Oldies but goodies: why advertising isn't just a young person's game
A view from Martin Jeyes

Oldies but goodies: why advertising isn't just a young person's game

Adland may be trying to improve the diversity of its workforce but employers are still overlooking a crucial section of society - older people. Agencies would to well to realise that creativity is not the preserve of the young.

I’m white, male and middle-aged.
And I’m a minority.
When I was 36, I was accepted on Tony Cullingham’s world-famous creative advertising course at Watford.
I remain the oldest person to have done it.
Look around any advertising agency’s creative department and you’ll find the junior creatives are all in their 20s.
In fact, most creatives below executive creative director level are young.
It’s a young person’s game.
But should it be?
Is the advertising industry missing a trick here?
First, we need to ask ourselves: is creativity a preserve of the young?
Well, fashion designer Vera Wang opened her first boutique when she was 40.
Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes.
And Harland David (Colonel) Sanders was 66 when he began promoting a recipe he’d developed… which became KFC.
There are countless others I could’ve listed.
When it comes to creativity, older people have many more years of life experience to draw from.
As Rod Jenkins says in his book, The Art of Creative Thinking (Sceptre: 2015): "Many entrepreneurs, chefs, teachers, writers and artists produce their greatest works as their insights and perceptions deepen with age… Age brings an understanding of who you are."
Lots of people change career later in life.
For the 20 years before I joined the Watford course, I’d been a shelf-stacker at Tesco (not that you could really call topping up the broccoli a career).
When I went to uni, aged 32, there was a thriving mature student community and many were way older than me.
None of them went into advertising, though.
This could partly be down to the industry not promoting itself to older people.
Towards the end of uni, as part of my creative writing module, I had to write an essay on how creative writing can be useful in the real world. It was through my research that I found out about being a copywriter.
I had no idea about it before then.
I hadn’t heard of the Watford course, I hadn’t heard of Dave Trott, Sir Martin Sorrell, yellow Pencils, calls to action or making the logo bigger.
This might come as a shock to you – the real world doesn’t know about any of this stuff.
And if you don’t tell them, they still won’t know.
I remember going to an advertising talk with a young friend who was beside herself with excitement because Dave Trott was giving it.
"Dave who?" I said.
"What do you mean, Martin?" she replied, indignantly. "It’s Dave Trott! He’s mega famous!"
Not in the real world he isn’t (sorry, Dave, if you’re reading this).
But there’s another reason why we don’t attract older people into advertising.
The culture.
For starters, when you begin as a junior creative, the money is piss-poor.
Placement poverty, they called it.
I’m sure it still exists.
Long hours for money so low you have to spend your Sundays cooking chickens on the hot chicken counter (I’d moved up from stacking broccoli by that point).
Just to be able to pay London rents and still eat.
Placements where there was no guarantee of a job at the end of them.
I was lucky – if you can call it that – because I didn’t have a wife, kids and mortgage.
I’ve no idea how those who do cope.
There’s a lot of talk about diversity these days, and rightly so.
A better mix of people – races and genders being the hottest current topics – seems, logically, more likely to produce better ideas.
More different inputs.
Older people should be included in that.
And not just the ones who’ve grown old in the industry.
New, fresh old people.
With new, fresh ideas.
Even if they’re not new and fresh.
Tony Cullingham said to me, when I told him I was writing this piece, that old people with young minds are welcome at Watford.
Well, I guess he proved that.
I see my background as a blessing in a way.
Working in Tesco has given me an excellent grounding in life.
It’s helped me to understand real people and their funny little foibles.
I did 23 years there altogether, man and boy.
Many junior creatives haven’t even been alive that long!
Not to mention that most products are advertised to middle-aged consumers (that’s where most of the money is, after all).
So who’s going to have a better idea of how to engage with them than the middle-aged themselves?
The industry (generally) isn’t doing enough to tap into what could be a rich seam. There should be more people entering advertising at a later stage in life.
Hell, there should be an awards category for them.
The People Who Should Know Better award.
I would like to nominate me as the first recipient.
(As a junior I was barred from entering some awards. I was too old to be a junior. How weird is that?)
So how can we fix this imbalance?
Well, promotion would be a start.
At universities, perhaps. Grab some of those career-changers while they’re in the mood.
Like I said, I only found out about Watford, and being a copywriter, by researching an essay.
Maybe the top ad agencies could chuck some money into a pot and make, I dunno, an ad campaign?
A "Do you think advertising is crap and could you do better?" type of affair.
That could work simultaneously for all the diversities – the fashionable ones as well.
There have already been a few steps towards improving the financial side of things. I remember reading an article in Campaign by Stu Outhwaite of Creature, pledging to pay junior creatives a fair wage and then putting them on freelance money if they go over three months.
That’s a step in the right direction.
I’ve nothing against young creatives, by the way.
Many of them are excellent.
For example, my creative partner, Anna. And she’s 17 years my junior.
Blimey. I just worked that out and realised I’m technically old enough to be her dad!
Now I do feel old.
But, anyway, my whole point is that creativity isn’t, and should never be, a mystical realm that only the young can enter.
To its own benefit, advertising should do more to change its old way of thinking and get more oldies in.
Oldies but goodies.
I’ll leave you with one final thought.
Charles Darwin was 50 when he proposed his Theory of Evolution.
You can’t get much more creative than that.


Martin Jeyes, aged 45-and-a-half, is a freelance senior creative.