PERSPECTIVE: Advertising's ageist stance still offends its richest audience

Three years ago, Campaign published an extremely controversial article ("Advertising's Lost Generation") in which John Tylee proved that advertising, at its worst, bears no resemblance to reality as we know it. Specifically, the article demonstrated, through a series of interviews with clients and agency staff, that the ad industry was ageist. For it seemed that people between the ages of 45 and 60, those people who grew up with commercial TV and never minded being sold to, those people who would rather use their plastic to buy a Harley-Davidson than a panic alarm or a stairlift ... well, they were being lumped into one amorphous grey market. At best, they were being patronised, at worst, ignored.

The conclusion of the piece was that the over- 55s, despite controlling 80 per cent of Britain's wealth and 40 per cent of consumer spending, were being sidelined by an agency community, where half (and rising) were under 30, and client companies where four out of ten marketing directors were under 35 and only one in ten were over 50.

The response was overwhelming; Campaign was deluged with mail from readers.

Numerous individuals expressed their gratitude that someone had proven that in their obsession with youth and style over substance, agencies and clients threatened to kill their golden geese. Others - mostly creatives over the age of 40 - were relieved that the poor reception they had received at recruitment consultants and agency interviews was not really about them, more a sign of the ageism of the business as a whole. Still others - optimists, obviously - saw an opportunity for a wave of niche agencies to communicate with mature consumers.

One question that always perplexes after such articles are published was whether the powers that be in the business would respond in any way.

Now that everyone realised that 45- to 60-year-olds saw much advertising as a huge joke that propagated a hopelessly unrealistic and incomprehensible image of the world, would clients take steps to alter the tone, language and humour of their ads? Or would they simply dismiss the feature as the addled ramblings of a bunch of self-interested nobodies?

To answer this question look no further than the ads you see around you and page 18 of this week's issue, a piece about St Luke's new entertainment venture, the Artist Network. "If you're going to do something different, use young emerging talent, not old has-beens who are trying to reclaim some exposure,

one agency executive says. "Maybe the reason why young people aren't involved is that they're too busy being successful,

another says. It seems that despite the overwhelming evidence, much of the business seems happy to operate in a twisted dream factory, offering both the young and the not so young the same hopelessly skewed vision of reality. No wonder some of its brightest talents such as Richard Hytner (see this week's front page) feel the need to head for academia for a while.

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