Age will be served! Rebuking the perception that advertising is a young person’s game.

February 10, 2011

Think he’s too old to create?

Derek Walker, who is “the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.,” wrote an entertaining essay this week in AdAge entitled, Ad Agency Dinosaurs Are Not Extinct; We Are Adapting.

Being four decades and change myself, I can appreciate Derek’s take on the Logan’s Run mentality permeating our business. (In the movie everyone turning 30 is killed to preserve society. Or some shit. I forget the details.) Derek paints a picture whereby a “digital asteroid” supposedly kills off all the oldsters in Adland, leaving just twenty-something’s in control. I say ‘supposedly’ because Derek refutes that perception. To the under-thirty, who claim digital superiority, he writes:

“You just can’t see it now. You misjudge how deep our talents and abilities run. You’re too busy laughing and ridiculing us. But understand — please take a moment to grasp — that for my fellow dinosaurs and myself this digital age is no killer asteroid. It is like a new hunting ground has opened up. And the prey is so unaware of how dangerous we are. They don’t even run away anymore. Digital has not destroyed us. It has exposed a whole new hunting ground.”

Like I said, it’s a fun piece. And it’s about time someone wrote it. Save for one or two brave rogues (God bless Bob Greenberg and yes, God bless George Parker), most ad industry folks really do obsess over the topic. Call it Youth in Advertising.

Or, better yet, call it bullshit. This idea that only kids understand –really get- digital is just fucking lame. Look at Hollywood…from behind the cameras. Since the beginning, rich, old fucks have been making films for punk-ass kids and the kids eat it up. Yet, only the actors belong in their peer group. Chances are the creators are 50 plus. No one calls James Cameron a dinosaur. He seems to get the technology thing. And putting aside Sanctum, he knows how to tell a story. Something too many kids in Adland can’t do, or even more unnervingly, won’t.

So, why is ageism so rampant in advertising? My theory: we’ve coveted the 18 to 34 demographic for so long we’ve subconsciously accepted them as our superiors. I myself have romanced the child-like wonder of creation, gleefully calling the creative department Romper Room. But staying in touch with your inner child does not mean you have to be one. They are not our superiors. In fact, in many cases they are vastly inferior. Consider the following:

People under 30 get Asian tattoos on their arms and think it makes them look badass. People under 30 think paying money to see dopes spin records is a concert. People under 30 pay money to see dopes spin records. People under 30 grow beards. Inexplicably. People under 30 make fun of ironic tee shirts yet they wear them anyway. People under 30 think making fun of shit they do makes doing it less stupid. Like wearing ironic tee shirts. Like growing beards. Like getting Asian letters tattooed on their arms. They think comic books are books. They think video games are important. They think that they think. And yes, these same people think they know how to make creative better than we do.

Chinese for douchebag

Well, on behalf of every creative director old enough to remember the Avid (let alone cutting film with a blade), I say Bravo Derek Walker. 40 isn’t the new 30. It just might be better. Um, except for having to get a colonoscopy. That sucks.

Finally, I know people under 30 like to hate anonymously (Man, do I ever), so have at it, boys and girls! Next post back to acting my age. That means less cussing and I can’t use the word “badass.”


25 Responses to “Age will be served! Rebuking the perception that advertising is a young person’s game.”

  1. Show me said

    I don’t doubt the older generation can evolve and thrive. But I wonder how many are taking steps to do so. As in tangible action, rather than just telling Ad Age how important it is.
    Right now, I’m not convinced. We hear integration and media neutral over and over, but TV reels are still the main determiner of who gets hired and who gets promoted. Let’s face it: Can you imagine most CDs hiring a fantastic blogger over a big budget tv reel? Or per
    We’ve been hearing the evolution is right around the corner for ten years now. What does that tell you?

  2. hbbc01 said

    I have had a successful career in marketing for more than twenty-five years, but can’t find a job in Denver because I’m 51 years old. I’ve won awards and have a great closing record, but employers don’t think that I understand the new markets. Guess what – the markets don’t mean crap if you can’t convince the business owner that advertising works. Business owners would rather work with experience. Now I write the blog, 2011 Small Business Survival Guide. Love the post. Nice to see that Clint is still relevant.

    • anon said

      Not going to hold back here, so I apologize in advance for not candy coating it.

      If it didn’t matter and your experience was actually as relevant as you think it is you’d still have a job. It sounds like you failed to evolve, and as a result so did your experience. The one thing that was never said in the AdAge article which absolutely should have been, is that you can only be a dinosaur if you don’t evolve.

      As an example, someone brought up Edward Broches in another comment. There’s no way you can consider him a dinosaur, he’s blatently more integrated into social media and aware of the interactive space than most top Digi CCO’s at major shops.

      You’re commenting on a blog so may not be as helpless as you think you are but you can’t blame the industry for evolving when you didn’t bother to stay curious and keep up.

