OPINION: CRACKNELL ON ... AGEISM IN ADVERTISING

It was Campaign’s idea to publish a piece about ageism in advertising agency employment practice last week, but I’m happy to add to it this week. Given what follows, I will inevitably be accused of being a covert, crusty old fart. So I shall out myself now, by freely admitting to overt, crusty old-fartism.

It was Campaign’s idea to publish a piece about ageism in

advertising agency employment practice last week, but I’m happy to add

to it this week. Given what follows, I will inevitably be accused of

being a covert, crusty old fart. So I shall out myself now, by freely

admitting to overt, crusty old-fartism.



Of course agencies are ageist. You’ve only to look at IPA figures for

1997, which show that there are only 727 people over 50 working in the

industry. The often-quoted excuse that some people have priced

themselves out of the market is pretty offensive. Could they really be

expected to have had the prescience to refuse pay rises over the past 20

years?



It’s all to do with a basic misunderstanding about an agency’s goal and

how to achieve it. Everybody knows that ’freshness’ and ’innovation’

should be the watchwords by which an agency lives.



Unfortunately, most go on to confuse this with youthfulness. But

innovation and freshness are a reflection of talent and attitude, not

age. I don’t think any of us would dispute that for sheer variety and

pyrotechnic imagination, John Webster represents the pinnacle of

advertising thinking in this country. He’s been doing it since his 20s

and he can still do it now.



Similarly, a team like Steve Hudson and Victoria Fallon has done enough

to prove that, should they wish, they will still be producing timeless

concepts like the One2One conversations well into their supposed

twilight years. Nowhere is it proven that older people are not

innovative, any more than it is the case that all young people are

fresh. Age is immaterial.



Or is it? Who are we supposed to be talking to? Increasingly, the very

people we neglect to represent within our agencies are those in society

with most of the disposable wealth and the time to choose how to dispose

of it: the ’greys’. But as long as the age profile in agencies dictates

an instinctive collective belief that, for example, Chris Evans (with

2.25 million listeners) is of greater significance than Terry Wogan

(five million listeners), we are never going to be able to talk properly

to the most lucrative market of all.



One small fact, reported in Campaign a few weeks ago, is illustrative:

up to 65 per cent of all new car purchases in this country are made by

the over-50s. Significantly, they’re buying the smaller, nippier

cars.



So how do we woo them? With Claudia Schiffer taking her clothes off,

with a twentysomething couple trying to pretend they’re not married and

with a group of glowing pubescents trying to find a bar in France

showing a soccer match.



It’s a collective denial of what’s really happening. The tastes and

lifestyles of current agencies - and, incidentally, a lot of clients -

seem to determine what we produce, but this is increasingly out of step

with what’s actually needed. Of course, great planners and creative

people can transcend the differences, but they are few and far

between.



Maybe agencies should show more age discrimination. Positively.



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