ADVERTISING’S LOST GENERATION: The young ones in adland say all the over-40s are good for are pipes and slippers. The reality, John Tylee says, is far more rewarding

’I’m glad I’m not young any more,’ sings Maurice Chevalier, sipping a glass of red wine in MGM’s 1958 musical, Gigi, as he contemplates his personal autumn under a summer sky in fin-de-siecle Paris.

’I’m glad I’m not young any more,’ sings Maurice Chevalier, sipping

a glass of red wine in MGM’s 1958 musical, Gigi, as he contemplates his

personal autumn under a summer sky in fin-de-siecle Paris.

’Poor boy, poor boy,’ he says in a mocking lament for his lovelorn young

friend. ’Downhearted, depressed and in a spin. Youth can really do a

fellow in.’

Fast forward to a Soho bar in the summer of 1999 where two admen, one a

twentysomething, the other aged 50-plus, are eyeing a girl. ’You’re

wondering if you can have her,’ the smiling older man whispers to the

younger. ’I don’t have to worry - I know I can’t!’

Passing the half century, it seems, while not entirely welcome, has some

distinct advantages. Sex may not figure so prominently on the agenda

but, as the adman says: ’I don’t have to pretend any more.’

Chevalier’s ageing roue would have applauded the sentiment. At a time

when a man’s life expectation is now 74 and rising, many of the older

generation’s newest members are more at ease with themselves than their

forebears ever were. They are the post-war baby boomers whose lives were

defined by the swinging 60s and who, if they have managed to reach their

mature years unbruised by recession and free of redundancy’s curse, are

having - in the words of one of their number - ’an absolutely glorious


Their compensation for growing older is not only in having money but the

time and confidence to spend it. An advertiser’s and marketer’s dream

audience you might think. Yet there is a growing belief that, in their

obsession with youth and style over substance, these industries threaten

to kill their golden geese.

Steve Martyn has seen the evidence first hand. As managing partner of

Prime Advertising, Marketing and Research, a consultancy monitoring the

effects of demographic and social trends in advertising, he regularly

conducts focus groups among the so-called ’grey’ market. The results

horrify him.

’It’s bad enough that older people don’t understand a lot of the

commercials we show them,’ he says. ’But the worst thing is they don’t

seem to care. They’re really not bothered.’

But surely it was ever thus. Aren’t the greys so set in their ways that

they are beyond advertising’s reach? While that may be broadly true of

the over-60s, the mistake is to lump all of them into one amorphous


To do so ignores the huge differences in lifestyles and attitudes

between a fit and active woman in her mid-forties, who is willing to

change because she comes from a generation that embraced it, and a

septuagenarian granny.

The real battle advertisers must win is for those living the ’golden

years’ between the ages of 45 and 60 who refuse to put away childish


This was the first generation that lived in a state of perpetual war

with its parents and retains its rebellious streak; that grew up with

commercial TV and has never minded being sold to; that uses its plastic

to live now and pay later.

’It’s incredibly important that we win over the baby boomers,’ says Beth

Barry, Ogilvy & Mather’s executive planning director who is 52 and a


’Because if we can crack them they will bring the future generations


The baby boomers are differentiated by attitudes shaped during a

fabulously exciting period for music and literature and a cultural

upheaval of which advertising was the most high-profile manifestation.

The UK ad industry was reborn in the 60s and fashioned to serve the

free-spending young consumers who made up the bulk of the population.

Allen Thomas, J. Walter Thompson’s worldwide creative director,

remembers working at the agency as a young copywriter firm in his belief

that middle age began at 30.

But while the market has grown older, the ad industry has retained a

Dorian Gray-like youthfulness leaving it timelocked and facing serious

consequences if agencies continue being run by the young for the


Over-55s now control 80 per cent of Britain’s wealth and 40 per cent of

consumer spending worth pounds 145 billion a year.

Compare that with the latest census figures from the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising. Of the 12,800 people working in its member

agencies, only 776 are over 50. Half, though, are under 30 and the

number is rising.

That trend is repeated in client companies where four out of ten

marketing directors are under 35 and only one in ten is over 50. Martin

Jones, managing director of the AAR, estimates that client marketers who

come to him are often barely out of their 20s and that their top

priority when choosing an agency is knowing they can work with its


That invariably means those of their own age and helps explain why many

agency chiefs, even those with long experience, claim never to have seen

a client brief for advertising intended to appeal to anybody beyond


No wonder that the generation gap between advertisers and consumers is

widening. Who, for example, would guess from the silken-maned Timotei

models that almost a quarter of the shampoo’s sales are to people over

65? Or that nearly four out of ten new Toyotas are bought by


Carmakers, in particular, stand accused of selecting the wrong gear when

it comes to mature consumers with Rover’s ’cool Britannia’ TV campaign

cited as a particularly dreadful example.

Craig Fabian, Volvo’s former UK marketing director, concedes the critics

have a point. ’There’s an inbuilt machismo within agencies that results

in car advertising being about speed, performance, desire and image,’ he

says. ’These things are most easily expressed in visual terms which are

bound to give the ads a more youthful appeal.’

’The ad industry is ageist,’ Belinda Kent-Lemon, a career consultant,

alleges. ’Any agency person over 35 who goes to a recruitment consultant

is much less likely to get a good reception than somebody ten years

younger. Creatives who have passed 40 have a particularly tough


Agencies acknowledge that there is no substitute for experience but deny

the charge that communication between the generations is breaking


Rupert Howell, the IPA president, brackets such a claim with the

allegation that women are unable to produce beer ads while men can’t

crack sanpro briefs.