      • hbbc01 said

        Hey Anon, easy to post without your name, so you’re pretty much irrelevant yourself. I took my experience and created my own business that is entirely advertised and promoted through new media. I did evolve. I have a successful writing career, and I still freelance with local businesses. Advertising is still about branding. I was not fired or laid off from my previous position. My wife and I moved to Denver two years ago after she was promoted to an executive position with a major Architectural firm. I looked for work in the market and was rejected because the companies that I applied to didn’t feel I would be happy starting at the bottom of the ladder. I commented on the post because I agree with what he is saying. Right or wrong, it is what it is. Regardless, I’m SEO certified, a graduate of Wizard of Ads Academy, and I have a Cleo. I have been constructing websites since 1998. I am far from being a dinosaur.

  3. Stuart said

    I know some stuff, senior people know stuff. Sometimes it’s different/divergent. Sometimes it’s the same. Value exists in each perspective.

    Learn from each other. If you don’t you’re the one being an idiot.

    Smart people are smart, age has nothing to do with it.

    Boches taught me that (and a lot of other things).

  4. Tad DeWree said

    Make no mistake, Advertising IS a young person’s game.
    With Youth comes energy, innovation, experimentation.

    But when jobs, careers and a companies future is on the line,
    for an Ad veteran, its no game, but serious business.

    Not sure if its after you’ve won a few awards, or more likely, when
    you’ve paid your second mortgage, sent your kids to college, or opened your own shop that the distinction becomes clear.

    Campaign of the month? The kids have it.
    Campaign for the decade, I go with the vet.

    That may be the critical distinction.

  5. Now this is a topic that’s close to my pocket watch.

    Tad said something that’s very true, which is that advertising is a “young person’s game” and “with youth comes energy, innovation and experimentation.”

    But I’m here to tell you that “youth” is not a chronological age, it’s a state of mind.

    I’m probably the only grandfather to post here, but I’ve been hired to lead creative departments at my last three agencies because of my digital experience (which dates to ’94 when I helped put only the second bank in the entire country onto the web) and my understanding of how the digital world can best integrate with the analog world across every medium and channel.

    I’m in discussions with another shop right now to do the same for them.

    As a creative director well into his fifth decade, I recently had a couple of twenty-somethings working for me who acted more like dinosaurs than actual dinosaurs. And I was the one pushing them to innovate, experiment, and think outside the confines of their current world view.

    Ya’ see, Timmy, it’s not the physical age that matters, it’s the mental age that counts.

    It’s the ability to never sit still, never rest on past performance. In this business, you’re only as good as your last project.

    And here’s a little secret for those who look down their noses on gray hair; in many ways we still think and feel like we did when we were twenty-five.

    Only we’re now able to draw on another twenty-five years of actual experience, actual trial and error, actual results that help inform our current thinking.

    Anyone who’s been around long enough will tell you that the only constant in life, and in advertising, is change.

    And if you’re unwilling to change, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ll become a dinosaur.

    Remember, dinosaurs can be eggs, too.

  6. Brook said

    True to most of these comments, I’ve yet to be impressed with the up and coming generations. Mostly the art directors. I’ve been waiting for the younglings who don’t see walls between the traditional and digital worlds. The ones who can sit on a set and talk about lenses on a camera or are comfortable about giving direction to printers with confidence. The ones who can discuss typography with the proper terminology then sit down and animate something in Flash. The ones who can concept a TV campaign, add some outdoor concepts to the pile, then design a microsite for it. The ones who naturally think of mobile apps while they’re discussing guerilla campaigns and how it’s strategically relevant to the client. The ones who have the ability to pick up a camera, animate some graphics, design a poster, paint a picture, make a film, or start a blog. Where is this generation? I keep hearing about it, but I’ve yet to see it.

    • SRP said

      Could me a mantra in the vein of Apple’s “Here’s to the ones…”

    • Show me said

      You know what Brook,

      I’ve spent my entire career being as ambidextrous as you discuss. Kudos from world-renowned thought leaders. Industry awards. Major social media presence. Great mind for strategy. Good with clients.

      Guess what…I still lose out on jobs to creatives with nothing but a couple of nice TV spots in their reel.

      The ad industry is speaking out of both sides of their mouths. “Evolution Revolution” on one side, and “Today we’re gonna hire like its 1989!”

      I’m frankly getting sick and tired of it. And I put the blame on the “veterans.” Maybe you’re not like that, and maybe Steffan’s not like that, but this is the reality on the ground.

