Where are all the old people in adland?
by Jed Mowat (@joepublicunited) Walking into work often feels as if I’ve stepped onto the set of one of those beer ads shot in Braamfontein. Yet, as wonderfully diverse as we are, there is one group that has recently stood out for me as missing and that’s the silver-haired varietal, especially on the ground in the creative department.
#woke and diverse
I’m going to go against the wave of self-deprecation we so enjoy in this industry and just say it: I love working in advertising. I love solving problems, coming up with ideas; I love how each day brings new challenges, products, markets and even the mind-bending obscurities that require mental gymnastics to solve. But, above all else, what I enjoy is the honour of doing it with a group of professionals that are more #woke (excuse the millennialism) and diverse than you would find anywhere else.
Having just slipped into my 30s like a comfortable pair of slippers, I’ve started to look at the industry with fresh, albeit aging, eyes and struggled to find examples of me but in 15 years’ time. Where are all the old people in advertising? Is the runway for my chosen career shorter than the next sentence? If so — that’s terrifying.
If you want to last in the advertising game, it seems you need to rock-star your way into a senior position until life’s ceaseless metronomic tick-tock renders you redundant. The thing is, when talking strictly about established agencies with blue-chip clients (excuse the recruiter speak), not everyone on the ground can break through to the top tier. It’s not defeatist to think this way; it’s maths.
A few articles have tackled the issue of the aged (or the lack thereof) doing ads over the years. Dave Trott uses the example of Sir Alex Ferguson to demonstrate how thinking gets better as you age and not worse, and asks industry players to judge on merit alone. Alex Murrell, meanwhile, points to a string of Oscar-winning directors and Nobel Prize laureates to demonstrate that creativity gets better as one ages.
So, what’s happening in advertising?
Many things. From tightening budgets and demanding schedules on agency side, to those who grow older struggling to adapt or keep their finger on today’s blindingly fast-changing zeitgeist, or maybe it’s a case of just not knowing how to leverage one’s accumulated years of experience. But what’s undeniable is, as an industry, we have a tendency to overvalue youth, not only in our staff complement but also when it comes to our target markets. It makes sense: youth is the ideal, it’s sexy, which is why you see it more often in our ads, and who better to talk to the youth, than the youth? This approach, however, is incongruent with a world that’s growing older as age expectancy rises across the globe. As an industry we need to be cognisant of just how enchanted we are with the baby-faced siren.
That said, could the elderly be the key to unlocking the youth?
If you’re a family who now finally have the opportunity or means to provide your first generation (thanks, mom) with tertiary education, would you not try your damnedest to steer your child away from a career that comes with a short shelf life? If we are to succeed in our endeavour of bringing more diversity into advertising and encouraging people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter this game, then we need more shining examples of those in the industry who’ve enjoyed a long enriching career and not just the few we currently have at the top.
As an industry, let’s continue to celebrate the youth but, at the same time, not forget those who were young once, too.
Jed Mowat is a senior copywriter at Joe Public Connect. After graduating from Vega, he started his career in advertising in a small warehouse in Durban in 2010 before joining TBWA\ Durban and eventually moving to Johannesburg. He has won awards and has come to realise just how unremarkable his corporate profile sounds, thanks to this bio.
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