-person households in Canada. There has also been a continuing upward trend in the number of common-law unions – 21 percent in 2016 versus 16.7 percent in 2011. The key takeaways from these trends are: you are not trapped, regardless of age; and you do not need to fear being lonely, because you never really are.
There are certain steps to take after a grey divorce including understanding your current financial picture; revisit your estate plan; keep your emotions in check; communicating with your kids; and seek counsel and help from therapists, lawyers and financial advisors if necessary. Most important of all, as the AARP survey reflected, you can find happiness again no matter what age you are at.
Maybe the marriage model with a lifetime guarantee has officially been phased out. It is no longer realistic to expect to live a lifetime with the same person. Maybe boomers are looking for more quality than endurance. No more status quo if you are not happy. No more loneliness either. Boomers are starting a discussion about marriage again – it is now or never!
The New York Times reported recently that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, among the 10 occupations expected to grow the most through 2026, personal care and home-health aides will require the most new workers, with 1.2 million new positions between them. About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and more than half will need long-term care, according to the Pew Research Center.
Home-care agencies and elderly-care facilities are apparently struggling to recruit. Last year, 26 percent of personal-care aides and home-health aides in the U.S. were foreign born, according to the Conference Board. In New York, 62 percent of home aides were foreign born. In California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, foreigners represented nearly half of them. That is why a recent bill introduced by the Republicans and supported by the White House to create a point system for admission based on factors including education, English skills and job offers in the U.S., which would cut the overall number of green cards awarded each year by half, worries employers who rely on immigrant labour. Senior-care agencies particularly are worried because many are dependent on Medicaid and Medicare and so cannot easily raise wages to make their jobs more attractive to native-born workers. According to a Washington think-tank, the Center for Global Development, the U.S. needs far more new low-skilled workers than high-skilled workers. Only three of the 10 occupations expected to grow in demand require university degrees, all of them digital or data-focused: software developers, statisticians and mathematicians.
In Ontario, Canada, to meet the increasing demand for home care, the role of personal support workers (PSWs) is shifting from providing primarily personal and supportive care to include care activities previously provided by regulated health professionals (RHPs). Findings from a recent review of home-care service user charts in Ontario, Canada, indicate that normally, PSWs provide personal and supportive care commensurate with their training. However, in approximately one quarter of care plans reviewed, PSWs also completed more complex-care activities transferred to them by RHPs. Service users receiving transferred care were older and had higher levels of cognitive and functional impairment. As the population ages in Ontario, the demand for PSWs performing more complex tasks is only going to increase substantially.
That is why the Liberal government in Ontario is creating a new provincial agency called Personal Support Services Ontario that could eventually serve hundreds of thousands of patients in the province. CBC News reported that this move would mean PSWs will become provincial employees. It also has the potential to take a significant portion of the $2.5 billion in annual publicly-funded home care away from the for-profit and not-for-profit agencies currently providing it. The government says creating the agency would give home-care clients more choice in selecting a PSW and more control in determining their care schedule. As with other new government policies, there are supporters and naysayers.
The plan is laid out in a Ministry of Health document dated October 2017 which says Personal Support Services Ontario will be created soon to deliver home care in the spring. It also says the new provincial agency will directly recruit, screen and employ PSWs. Some 729,000 people received provincially-funded home care services in 2015-16. Nearly all of that care was delivered by nurses and PSWs employed by outside agencies, both for-profit and not-for-profit. The document says that the new provincial agency would initially provide PSWs to clients who need a high volume of home care – at least 14 hours per week.
We all know that in 2015, the auditor general criticized the regional agencies that coordinated home-care services, the Community Care Access Centres (CCACs). Critics also questioned how much of the CCAC budget went into administration instead of home care and found that nurses employed directly by the CCACs were paid more than those employed by agencies. This all prompted the government to eventually dismantle the CCACs effective as of April last year.
