Move Over Old-Timer, Here Comes Little Dicky.

For the first time in my short career, I find myself on the other side of the proverbial age line –– an old-timer, or that’s at least how I saw it when I found out I was one of the oldest people at my agency. Am I fast becoming a relic, soon-to-be asking what on fleek or acronyms like AF mean?

I have come to the conclusion that agencies somehow start to rid themselves of anyone who shows an inkling towards grey hair. If the saying ‘the older you are, the wiser you are’ has any truth, then why is the advertising world so quick to disregard the old with an impunity matched only by our government’s understanding of the standard of education? Can we honestly equate an understanding of client-consumer needs to an industry filled with a Ninja Turtle loving, Tinder swiping, born-free generation?

How can they realistically relate to their consumers when the basis of their information is gathered from an archaic questionnaire created by a phallic number-crunching statistician with a B-comm or equivalent?

I would often snicker at the feeble attempts my parents made in their quest to continue to be relevant by adopting the slang used by my generation or picking up mannerisms they deemed to be cool. A mixture of shock, horror, and absolute elation erupted when my mom once piped up at the dinner table and said, “you guys think I have swag in these heels?” I replied, “Ah, no mom, your heels are okay but your knowledge is on point.” You all know the types: they try a little too hard to be cool and end up making a bigger fool of themselves than a sign language interpreter who doesn’t understand sign on the biggest stage next to the leader of the free world.

Dick Stroud, founder of 20plus30 , a consultancy specialising in marketing to older consumers, says “the [advertising] sector has become increasingly ageist.” According to a report by the United Kingdom’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in 2013, the average age of an employee in the industry was just under 34.

“Advertisers often fail when it comes to ageing consumers, and the seed of failure lies in the advertisement agency culture,” says Mark Borkowski¹, a public relations expert. He goes on to explain that advertising and marketing agencies have become obsessed with youth. Those who have taken on the challenge of addressing older consumers have not just failed to understand the complexities of the demographic––they have no freaking clue what they are. How could they? They’ve hardly been down the frivolity of this little thing called life.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki weighed-in with his two cents over a decade years ago: “Perhaps companies suffer from what economists call an internal audience problem — the people who create their ads don’t look like the people who buy their products.²”

It appears that trying to find a job in advertising when you’re over 50 seems like something you really don’t want to do –– similar to facing a swarm of students protesting over fees as a dean whose never had to face the hardships they have in order to be there. I shudder at the thought, as well as the audacity.

There’s a commonly held belief that in order to be creative you need know what’s hot, what music is cool, or what website is all the rage, but with age you become less aware of those things by and large. Shouldn’t the focus be on the content and what is required to adequately represent the product to consumers rather than age?

Pat Giles, a former prop designer who now owns a broadcast creative boutique in New York mentions this fondly: “A lot of the times we discount people who have war stories of things not working a certain way and agencies would be smart to have those people.” Giles goes on further to illustrate that “it doesn’t matter how old you are, you have to keep up. Every day there’s a new method of distributing your idea. By the time they reach their 30s, kids in their 20s will find that things have changed drastically in this business.³”

The intention then is to continue to be relevant and keep on learning. I learn every day from the 90s kids –– but I teach them something as well. We all look at the next generation with a slight hint of pity for what they have missed, and for what the future holds for them.

I imagine the best advertising agency cultures are a cross between an old video game arcade with bright colours and something out of Mad Men. A mixture of old and new; a melting pot that infuses all the demographics of society in order to successfully integrate a fully-comprehensible agency, capable of servicing more than just the mobile screen illuminated faces of the youth.

I understand that no one wants to have to work at the ripe old age of 60 or anything over, but not everyone has the saving capabilities of a long-term investment, the astuteness of a wall street banker high on cocaine or a hedge fund the size of Lesotho’s annual budget.

The thought is something that fills me with doubt and the fear that I will cease to be relevant. I leave you with a notion of truths, most likely written by an old wombat in some wooden room that smells of moth balls:

25 Things That Happen When You Get “Old” in the Advertising Business – by Ernie Perich

  1. You’re fast.
  2. You’ve got a bag of tricks that you go to.
  3. You find yourself amazed at how much you’ve learned when you see how little the young people know.
  4. You know it’s not about you. It’s really about your client having success that you played a part in.
  5. You care less and less and less and less about award shows.
  6. You think about teaching.
  7. You finally stop bitching about your clients.
  8. You drink much better wine. More often.
  9. The type you approve starts getting bigger and bigger.
  10. 80 hour work weeks seem really stupid.
  11. Fewer things surprise you.
  12. You swear less. See #8.
  13. Loyalty rules over all.
  14. You no longer feel the need to chase everything.
  15. You’re comfortable with the fact that compromise is just gonna happen.
  16. Fridays start to become part of your weekend.
  17. You find ways to “let it go.”
  18. You say “let’s look at that” more often.
  19. Your go-to people are priceless. So are your go-to vendors.
  20. You’re happy that the message, not the delivery method, is still king.
  21. You don’t panic.
  22. You don’t criticise other people’s work.
  23. You can sum up 25 things in 23 lines.

¹’Advertisers Ageing Dilemma’ by Emma Stone, October 29,2014
²’Aging in Adland: The Gray-Hair Phobia That’s Hindering Older Execs’ by Rupal Parekh, January 30 2012
³’Advertisers Ageing Dilemma’ by Emma Stone, October 29,2014

Thomas Christopher Countee is an Account Manager at The Fort.