Immaturity or senility in advertising: Which is it?

December 16, 2009

Old farts! Damn kids!

Is there a right or wrong age to work in advertising? We often hear it said that advertising is a young person’s game, usually in a sentence with “man” and, if we’re being honest, “white.”

But let’s stick with age. I’ve written about the topic before, on this site and elsewhere. Reactions were many and vigorous. Like any “ism” ageism is controversial, inviting strong opinions. But is it as pernicious as sexism and racism? I wonder. Right now we seem to be getting mixed messages, at least as it relates to our industry. There is a persistent call to remove all “the rich, old farts from big dumb agencies.” These voices get pretty loud and angry. Shame. Because when they’re not obscene, they actually make good points. Are our leaders out of touch? Do they still think in last century paradigms? Men of a certain age… Are we passé?

However, many of these same harsh voices also criticize the younger members of our tribes, calling them sophomoric and juvenile. They ask: What happened to craftsmanship? Cannot anybody tell a coherent story anymore? The creative department has become a den of hooligans, fan boys and twits.  The so-called “frat boys” at Crispin Porter & Bogusky are good examples. Are they great or are they are scum? Most certainly they are young.

So which it –an old boys network or a frat house?

Either way, the debate gets ugly. Of course, neither side is right or, for that matter, wrong. What’s odd, however, is that many industry critics seem to be talking out both sides of their mouths. It’s ‘out with the old’ one day and ‘stupid kids what do they know?’ the next. I guess only people between the ages of 25 and 35 are suitable for employment. Everyone else get lost.

Well documented are African and Native American tribes who value the wisdom and experience of their elders. Alas, many tribes don’t, particularly in the modern world. Particularly in advertising. We are a youth culture. Being young and beautiful has become a skill set. Strength is appreciated over wisdom.

The animal kingdom calls this the circle of life. Survival of the fittest. Changing of the guard. Nature is rife with examples. The top dog always has other aggressive, younger dogs nipping at his heals. A pride of lions can only have one king. Eventually, a new sire emerges. It is not a pretty process.

Civilized society is supposed to be above all that…

Here’s what I want from my agency workforce: wily veterans and feisty colts. If both groups remain teachable (to one another and to the outside world) the tribe thrives. Good leaders, then, are hybrids. I like to think of myself as a feisty veteran! How about you?

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4 Responses to “Immaturity or senility in advertising: Which is it?”

  1. True that said

    I have had the benefit and the handicap of spending my whole career at two agencies where i was the youngest creative, by 10 years at least.

    I can tell you that as long as someone keeps pushing themselves and stays openminded, age ain’t nothing but a number.

    Agencies go for youth because they are cheap and easily taken advantage of, not because they are “better.”

    But I acknowledge the other side, too, as my current bosses are only now willing to adapt to industry changes that I tried to get them to pay attention to three years ago. Of course, I am getting not a shred of credit for being the flashlight in the cave. So it goes.

  2. SRP said

    Check out this hilarious holiday video from Goodby relating the old & young of Adland!

  3. d. said

    This is probably a little late, but as a recently-job-hunting creative, this post has struck a bit of a nerve.

    When I first started out as a junior copywriter, I was barely 21. The job offers poured in because I was young and fresh and cheap. A few years later, it got a bit more difficult – I started getting a little too expensive and by the time you’re 24 and you have no awards to your name, you are nothing. None of the big agencies gave me a chance. I slogged on anyway at a small no-name agency.

    Just a couple of months ago, thinking that since me career is dying anyway, why not just try for one last time to get into a big agency. And boy, did the offers pour in.

    Feedback: At a ripe old age of 28, I am apparently, young enough to still be relevant and old enough to know how advertising really works.

    What happens when I turn 35?

  4. SRP said

    Well said, d.
    Hang in there. It’s getting better.
    I wish you only success.

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