      • SRP said

        To some extent, we are all culpable. Lying if I said otherwise. What makes the whole debate interesting (as well as frustrating) is the fact that we all were young and ambitious and probably felt unjustifiably empowered. Though I will say I respected my “elders” and was in genuine awe of some of them. Lack of mentors is potentially evidence of ageism. “Why would I want to take advice from that old fuck?” On the flip no one is exempt from the biological clock. Circle of life…

  7. Jason Fox said

    At 38, I’m now firmly middle-aged, even slightly old in the world of advertising. But I grew up with technology. First video games, then computers, then the internet and now social media. Because I’ve always dug gadgets, tech and the online world, I don’t think I’ll ever get out-teched by someone younger. Sure, he may be aware of a particular niche that I haven’t discovered yet, but that’s going to happen regardless. You can’t know everything.

    The problem with the stereotype that only Gen Y and younger understands the digital space is two-fold. One, a lot of Gen X created the space and/or grew up on it. Two, more importantly, too many folks of any age think that the medium is the strategy. “Well, we’re on Facebook.” Good for you, champ. Now, what are you doing with it?

    It’s the same old story: Smart people know (or figure out) how to do smart things. People who dismiss others based on age of any kind do so at their own risk. And probably don’t qualify as smart people anyway.

  8. jim schmidt said

    Architects, filmakers, musicians, artists, chefs, etc all do great work way past 50.
    As do ad folks such as Lee Clow, Dan Wieden and Joe Pytka. Age clearly has little to do with creativity. Many older ad folks get cast aside because they make too much money and begin to slow down a little too much. Plus they work for publicly held companies who are always looking for ways to improve margins. The one’s who are kept around are usually those with close ties to clients.

  9. catfish said

    Many of the people who discovered the atom, its constituent parts, quantum field theory, gauge theory, discovered there are other galaxies, or developed artificial intelligence and organ transplants, or people who built the Saturn V rocket that took us to the Moon, engineers who created the Cassini-Huygens space probe, GLAST, Hubble, the people who developed laser technology and so many more did their work in their late 40s and into their old age. How old was General Schwartzkof or General Colin Powell when they led combat troops in the single most one sided victory in modern history? How old was George S. Patton when he took over beaten army and forced the Nazis out of North Africa and ground their asses down all the way to Berlin in WWII? They were in their fifties and sixties.

    Only this industry that pats itself on the back for every fractional page newspaper ad with an idea, or goes into a frenzy at Superbowl spots would so denigrate the contributions of elders; or be so myopic that we think that the ads we are doing really matter so much in the scheme of things that a man in his fifties would be denied employment. Hell George Parker (who is so old his Social Security Number is 2) writes in a wickedly funny and insiteful style that almost no columnist under 60 I have come across can replicate.

    Yascha Heifetz stopped playing the violin when he was 77 and he was considered the best in the world. I could go on. My point is that the same discriminatory memes that kept women out of politics and police forces, or kept Black people from serving in the armed forces, are reflected in the notion that middle aged creatives aren’t creative. What a regressive attitude for an industry that calls itself cutting edge.

  10. Joe said

    I could care less if some little brat in tight jeans and a Justin Beiber haircut can come up with the “sickest” app or the most “insane” website design, if there is no IDEA behind all the flashy execution, it’s just eye candy.
    Too many kids out of ad school fail to see how it ALL should work together- TV/Print/WEB/Ambient/DM/Mobile. If your idea cannot fit seamlessly into all of the above and move product, you are as useless as the old fart who never went past setting type by hand.
    Web/Mobile is but ONE MORE WAY to reach consumers, not the freaking end of Print/TV/DM/TRAD AD. Sorry to break the news to you 23 year old self proclaimed hotshots who think you are ahead of the curve just because you know flash. In fact, most of the time that’s all it is….FLASH.

  11. anon said

    Wanna know how I feel about this subject?

    P.S. @hbbc01 I truly believe that you were making websites since 1998 because your currently comment linked site looks like that’s when you actually made it.

    If you can’t internet you will become roadkill.

  12. Interesting piece, Steffan. Your behind-camera Hollywood is great example of how age doesn’t matter when creating stuff. I think today’s creative landscape is not dissimilar to the 60s, when TV was thought best done by kids who’d grown up with it. Yet “television natives” weren’t the ones who created Alka Seltzer and VW spots so memorable they’re getting hits on youtube 50 years later. Creativity in digital–as in any form–has less to do with age than with chops.

  13. derek walker said

    Wow. I am sorry I missed this conversation but I felt like I had to stop by and comment. The digital realm is evolving and soon, very soon it will resemble TV more than folks like. And when that happens, those with the ability to tell a story and create a conversation will be ruling this because they should – no matter what their age. Art direction and copywriting will soon matter online, like it should have from the beginning.

    I wrote my post as a warning that the young cannot rely merely on youth, they are going to have to produce work.

  14. David Farmer said

    I’ll pick a team of five elderly agency folks, with over 25 years of experience and go up against a team of five youngsters with less than 10 years experience any day to pitch any piece of business, and will put $100k on the table as a wager over who wins the business. Any takers?

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