Behind the Scenes With VMLY&R and Ryman Healthcare’s ‘Ryman Pioneers’

Ryman Pioneers

New Zealand’s largest retirement village operator, Ryman Healthcare, and brand experience agency VMLY&R have joined forces to bring a fun, eye-opening campaign to the public, with the motive to reset expectations of retirement life.


Who said old is boring? To reset the expectations of retirement living, VMLY&R and Ryman Healthcare joined forces to bring us a delightfully quirky campaign featuring several bad-ass retirees, titled ‘Ryman Pioneers.’ 

Enforcing the primary message from the get-go, the campaign commercial begins by reading ‘Retire means withdraw, retreat, pull back. Not this generation.’ It then showcases quirky 70- to 80-year-olds bursting with talent and joy, proving they are still young at heart. 

With intent to differentiate, the brief asked for assistance in making the Ryman brand stand out from its competitors both in New Zealand and Australia. Media business was appointed to VMLY&R when Ryman saw the value of the agency’s integrated thinking and the proposal to alter how people typically view retirement.  

“We wanted to reach and resonate with a new group of people who hadn’t been considering retirement living options or retirement villages at all, because it hadn’t appealed due to their perceptions of what life might be like in a retirement village, or the benefits it offered,” says James Johnson, client services director at VMLY&R. 

In addition to developing a new brand platform, it was also required for the thinking to be applied to the full suite of retail advertising, optimising the potential of Ryman’s key selling quarter. 

“Sometimes, when a strategy to differentiate takes a client to less comfortable or familiar places, a revert back to a ‘safer’ strategy or execution can become the default. But this was not the case across our entire journey, we worked extensively with Ryman and its residents to understand the brand and the experience of Ryman retirement living,” Johnson says. 

From research taken, it was found that those in the retirement age group were dissatisfied with their portrayal in general advertising and also disliked the way brands as a whole communicated with them. VMLY&R’s interviews with Ryman residents in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s described advertising of seniors as ‘demoralising’ with residents expressing ‘we aren’t bent over, fragile old people.’

“There was a huge opportunity to talk to this important audience in a different way, portraying them as themselves, living lives of meaning and purpose, and with respect,” adds Johnson. 

Production for the campaign was turned around in rapid time, in order to be on air for the key sales period. Sweetshop was appointed to the job of production in mid-December and pre-production and casting began after Christmas. More than one hundred residents from Ryman villages across New Zealand and Australia were involved in casting, including dancers, musicians, artists and designers. 

Ryman Pioneers Billboards
Ryman Pioneers Billboards

Taking course across two days, the shoot was located in Auckland against a backdrop of Grand Central Station. Shooting consisted of A & B camera and stills, and behind the scenes interviews with residents about their passions and what life was like for them with Ryman Healthcare.

“Director Melanie Bridges was both off-camera director and appeared as on camera talent, as she photographed the residents ‘doing their stuff’. Her actual photographs were used in the final edit,” says Johnson.

“At the same time photographer, Steve Boniface, was taking still portraits of the Ryman residents, for a striking series of portrait images, that celebrated this new retirement generation on four-storey high billboards across city skylines.”

Johnson expresses that working with Ryman Healthcare was rewarding, not only due to the fantastic marketing team but the vastly experienced creative team, which was critical for collaboration. 

“Ryman have been the innovators in this category for the last 30 years, and it was an absolute pleasure working with them to create a marketing platform that yet again breaks the mould.

“A business that has enjoyed the success Ryman has, this doesn’t happen without great people. When we were appointed to the business, we were welcomed to the Ryman family and the feeling of being part of a family could not be more real.”

Given the ambition and short timeframe in which to execute, Johnson says decisions were made quickly, collaboratively and with a clear rationale. However, first and foremost was a commitment to the Ryman residents, to reflect their real energy, talent, views and opinions at all times. 

In terms of the final product, Johnson says it was a delight to see the true energy and spirit of people in their later years, and see it come live. 

Executive creative director at VMLY&R, Kim Pick, adds that the agency has been delighted to receive a flood of interest from around the world about the campaign, as well as modelling and influencer offers for the cast. 

“This is the generation who reinvented everything, and now it’s retirement’s turn. It was a delight to work with the Ryman residents and we’re incredibly proud to have the chance to show the truth of what it means to be ‘retired’. As an industry, we have to do a better job of representing people of all ages with respect and avoiding clichés,” says Pick. 

Since launching, the campaign has also received positive feedback from the public. Comments include: “At last, a retirement village campaign without pity or compassion” and “It shows more energy, intelligence and joie de vivre doesn’t suddenly switch off when you become eligible for a gold card. Well done”.

‘Ryman Pioneers’ has also resulted in an increase in enquiries and sales during the campaign period and a 23 percent increase in users to Ryman’s website in February in comparison to January. 

Ryman Healthcare’s marketing manager, Jenn Valavala, says the Ryman model of retirement living has always been about innovating and improving allignment with each new retirement generation. With the help of VMLY&R, the team at Ryman wanted to challenge how retirees are portrayed and talked to. 

“We wanted to challenge the perceptions of what life in a Ryman retirement village is like, and who better to illustrate this point than our own residents. By letting their personalities shine through we were able to demonstrate that they are people with purpose, energy and with full lives yet to be lived,” says Valavala. 

“Our messaging and visual approach equally reflect the passion and purpose behind why Ryman was initially founded and what continues to motivate our staff to this day.”

Valavala says there is so much she loves about the campaign, in particular the way it perfectly captures the amazing people who live in the Ryman villages. Another favourite feature is the vibrancy of the campaign, the colours, styling and music encapsulating the diversity of the residents. 

“The campaign succeeded in shattering the stereotypes of how older people dress, how they act and what they are passionate about.

“It encompasses who Ryman is as a company. We have always pushed the boundaries in terms of our offering, our standards of care and always putting our residents first. Pioneering perfectly sums up who we are, how we think and how operate.”

In terms of collaboration, Valavala says working with VMLY&R was a great experience. 

“This campaign has been a team effort and VMLY&R have really sought to understand who we are as a company. They have become just as passionate about our residents as we are and what our villages offer them. 

“Our timeline was very ambitious from concept through to launch to market. However, it was the perfect way to put us all through our paces and see how we performed as a new Ryman / VMLY&R team to deliver this campaign. I think the end result speaks for itself,” she says


This article was originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of NZ Marketing. You can subscribe to the magazine, here.

About Mollie Edwards

Mollie Edwards writes across ICG business titles, NZ Marketing, StopPress and The Register.

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