“You are old, wrinkled and ugly – Happy Birthday!”

National campaign promotes age-positive birthday cards

In an age when Britons are living longer, healthier, and more active lives, and the over 50s are the largest and most influential consumer group in the UK, the Silver Marketing Association is backing a campaign to urge consumers to combat the “crass, offensive, hurtful and negative” messages communicated by stereotypical ageist birthday cards, on display in thousands of UK retail outlets.

Better Birthdays is a UK initiative led by Canopy, a social enterprise that works to reimagine a fairer society. The campaign sets out to encourage consumers to understand and act on the injustice of this form of ageism by making kinder card choices, and for manufacturers and retailers to make and sell more appropriate and acceptable greetings. 

Hannah McDowall, co-director of Canopy, says that birthday cards that stereotype age are “a public expression of ageism which has been going on for decades. Those who send them don’t mean to offend, but they give the message that being older is bad. We live in times when there is a strong desire to grow equity and leave prejudice and discrimination in all its forms behind us. We wouldn’t accept racist or sexist birthday cards so why do we accept these?”

Silver Marketing Association Managing Director, Debbie Marshall, a long-time campaigner of age sensitive issues commented: “British humour is world famous, but discrimination and humiliation are just not funny. Brits love to be self-deprecating, gently make fun of others, and laugh at everything. The greetings card industry often gets this spot on, but images of forgetful, grey, wrinkled `oldies’ craving sex, alcohol and mobility are way off the mark and need to come off the shelves.

It is time to stop buying ageist cards and start greeting family and friends of all ages with positive and supportive messages, to make them feel good about themselves, to be proud of their achievements, and to embrace their past and the future with enthusiasm. That is the kindest way that you could possibly wish someone a `happy birthday’, and it can still be done with humour, but without being crass, offensive, and hurtful.”.

Claire Everett, Interim Head of Ageism Campaigns at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Ageism is an extremely common form of prejudice but the impact and damage it can cause is significantly underestimated. The time has really come for all industries to take ageism more seriously and take active steps to eradicate it.   
“Every day older people are bombarded with negative images and narratives about ageing on TV, in advertising and in the media. This can feed internalised ageism whereby older people see ageing as negative and accept a reduced quality of life and circumstances as an inevitable consequence of getting older. It also has a very strong influence on how society more generally views and treats older people. 

“It should be entirely possible to raise a smile and a laugh in a birthday card without resorting to lazy stereotypes depicting ageing in an unrelentingly negative manner. We hope the industry can find creative ways for friends and relatives to mark their loved one’s birthday with jokes that everyone can enjoy in a way that can make the recipient feel good about the ageing process.” 

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