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The Betty White vs. Joan Rivers Superbowl: Women and Aging

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I am a woman of many Superbowls. I am also a marketer specializing in the Boomer woman demographic. As such, I am always on the hunt for the one commercial that most clearly reveals cultural trends regarding attitudes about women and aging.

Last year, there was no question that a commercial starring Betty White won the day, appearing on just about every one of the top ten 2010 lists of Superbowl ads. I wasn't alone howling with laughter as Betty White, dressed in a pale blue granny outfit, took to the field for Snickers in a no-holds barred game of touch football. We soon discover that it was never "actually" Betty White in the game, but rather one of the rowdy players who was simply "playing like Betty White" because he needed his Snickers.

Not long thereafter, I attended the annual M2W Marketing to Women Conference in Chicago, where I was able to discuss the cultural significance of Betty's success with many of the leading minds in marketing. Why did this ad hit such a chord with all demographics, including women 50+?

Consensus was that Betty comes across as an unabashedly older woman who is comfortable with herself as she ages. We are able to laugh with her rather than at her because she is not conflicted about trying to be young and competitive, unapologetic about her wrinkles, gray hair and pudgy shape. In fact, we are relieved to entertain at least a glimmer of hope that when one reaches her 80's, it may be enough at last to simply be one's authentic self, having one heck of a fun ride.

This year's Superbowl 2011 stand-out was an entirely different story. I'm speaking of GoDaddy.com's ad that tantalized us with the big reveal: Who is going to be this year's GoDaddy.com Girl? As the camera lovingly teases us with glimpses of this mystery girl's anatomical wonders, we learn that she's a hot Hollywood icon, smart, savvy, a household name. But who is it? Angelina Jolie, perhaps?

Spotlight up: On Joan Rivers, bless her heart. Not the Joan Rivers we know and love -- complete with plastic surgery, age-appropriate body and larger-than-life jewelry, which would have been funny enough. Rather, GoDaddy.com has reshaped, polished and sexed Joan up through the magic of technology. The equivalent of her photo-shopped head on a Playboy bunny's body, Joan appears to be 18 years old purring to the camera: "Is it hot, or is it just me?"

We laugh, of course, but we also feel queasy. But why? I expect that at this year's M2W, we will talk about Joan's stance about aging as being in direct contrast to Betty's. With equally honed, self-deprecating senses of humor, Betty's comfort comes out of an acceptance of herself in her own skin. Joan's humor, already deeply rooted in her role as the poster girl for plastic surgery, comes directly out of her rejection of herself in her own skin.

While we view Betty as inspirational because she is not confused about trying to be young and competitive, we get no relief out of Joan's provocations. For those of us who are ambivalent about whether to embrace or fight aging, and that is most of us approaching or transiting midlife, Joan is an uncomfortable reminder that there may be no relief in sight in our lifetime to the obsession to be young and beautiful.

Aside from boldly featuring women in their seventies and up in their advertisements, which is to be lauded, both commercials share something else in common. Neither has anything to do with fashion or beauty. The very fact that Betty's comfort level with aging allows us to snuggle our psyches into the promise of freedom from the obsession with youth and beauty, simultaneously means you won't be soon likely to see Betty touting lipstick or lingerie.

But I'd bet my last candy bar on the fact that some marketer out there, too young to know who Joan Rivers really is, is as you read this suggesting to some fashion or cosmetics client somewhere that the hot GoDaddy.com girl from the Superbowl ad would be absolutely perfect for the fall line.