Ageism in advertising and what we can do about it

There are lots of reasons to loathe the pernicious nature of ageism in advertising.

The dubious legality of it all.

The brain-dead notion that advertising must perforce be a young person’s game.

The inane short-sightedness of dumping years of expertise and experience out on the street the minute it hits 40 or, dread thought, 50.

It all adds up to an industry that hasn’t a clue where its best interests lie. 

Arse, may I introduce you to your elbow?

But there’s a more pertinent reason why the wilful jettisoning of vast swathes of senior talent makes not one iota of sense:

Advertising’s largest, most lucrative audience is getting older.  

Statistically speaking, the 50+ demographic today represents:

44% of the adult population.

50% of all consumer spending.

60% of households earning $200,000 or more.

And it’s getting bigger, richer and more influential.

Hands up all those who think it might be a good idea to have a few of their peers creating the ads they see?

You know, the people best able to understand how they think and act, and have a good grasp of what motivates them and what doesn’t.

Sadly, logic and facts don’t resonate in an industry fixated on youth. 

In adland today, the over 50s represent just 6% of the workforce.  

When challenged, the industry gurus and poobahs will roll out bogus maxims like “Lifetime Value” – a handy piece of gobble-de-gook that pretty much guarantees the work will skew way too young.

To take but one example: car advertising. 

Loaded with fads and souped-up on bells and whistles, they’re routinely targeted at 20 to 30 year-olds. 

I’ve got news for you: people in their 20s aren’t buying new cars.

But people 50 and over are. 

60% of all new car purchases are made by someone over 50.

And get this: People over 75  buy 6 times as many new cars as people aged 18-24. 

That’s because, unlike twenty-somethings, they have the spending power – and they’re not afraid to use it.

So, the next time you see a TV spot for a car, take a good long look at the driver and ask yourself, in what universe could that person afford that vehicle.

Which brings me to the crux of this particular blog.

While it’s refreshing to see ageism in advertising debated, bemoaned, vilified and talked about, we’re still a long, long way from seeing any real or meaningful action.

And let’s face it, the catalyst for change is never going to be the agencies themselves. 

No, our best opportunity lies with clients.

If actor Regina King can stand on the stage at the Golden Globes and use her newfound influence to declare that, in future, 50% of the crew on any of her projects will be women, then why can’t an equally influential client demand that 40% of people working directly on his or her account be over 40?

I have to believe that if Mark Pritchard at P&G declared age appropriate representation a moral and business imperative tomorrow that things would change in a heartbeat.

The same goes for Phil Schiller at Apple, Linda Boff at GE, Michelle Peluso at IBM, and any number of other powerful CMOs with the clout to lead by example and say “enough.”

Fanciful? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.

The day agency demographics mirror those of the average consumer will be the day that advertising finally grows up.

It can’t happen soon enough.

Ageism in advertising is getting old.

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One thought on “Ageism in advertising and what we can do about it

  1. Excellent post, Bloke. You make a very sound case. But as you say, it’ll take a lot to change this and the agencies are unlikely to take the firs step.
    You missed out the elephant in the room, of course: cost. Over 40s and 50s (like myself) expect bigger salaries. The accountant asks why have one forty something when I can have two or three twenty somethings for the same outlay. The biggest change I’ve seen in the 33 years I’ve been in the business is in relative salary levels. In short, advertising doesn’t pay tremendously well anymore (except at a C suite and holding company level, where it pays astronomically more than ever before) and many take a view that it’s best to get in a fresh bunch of cheap, keen kids every few years. But you know, pay peanuts…

    Like

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