56 Years Young

Well, wouldn’t you just know it.

I return from the Holidays to find we’re finally having a debate about ageism in advertising. And a damn serious one, too, by the looks of it.

It’s about bloody time. 

Naturally, in the two-cent saloon of public opinion I’ve got a dollar fifty to spend, so here’s my take on the various whys, whats, and wherefores. 

The concerted eradication of the lesser-spotted senior creative has been going unchallenged for more than a decade now. Aside from the glib cliché that “Advertising is a young person’s game,” the boilerplate excuse for this sorry state of affairs has been the digital revolution and the pernicious notion that anyone over 40 or, God forbid, 50, must be flummoxed by it all. The whole shebang is just too much for our ageing analog minds to grasp.

A handy piece of nonsense that I hope to bury over the next few paragraphs.

To be clear:

There is not a single thing about digital, social, mobile, or content that scares me, worries me, frightens me or otherwise gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I have a clear understanding of how it works and, unlike most of its acolytes, know with absolute certainty why it doesn’t most of the time.

And I’m pretty sure a vast slew of ad people of a certain vintage would agree with me.

The only thing that bewilders me about the digital circus is the wholesale acceptance of its supposed magical properties and the outright refusal to countenance anything that might gainsay it. That being said, here’s what’s really driving our ongoing preference for young over old.

First, there’s the optics. A creative department filled with young guns supporting beards, tats, and Bluetooth headsets, looks a whole lot more on-it and of-the-moment than one stacked to the rafters with receding hairlines, expanding girths and mandatory reading glasses. For those of us getting up in years, this is undoubtedly the cruelest consequence of the passage of time. 

Then there’s the money. Younger means cheaper. Why pay top dollar oldie prices when you can hire raw talent with bags of potential for half and get away with it? If the client doesn’t notice, who cares?

This double whammy has resulted in the gutting of an entire stratum of our business – the senior pro with 25+ years of experience under his or her belt.

There are so many reasons why this is a terrible idea.

Let’s start with the nature of the advertising audience: It’s getting older, more affluent and more influential. The oldies have disposable income out the wazoo. Might it not be a good idea to have some of their peers creating the ads for them?

Then there’s the obvious hypocrisy of creating diversity and inclusion campaigns for our clients while simultaneously turning a blind eye to ageist practices in our own back yard. An excellent opportunity to lead by example that’s, naturally, been missed.   

The third is the effect an absence of senior people has on the quality of the work we ultimately create. I’m sorry, folks, but it’s increasingly taking a nose-dive into the dirt.

Today’s twenty-somethings are sorely missing what I had when I was their age – namely, the presence of a couple of old farts who had seen most everything before and weren’t afraid to share a few secrets. Occasionally, this would manifest itself as an open piece of advice (“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you”); more often though it was learning through proximity: You can learn a lot from merely observing someone who knows what they’re doing,

No one doubts that times change and that the younger generation must inevitably replace the one that came before it. 

But experience never gets old, and we jettison those steeped in the ways of the business too readily at our peril.

Do so if you must, but don’t say it’s because the old guard is out of its depth, or doesn’t grasp the latest leaps forward.

We know all too well how the game works.

And better than you might think.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we’re at last having a meaningful conversation.

Long may it rage.

Let the change in attitudes begin.

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7 thoughts on “56 Years Young

  1. Well written. Personally, imho and taking the reality of the countries I’ve lived and worked (Brazil and Chile), I see this more as a salary down-sizing issue to reach the goals of a dying industry than ageism. But the cause doesn’t change the problem. Yes, advertising has never been so sadly bad both in creativity and results. Hope we can find a way to fix it before it’s too late (is it already?).
    Thanks for the inspiration again 🙂

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  2. I love this. So relevant, and let’s forge the new future for our age, complete with the wisdom we can impart on other generations!

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  3. Well said.

    Unfortunately, many in our industry are more concerned with signaling that they are “cutting edge” instead of delivering results. Last week I read a Marketing Week article that quoted the CMO of a very large brand as saying, “Nowadays, commerce is a by-product of engagement.”

    Shouldn’t commerce be the end product, the goal of advertising and marketing?

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  4. Unfortunately I have seen that nose dive into the dirt, there are a lot of talented younger people, but they are not given the boundaries or guidance to work within, sadly it is mostly quick fixes without testing and development, and yes the client and the end user/viewer does notice the difference, even if they don’t quiet understand why. The client won’t feel pride in the work they commissioned and that will be sore for them, they won’t have much trust second time around, causing more probing, questioning which will confuse and dilute. The younger designers will panic and it all goes to shit pretty quickly. The director will turn around and look bemused wondering what happened to the account.

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  5. Young Neph; speaking as an old fart~ thank you for this.

    Bravo, hear, hear, (or is it here, here, never knew.)

    Years ago, I did a workshop on the growing importance of social media to brands.

    Afterwards, a Twenty, could have been Thirtysomething came up to me and thanked me for a great presentation, and asked me a question, somewhat hesitantly.

    He said, something like”…you know your stuff, I learned a lot, but surely Social Media is a thing for the young.

    I told him, (with a previously rehearsed ad-lib) “You got the adjective wrong son. It’s for the YOUTHFUL. And you can be youthful at any age and an old fuck at any age too.”

    It’s both the attitude and the judgement smade about that’s the problem.

    Especially if your an old fuck, in a young body, with a beard, tats and bluetooth mindset.

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    1. Well said, Mike, and very true.

      You and I have the mindest of a 25 year-old and the benefit of 30+ years experience.

      Together that comes to a total of 55+ years of invaluable knowledge and craft.

      Would that more people recognized it as such.

      Cheers

      Ian

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