Get off my lawn. Ageism in advertising. A giant pain in my ass.
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
The guy who works on my car is named Jurgen. He’s of some sort of Eastern European descent. I don’t know where exactly. He doesn’t do small talk but he’s the best mechanic in town. Which, when you live in Detroit, is a bold statement. I love dealing with him because there’s nothing he can’t fix and I know he’s not going to rip me off. In fact, he’s always trying to save me money. He’s an old guy. I don’t know how old. With Eastern Europeans it can be hard to tell. The cold war was kinder to some than others. So, I’m guessing he could be anywhere from late 50’s to early 90’s. He’s the most honest man I’ve ever met. Also, I love the way he talks.
“Jif. Iz Yurgeen.”
“Hey, Jurgen. Figure out what’s going on with that noise?”
“Yiz. Iz breks. Dey wern te sheet. Moost replace whole fecking ting.”
A few years ago, I had a little medical situation going on in an extremely sensitive and personal place. I put it off for as long as I could hoping it would just go away. It did not. I needed a doctor. A very special doctor. I needed an ass doctor.
I called up my insurance company to find out who was near me and in network. They sent me a list of a dozen names. Thanks to Google you can pick out a doctor pretty much the same way you shop for a reasonably priced vacuum. You just read the reviews and look for the one with the most stars.
Nevertheless, the list needed to be culled. My first cut was the lady doctors. I think this is one of the few times when it’s okay to be a bit sexist. When a man is in need of serious ass help, he needs the camaraderie of another gentleman. I only speak for myself though. It’s my hang-up. Not yours. And if it helps, I’d like to point out that my primary care physician, my dentist and my optometrist are all women.
The next group I eliminated were the younger doctors. Detroit is a small town. You go too young on your ass doctor and eventually you’re gonna run into that guy at the movies or a restaurant. I don’t mind bumping into my dentist at the Whole Foods. But I don’t want to see my ass doctor while I’m picking out produce.
What I wanted for my ass, was an old guy. Someone who’s got grandkids and not young ones. I wanted someone who’s seen it all. I want a guy who spent a few years in the Army during the Korean War. Someone who’s seen the horrors of combat. That’s the guy I want on my ass.
Dr. Barkel assessed the situation in all of 11 seconds, wrote me a script for some ass medicine and sent me on my way. Problem solved. The man literally saved my butt.
Then there’re my neighbors, Dan and Mary. They are by far the best neighbors I’ve ever had. Dan and Mary have lived in the house next to ours for 40 years. They’re in their 70’s and we should all be so lucky to have their energy.
Dan is a big DIY guy. Something I aspire to be. If you need a tool, sure, you can go to Home Depot and they’ll probably have it. But if you’ve got a 75-year-old man living next door who’s been fixing things for decades, he’s definitely going to have the tool you need. Not only will it be free, but you’ll get a good 20-minute primer on how to use it properly.
So those are three examples where I much prefer an older person with a lot of experience. Other examples would be a good defense attorney. If I need representation, I want Matlock not Keanu Reeves. Ditto on a barber. I don’t want some kid with gauged ears and a sleeve of tattoos. I want a geezer who can tell me where the fish are biting and has one of those posters illustrating the seven different and distinctive men’s haircuts they offer.
My accountant has been doing my taxes for over 25 years. He was ancient when we started working together. Now he’s basically retired but still does my taxes along with a few other longtime clients. The man is older than dirt but always gets me a refund and I’ve never been audited.
The point is, old is good. I like old. I want old as much as possible. I like people who know what they’re doing and as long as we’re not talking technology, old people know what they’re doing better than a bunch of whipper snappers with just a few years under their belts.
But when we get to advertising it’s a very different story. Oh, advertising you silly, silly thing. Why must you always be different? Advertising is and always has been obsessed with youth.
Despite the fact that people older than 50 have double the discretionary spending power of any other age group. And regardless of the fact the average head of household is 52. And the average new car buyer is 56. And the average Mac user is 54. Despite all that. The average age of an advertising creative is 28.
Now, I’ve been 28. When I was 28, I think I was just making it to Sr. Copywriter. And with good reason. I still had a shit ton to learn about how to convince people to buy stuff they don’t really need. And I sure as hell didn’t know how to handle a client.
The average lifespan of a CMO is around two years. It’s not listed in the job description but one of the more crucial services that an advertising agency provides to a client, is to somehow help extend that poor S.O.B.’s miserably short lifespan. Maybe if we kept a few adults around who have the life experience and career wisdom to better understand their business and their customers, they’d get the results they need to keep their jobs a bit longer and their kids wouldn’t have to change schools so often.
Here’s the deal. It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson. And it pains me to say it. But clients don’t buy ideas. Clients buy the people who come up with the ideas. And as much as I wanted to believe that my ideas alone could win them over, the truth is that they weren’t judging my concepts. They were judging me. Would you hand over your $1.5 million dollar budget to 28-year-old me?
Advertising needs young people. First of all, they’re cheap. So you can get yourself a dozen or so without breaking the bank. Someone’s gotta sit in all those cubicles or your creative department is going to look like a ghost town and sound like a library. Also, younger creatives inherently have their finger better placed on the pulse of pop culture than their more senior counterparts. And advertising is often at its best when it reflects the most current elements of what’s new and now.
I love mentoring juniors. It’s something I truly enjoy because every time I do it, I’m paying back someone who was kind enough to help me out when I was young and didn’t know shit about anything.
But in over 25 years of working in advertising agencies all over the country, I’ve only witnessed two retirements. There aren’t a lot of gold watches handed out in my biz. Gold lions? Tons. Gold watches? Not so much. Recruiters have all kinds of tricks that they recommend to people my age. Shave a few jobs off your resume. Don’t put dates on when you attended college. Get a neck tattoo.
I say fuck all that. I’m not going out that way.
I am better at this job than I’ve ever been. I’m more creative than I’ve ever been. And I can go longer and produce more ideas than I ever could as a young writer. Frankly, I’m just now getting good at this advertising thing.
Agencies who force out their older creatives are playing the short game. They’re being cheap so the CEO, CFO and CCO (all of whom are most likely over 50) can make bank. And the real crime is that they’re doing a disservice to their clients. They’re not providing them with the best talent possible.
I urge any CMOs reading this to ask their agency the average age of their creative department. If it’s under 30 you’re getting hosed. Those kids are making $17k a year and the agency is billing them out at $120 an hour. Your work will fail, and you’ll be looking for a new job when your two years are up. And that’s the kind of pain in the ass that even Dr. Barkel won’t be able to help you with.