By Susan Saldibar

I hate that Consumer Cellular commercial with Ted Danson at the mall with an older couple. The one where the couple helplessly looks to him for answers and he tells them, “You don’t need all that stuff. You have everything you need.” 

How the #%$@ does he know? 

How does Ted know the guy or the woman isn’t a TikTok influencer posting videos to an audience of 50k+ users or that they aren’t doing social media posting off their phone for a client? Of course, the seemingly clueless couple is just as bad. Maybe worse.  

But I get it. The “bad guy” isn’t Ted, it’s the company trying to sell you a bunch of stuff you’ll never need. 

I know there are eyes rolling out there. For one thing, everyone else seems to love those ads. Adweek posted, “Ted Danson brings his comic timing to Consumer Cellular.” And Ted’s 74 himself, so I guess that means since he’s older, that makes it okay that he’s treating another older guy like he can’t make a decision for himself. 

(BTW, the older-guy-on-older-guy ageism is out there too.) 

But this is really about assumptions we make every day about older adults. And that happens in spades in senior living. I won’t list them all out, but your team, hardworking as they are, will probably make a dozen of them in the time it takes to read this article. 

Here’s how I’d handle Ted. 

“You don’t need all that stuff. Trust me. Just go with Consumer Cellular.”

“How do you know? Maybe you don’t need any extras, but I’m going to need more than basic service. I use my phone to blog for a client, four days a week. I need unlimited data. I could also use those six hotspots, as I’m on the go a lot. That stupid fan? Probably not. But I can tell if someone is trying to sell me a bunch of stuff I don’t need. 

“And, wait, aren’t you Ted Danson?” 

The thing is it’s really not that hard to leave ageist assumptions behind. In fact, it’s pretty easy. 

Rethink who you are selling to.

Just treat older folks like folks. We’re not “cute” when we do the twist at 88. We’re just dancing. Your beauticians don’t have to say, “Sweetie, I’m going to ask you to turn your head this way,” when giving a haircut. “Turn your head. Thanks.” works just fine. 

For the record, I get just as irritated when I see people my age acting like Ted-dependent old people. “I hate cellphones,” “I can’t figure out all this social media stuff,” “Do I have to do that online?” So we feed the assumptions.

What’s all this got to do with senior living? Maybe it’s time to rethink who you are selling to.

Are you selling to older adults or people who need Ted to tell them what they need?

If the latter, you’re in trouble, more and more these days. Because most of us don’t need Ted as much as you think we do. Just read Steve Moran’s recent article “We Have No Idea.” He gets it. 

And here’s a fun way to start stemming the ageist-speak: 

Start a fund where every employee who utters an ageist comment (and let the residents make the list) has to ante up $10. Everyone can be on the lookout. It achieves three pretty cool objectives:

  1. Increases awareness by everyone. 
  2. Gives residents a ton of “gotcha” moments.
  3. Creates a kitty that can either be used to fund a party or given to a local charity.

Maybe there’s a fourth benefit in that you’ll attract more of those boomers who otherwise won’t buy what you’re selling. 

Bottom line.

Bottom line? It’s not Ted’s fault. We’re all ageists. Even we boomers. But assumptions are dangerous to senior living community operators. Because they will keep the next generation of residents far away from your doors. 

What is it they say about “never assume”? Does it make an ass out of you and me?

I’ll leave it there.