While the creation of Personal Support Services Ontario seems to be a good idea, more time and work should be dedicated to providing better training to the PSWs and improving the efficiency of home-care delivery. We do not need a new provincial agency to reinvent the wheel and recreating a similar bureaucracy to the CCACs while thousands of seniors continue to be on the waiting list for the services of PSWs. With the upcoming provincial leadership elections, it would be interesting to see how the Wynne government would tackle this important new policy.
I have more than once advocated the support of a national pharmacare program for Canada on this blog. It, therefore, gave me hope when the Trudeau Government recently plucked Ontario’s Health Minister, Eric Hoskins, to chair a special Federal Commission to look into the introduction of a national pharmacare program for the nation. Yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said that her budget will include a blueprint to expand Ontario’s pharmacare program, known as OHIP-plus, which currently covers people up to the age of 25. She said she will move forward without the federal government for now and beginning August 1, 2019, seniors will no longer have to pay a deductible or co-payment for more than 4,400 prescription drugs.
Skeptics immediately said that both the Federal and Ontario Liberal Governments made these promises to win votes in the upcoming elections. For the highly unpopular Kathleen Wynne, in particular, this is obviously a campaign promise to woo the votes of the boomer and senior populations. She says the program will cost $575 million a year when it is fully operational in 2020-21. Drugs covered in the program include medications for cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Campaign promises can be broken but this latest announcement has won my vote.
Health care ranks highly among voter concerns in national polls, so it did not surprise me when Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced the feasibility study of a national pharmacare program when he unveiled the Federal budget last month. The budget announced the creation of an advisory council, headed by Dr. Eric Hoskins, that would investigate whether public health-insurance plans could be expanded to cover prescription drugs. A national pharmacare plan had been previously proposed by the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The appointment of Dr. Hoskins, in itself, is already a step in the right direction. Dr. Hoskins, while in office as Ontario’s Health Minister, has always been a strong advocate for a national pharmacare program. In his new role, he will study the options, their costs, explain the trade-offs and determine which is the most feasible. Currently, about 26 million Canadians have private drug benefits, largely through employers. There are 102 public drug insurance programs, but that still leaves 700,000 people with no drug coverage, and an estimated 3.6 million with inadequate coverage, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
A national pharmacare plan could save anywhere from $4 billion to $11 billion on the $28.5-billion prescription drug bill (from 2015). These savings could come from joint buying, more strictly regulating drug prices, more aggressive use of generics, and limiting the list of drugs that are covered. The Globe and Mail reported that while a single, national plan would theoretically save money on drug purchases, it would also mean a large-scale shifting of costs from the private sector to the public sector. The single biggest obstacle to pharmacare is the unwillingness of federal, provincial and territorial governments to absorb those costs and then increase taxes to pay the bill.
National pharmacare means insuring that every Canadian has access to necessary prescription drugs regardless of ability to pay. This philosophy has very few detractors, but there are many technical, financial and political impediments. But the appointment of Dr. Hoskins to chair the advisory council suggested the government’s seriousness about this initiative. It is well known that Dr. Hoskins, a physician himself, is a long-time proponent of an ambitious national pharmacare program. He has publicly backed that the best way of doing pharmacare is to throw out the system we currently have. The basic idea is that medically necessary drugs would be covered under the Canada Health Act and provided by provincial health plans for everybody, including those who now have private insurance. The federal government’s bulk-buying power would drive down prices for these new plans. People who felt the public coverage was inadequate could buy supplementary insurance on the private market, just like they can under medicare.
Skeptics and the Opposition are already criticizing the Trudeau government for paying lip service. But given Dr. Hoskins’s credentials and track record, and the timing of the Federal elections next year, it will only work to the Liberals’ advantage to devise a fiscally-responsible national pharmacare plan that would work.
Judging from the latest national polls, the Federal Government seems to be on the right track. A new Nanos Research poll that surveyed 1,000 Canadian adults by phone and online between March 7 and March 12, after the Liberals tabled their third federal budget on February 27, indicated that Canadians support the idea of public health insurance that covers prescription drugs. But they don’t like running deficits nor do they want new taxes to pay for the programs. But Canadians cannot have their cake and eat it too! How will the national pharmacare program be paid for otherwise? The NDPs have not come up with a good idea for financing this program either. So we should let Dr. Hoskins do his job and come up with a sensible plan. In Canada, we have had public hospital insurance since 1957, and public insurance for physicians since 1966. It is about time that we see another large-scale national health initiative on the horizon.