’The intellectual challenges remain the same,’ he insists. ’Would

anybody seriously suggest that because agencies aren’t full of

housewives with a couple of kids that they can’t produce detergent


No they wouldn’t, responds Reg Starkey, 58, Prime’s creative partner,

whose agency career spans spells at Leo Burnett, Bates UK and Young &

Rubicam. But finding a common wavelength for the young and the not so

young is a problem. ’Just as women write better sanpro ads than men

because they share the life experience, so young people producing ads

for the older market have difficulty getting the tone, language and

humour right,’ he claims.

This can sometimes result is the seemingly obvious being overlooked.

How many times do advertisers consider using a slightly larger typeface

when communicating with older people, asks Andrew Cracknell, the newly

installed Bates UK executive creative director, who has been researching

the market.

Will UK agencies ever be properly equipped to chase the grey pound? The

signs aren’t promising. Compare them to their Madison Avenue

counterparts, where account directors in their 50s who have built

careers on the back of one massive piece of business are not


These executives are locked in by big salaries sustained by accounts of

a scale that British shops can only dream about. In contrast, the UK ad

industry will continue to be dominated by the young because it cannot

generate the revenue to keep many older managers in jobs.

Also, older agency account people in the US are not denied the quality

time that becomes more important as years pass. There are no long


But as Chris Clark, the British-born director of planning and strategic

development at the Bates agency in New York, says: ’Nobody is ever going

to tell me that if I’m not here until 9pm every night I’m not doing my


More important, US agencies have long recognised the colossal clout of

the grey market. Denied the safety net of jobs for life and a welfare

state, its members take retirement preparation seriously. ’Even the guy

who sweeps our floors has his share portfolio,’ Clark says.

The result is a proliferation of publications enabling older people to

make better judgments about how they live and what they buy. The

magazine of the American Association of Retired People has a circulation

of 20.3 million - the highest in the US - and is one of many titles

targeted at the mature market.

In Britain, some senior admen argue that the grey market will feel

increasingly alienated unless advertisers change their ways. ’People

over 45 want thought-provoking and informative advertising,’ says

Thomas, 55, who is contemplating combining consultancy work for JWT with

the formation of a new company through which advertisers can speak to

baby boomers. ’They also want it to be civilised,’ he adds. ’There’s

quite a lot that they find offensive.’ Cracknell, who had been

considering a similar venture, is even franker.

’They just want advertisers to cut the crap.’

Whether the arrival of specialist agencies to communicate with mature

consumers is good or bad is an open question. Some believe they may

relegate a hugely important issue to niche status and end up - in the

words of one senior adman - ’smelling of soiled bedsheets’. Thomas is

anxious that his proposed start-up should not be seen as an advertising


He says: ’This isn’t about Saga holidays and panic alarms. And I’ve no

intention of taking a stairlift account.’

No need to with the boom generation striding confidently into its mature

years and rewriting the marketing rules as it goes. ’Bet you’ll never

guess what the biggest competitor to the people who build garden

conservatories is?’ asks O&M’s Barry. ’It’s Harley-Davidson!’


It’s 1999 and, at 48, Carol acknowledges that life has been good to her.

From her carefree childhood when she played around the streets in

Start-Rite sandals to a comfortable maturity enjoying a restaurant meal

for two preceded by a vodka and tonic and washed down with a decent


Carol looks forward to these nights out, whether with her husband or a

girlfriend. And they’ve become more frequent now her son and daughter

are on the verge of adulthood.

She pays with a piece of gold plastic plucked from a purse bulging with

store loyalty cards and hardly gives the pounds 50 bill a second glance.

An inheritance from her parents has left her comfortably off even

without the salary from her job as a managing director’s personal

assistant. She not only loves the work - which she has done for many

years, taking time out only to have children - but the private

healthcare scheme that goes with it.

The restaurant has been a favourite since it got reviewed in a lifestyle

supplement of the Daily Mail. She likes the paper’s championing of

Middle England - hard to believe she once outraged her parents by

dancing naked at a pop festival - and reads it along with Good

Housekeeping, a magazine closely attuned to her shopping habits.

At home she’s chucked out her chintz in favour of Habitat style and

prefers to buy her clothes at Principles or Selfridges now that Marks &

Spencer has got so dowdy. Soon it will be time to change her

three-year-old Renault Clio. For a new one, of course.


It is 1965 and George has hit his 48th year bewildered by the pace of

change which is creating a society he struggles to understand.

He was born while Europe was convulsed by the bloodiest conflict ever

fought and had to give up almost five years of his life helping to win


He has known pre-war depression and post-war austerity, having married

and seen his daughter brought into the world during a time of food

shortages and ration books. These hardships have left a permanent mark.

So much so that, despite having three brothers and a sister, he and his

wife agreed that, after the birth of their child, they would not be able

to afford another. He is repelled by the ’live now, pay later’ culture

that seems to be sweeping Britain.

Conditioned never to be profligate with money, he has vowed not to buy

anything on hire purchase. He struggled to put enough money aside for

the family’s Ford Popular and is relieved that the mortgage on their

semi in a leafy London suburb, bought for pounds 2,000 in the late 40s,

is almost paid off.

He is pleased with his achievements as the breadwinner and is proud that

his wife, whose place is in the home, has never been forced to take a

job to make ends meet. His regular read, the Daily Express, backs his

view of life.

Over a couple of pints of Guinness on his weekly night out at the pub,

he and his friends sometimes grumble that prices would come down if it

wasn’t for all that advertising. And heaven knows why four long-haired

Liverpudlians make his daughter scream.


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