I do not envy the jobs of advertising executives and creative minds. In this digital era, consumers try to skip ads and tune out commercials. That’s why Amazon’s Kindle and Netflix have become so popular – there are no ads when you peruse your newspapers on an e-reader and streamed movies are commercial-free.
Before I retired from the public relations industry, I’ve always said that advertising is not as effective as public relations because the latter specializes in telling stories, not hard-selling a brand, products or services. It looks like the advertising industry has finally caught on – most ads and commercials nowadays, particularly online, are focusing on story-telling or sharing experiences. Nevertheless, it’s still hard to find one that appeals to baby boomers.
There are, however, three ad campaigns that are an exception: Questrade, HSBC and PepsiCo.
Prior to the series of prime-time TV commercials on asking your financial advisors tough questions, nobody has probably ever heard of Toronto-based online brokerage Questrade. Its current marketing campaign includes two TV spots with an investor asking their portfolio manager a difficult question about fees and the negative effect on their retirement savings. This immediately became a “grabber” for a lot of boomers who could immediately relate to the manager’s dismissive answer. The tagline “It’s time to ask tough questions about your money” just sinks in deeply for boomers and soon-to-be retirees. Print and out-of-home executions similarly feature some of the difficult questions Questrade wants customers to ask their current financial advisor, and include the hashtag: #Ask Tough Questions.
See Questrade TV commercial below:
According to the company’s COO Stephen Graham, the campaign is meant to connect with consumers who know less about the brand and push Questrade’s robo-advisor platform.
Marketing Magazine reported that while the pointed questions seem to take direct aim at the big firms with huge fees, Graham said the intent was not to directly target the competition but portray the real questions and concerns that were unearthed during research. He was spot on about the campaign being a real conversation and the honesty, behind asking the uncomfortable questions, resonates well with consumers.
The second example of strong advertising is the global jet-bridge “The Story of Human Ambition” print campaign prominently visible in 20 airports around the world. With 24 creative executions, the thought-provoking print campaign explores different themes and perspectives on what ambition means to different people in different places. This supports the global financial institution’s goal to inspire people to realize their hopes, dreams and ambitions, and in doing so, positions itself as a natural partner to support them on their journey.
According to Andrea Newman, Global Head of Marketing, Wealth and Brand Communications, at HSBC, “With this campaign, we want to poke or nudge our customers to stop and think about their own broader ambitions and reflect on where they are going in life.” I’ve always admired J. Walter Thompson’s approach to making airport jet bridges a unique communications channel associated with the HSBC brand for the last 15 years. The print campaign, particularly the photos orchestrated by Dan Burn-Forti, a New York photography agency, always makes me stop and admire, but more importantly, think about its relevance to my own life.
My last example of effective advertising is PepsiCo’s current Chinese New Year short films exploring millennial kids’ relationships with their boomer parents. AdAge profiled a 15-minute ad for PepsiCo’s Lay’s revolving around a successful actor who never manages to make it home for the holidays. The ad stars Lin Gengxin, a rising Chinese star, and it was produced by local agency Civilization. There is also a family pup, named Le, or “Happy,” a character in the Chinese version of Lay’s name – a brilliant nod to the arrival of the Year of the Dog in the Lunar New Year.
There are at least two other PepsiCo short advertising films around the same theme of inter-generational tensions and love between parents and children that got circulated on YouTube and resent many times among my Chinese friends all over the world. All of these films feature big-name or rising stars in China who are also popular everywhere among Chinese communities. The films are telling touching stories and pulling the heartstrings of boomer parents. The word-of-mouth endorsement and YouTube fever around these commercials are solid evidence of the campaign’s success.
A successful marketing campaign should always have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. I’m not sure how much new business has the Questrade commercial generated, but according to a recent Euromonitor International report on China, Coca-Cola still maintained its leadership in soft drinks in 2017, albeit with a slightly shrinking value share compared to that in 2016. The Globe and Mail also reported that the fourth-quarter profit at HSBC Bank Canada dipped 20 percent lower than a year ago while its global parent has been shedding jobs and undertaking a turnaround strategy. Sexy and thought-provoking ads might resonate with consumers, but still might not be enough to make the cash register ring.
I’ve been asked to write a Miss Manners blog many times before, but have never got around to it. However, I did mention in my 2018 New Year Resolutions blog post that there should be an etiquette for baby boomers too. Just because we’re the rebellious demographic when we were younger and are still defying the aging process, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like that are inappropriate manners. So, in my humble opinion, here are the top five for consideration:
Dress for the occasion: just because we used to be the flower children of the 60s, that does not mean we could dress as hippies now that we’re more mature. Nor should we become the slaves of today’s fashion and dress inappropriately for our age. Flip flops are for the beach and baseball caps are for ballgames or pubs. Even though smart casual is the dress code for the workplace of most companies, shorts, short-sleeved shirts, distressed jeans and plunging necklines are just inappropriate for the office. When in doubt, the best way is to think about the occasion and dress suitably to look presentable and make an impression on the people with whom you are going to interact. The golden rule that it’s always better to overdress than underdress still applies today. For boomer women, some makeup is better than a bare face and a heavily done-up complexion might not be too flattering and, even if applied well, should be saved for evening occasions.
Communicate with a personal touch:: we should combine high-touch with high-tech when it comes to modern-day communications. As Associated Press recently mentioned, smartphone addiction kills manners and moods. At our age, constantly bending our heads to look at our devices adds to the physiological stress on our neck and might lead to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. According to the U.S. Center for Biotechnology Information, posture has been proven to affect mood, behaviour and memory, and frequent slouching can make us depressed. Aside from the health consequences, if we’re head down, communication skills and manners are slumped, too. This is not just a youth problem. I see many boomers walking down the street with heads down checking their devices – this behaviour has increasingly caused more accidents on the road. We should make an effort to interact with people face to face with eye contact and pay full attention to the present. Try digital detoxes while you’re on vacation and collect all the smartphones of your dinner party guests before you break bread together. Start looking up and set a good example for your kids and grandkids.
Be up-to-date on digital etiquette: boomers should also observe digital etiquette when communicating with our computers and smartphones in order to stay relevant either in the workplace or after retirement. Basic guidelines include don’t yell by using all caps; do not constantly forward internet jokes, videos or stories which you deem funny but may not be amusing to others; try not to hit reply all in emails unless absolutely necessary; consider using the blind copy option instead of typing in a large number of email addresses; know when to send your message by email or text; be concise and to the point; and try to respond within 24 hours to an email or text which was only addressed to you.
Practise what your mother taught you: this is just common sense even if you were not brought up this way. Do not talk with your mouth full; try not to eat or drink while you’re walking; when sitting at the dining table, do not slurp your soup or beverage nor spit on your plate; keep your personal hygiene at home or in the bathroom which includes brushing your hair; flossing or picking your teeth; filing your nails or applying cosmetics; and chewing or spitting out gum on the streets.
Respect other people’s time: punctuality reflects a person’s respect for people and time. I would never hire any job candidates, suppliers, advisors, realtors, accountants, lawyers, contractors or cleaners who are tardy. People who show up late for meetings and appointments simply cannot be trusted to meet any deadlines. Latecomers will always come up with excuses – an impossible schedule, a prolonged phone call, bad traffic, forgetfulness, etc. But the bottom line is that they have little respect for people’s time and this is a major character flaw.
Etiquette is important for boomers not only because we need to be respectful. Kids mimick adults and they emulate our actions and behaviours. If we don’t get this right, we cannot expect our children or grandchildren to learn proper manners from us.
I seldom write book reviews on this blog. But when I come across a book that is aligned with my blog’s raison d’etre, I’m willing to make an exception. It took me two months to finish Joseph F. Coughlin’s new book, The Longevity Economy, but I remember the book’s subtitle, “Unlocking The World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market,” attracted me to purchase it on my Kindle in the first place. And having finished the book, I am more convinced that Coughlin’s rationale behind his book was similar to mine when I first started my blog in 2007.
Coughlin is the founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab, upon which I relied for research behind a number of my blog posts. What I like about his book is that it’s not just one man’s or a small group’s opinion; but all the premises in the book were backed by science and research. The book describes how companies can prepare for an aging world and capitalize on the opportunity to tap the US$8 trillion market.
In the author’s interview with USA Today when the book first came out last November, Coughlin said that companies think they understand the aging market, but they really don’t. Companies often perceive that “older people are always takers, never givers; always consumers, never producers. And as a result, companies make products that, at their core, are designed for passive participants in society.” But older people are increasingly leading an active life and demand to be active participants. This is the major disconnect that makes so many companies unprepared for an aging world.
Like me, Coughlin also believes that the aging cohort is not homogeneous. He said that the set of “older adults” contains people of every conceivable kind: ethnicity, religion, sexuality, medical status, political affiliation – and anything else you could name, other than age. But even if we personally know older people who defy the stereotypes, most of us still paint the idea of “older people” with a single, insanely wide mental brushstroke. I’ve always said that the boomer demographic spans a 20-year age gap, and that alone implies that no one single formula would be able to apply in terms of marketing to boomers. Leading-edge (older) boomers have different needs from trailing-edge (younger) boomers and only customized solutions, also taking into account their ethnic, gender, sexual, medical and political backgrounds, work well and effectively.
Coughlin also said that a new generation of older adults is beginning to demand far more out of later life than ever before. They are not looking for passive consumerism, but the active pursuit of meaning in life. So companies and marketers should come up with products and services that are designed to support them on their journey.
When asked by USA Today about who will be the agents of change in the new world of longer life and older age, he pointed out that women, particularly those of middle age and above, are likely to be the leaders in identifying new wants and needs on the aging frontier. They will also be the ones to come up with demands in the form of products. This is nothing new. We already know that women typically live longer than men. We also know that marketers and advertisers have always labelled women as the chief consumer officer or chief influencer of the home and they make purchasing decisions in key consumer categories including the automotive, health, and many other sectors. It’s also common knowledge that women provide more eldercare than men. What’s enlightening is that Coughlin pointed out that the research done by the MIT AgeLab suggests that women enter old age with a clearer, more detailed picture of what’s ahead. The firsthand knowledge that comes from being the primary buyer and caregiver gives them a unique vantage in understanding what products, services and experiences are effective as they respond to the challenges and demands of old age.
Coughlin said it’s a sad truth that women are often invisible to the investment and technology communities. That’s why the needs and wants they are responsible for go unanswered and the tools they deserve never get built. I’ve also pointed out many times that the advertising and marketing community keeps hiring young people to innovate for and advertise to the older market which is far from ideal. Coughlin mentioned in his book that when young people attempt to innovate for the older market, the same stuff comes up again and again: pill reminders, fall detectors, emergency response technologies. This is evidence that young people can’t get past the idea that older people are a medical problem to be solved. He said that smart venture capital companies, should instead, bet on older women’s ideas of what innovative products or services that would help older people lead a positive, meaningful life.
Seven years ago when I gave a keynote speech at the Digital Divas Conference in Toronto, I was advocating that companies should come up with innovative products and services that would focus on wellness and life enhancement solutions that would help improve boomers’ quality of life. It is, therefore, gratifying to see that Coughlin believes that there is a huge demand for products that will actively excite and delight older adults for decades to come. Marketers need to help the greying population “celebrate life in old age while they’re alive.” And may I add to that: make grey the new green!
On a snowy third last day of 2017, what better things to do than to reflect upon this year and make new year resolutions for 2018?
Pay More Attention To Your Health: There is nothing more important than our health. Whether you’re a retired boomer, or somebody who is still in the workforce, your health continues to be your number-one asset. So, in the new year, pay more attention to what you eat and drink; exercise regularly; know your blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar levels; and consult your physician when you notice any problems. Everything else in life will fall into place when you’re healthy.
Spend Quality Time With Friends When They Are Alive And Well: Having just attended the funeral of a former business partner, I found myself telling ex-colleagues at the funeral that we should be getting together in the new year under happier circumstances. Why have a reunion at somebody’s funeral when we could catch up on happy occasions? I also have a problem with people just showing up at funerals instead of spending quality time with the deceased when he or she was alive and well. Should my friends not have time for me while I’m alive, I certainly don’t want them to be there when I’m gone.
Make Hay While The Sun Shines: A lot of my friends have been saving for retirement and developing a long bucket list to travel to after hanging up their boots. But boomers should never delay enjoying our lives. Life is too short and there is no guarantee that tomorrow is going to be a better day. Boomers deserve to fulfill their dreams sooner rather than later – you’ve worked hard for what you want and you should live life to its fullest now.
Do Not Just Complain, Do Something About It: I also hear a few boomer friends complaining about their jobs, the city they live in or about Canada. Identifying a problem is always the easy part, but we should always come up with a solution. If you’re not happy with your job, voice your grievances to your employer and develop better solutions. If you’re not satisfied with the government, let your opinions be known and become a consumer or political activist – communicate with your MP, MPP or City Councillor or even better, get involved in politics to improve people’s lives. If you have no solutions and are too skeptical to get involved, then shut up and stop whining.
Respect Women And No Means No: 2017 was a “woke” year for sexual harassment. For all you male boomers out there, particularly the powerful ones, please respect women at home, in the workplace, and in the community. Teach your sons and grandsons to do the same and they will thank you for that. And for you fellow women boomers, stop being complicit in the future – if you know that a “sister” is being mistreated, don’t be quiet and do nothing.
Practise Boomer Etiquette: Yes, we boomers have our etiquette too. Respect people’s time and don’t be late for any appointments or occasions in the new year. Always respond to emails and texts from your friends no matter how busy you are or how insignificant in content you think they are. Remember your good friends’ and loved ones’ birthdays – nobody is expecting a birthday present, but cherish your friendships by showing them you remember and care. Should you have a failing memory like mine, you can always rely on your iPhone which records birthdays on your contact list. Last, but not least, put away your electronic devices while breaking bread with your friends and focus on the lunch/dinner conversations. We boomers should be role models for our children and grandchildren – it is simply rude to read and respond to emails/texts at the dinner table unless you have an emergency, in which case you should always apologize and seek permission.
Don’t Forget High-Touch In A High-Tech World: That’s why I’m one of those dinosaurs who still send Christmas cards by snail mail – taking the time to put pen to paper is still the most personalized way to send your love and best wishes. Every now and then, particularly during momentous occasions, pick up the phone and call to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you.” No emails or texts or emojis can ever replace your voice on the other end of the phone.
Reduce Your Consumerism: At our age, boomers should really cut down on materialistic objects of desire – we’ve been there, done that. Do not acquire new things unless absolutely necessary. Every time you’ve purchased something new, try part ways with an old piece of clothing or household item and donate them to the poor. Hoarding is a mental condition for older people and minimalism is best for boomers and seniors. Still not convinced? Please read The New York Times‘s opinion piece: “My Year Of No Shopping.“
Be Grateful And Count Your Blessings: We should be grateful for what we have every day but particularly during Christmas and New Year when we are donating to the homeless and the poor. The happiest people are those who are content. Start counting your blessings and try to write a gratitude journal every day in the new year.
Continue To Give Back To The Community: The best way to show gratitude is to give back to the community. Boomers are keen volunteers – whether it’s volunteering in your church parish, helping out the poor and homeless, or for a charitable cause, volunteering and giving back are never enough. It is my intention in the new year to aim higher with my efforts and I hope you will do the same.
Thank you for your support of my blog and Happy New Year!
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