March 21, 2013

Advertising Needs Old People

From The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2013
According to the local mining lore here, senior geologists tend to do their work the old-fashioned way. They avoid radar technology, preferring instead to examine termite and ant mounds...They're famous in the often cutthroat industry for their efficiency.

"I only hire old geologists," says Norman Slater, managing director of Slater Coal,.... People such as Kevin Petzer, a 65-year-old Zimbabwean who still roams South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia from his base in the KwaZulu-Natal province in eastern South Africa. Mr. Petzer, who emphasizes that he also has mastered conventional scientific methods, studies ant heaps, fossilized worm-burrows and flowers...

Mining executives say that while they chuckle about the quirks of older geologists, they recognize the business value of their memory of previous exploratory work, their grasp of complex rock formations and their discipline in knowing how to meticulously chart new territory. 
Advertising has too many people who know radar technology and not enough people who have examined ant mounds and fossilized worm-borrows.

The result is that agencies are long on ideas and enthusiasm, and short on knowledge and wisdom.

The average young account planner or copywriter is very far from the selling process. She has no idea what it is like on the showroom floor selling a truck. Or on the road selling copier machines.

She thinks that cleverness and audacity are what consumers are interested in. She doesn't understand that advertising is just selling at a distance.

She believes in "conversations" and  "communities" and "relationships" and whatever other fuzzy notions happen to be fashionable this year. She accepts conventional thinking -- regardless of how unproven or callow the prevailing conventions are. She lacks the skepticism that experience engenders.

I don't. I'm old. I've been around. I've seen what works and what doesn't work. I've heard all the cliches and I've seen all the miracle cures. I've taken the time to follow up on them and see how and if they align with reality.

I have worked in agencies for 40 years. I have worked with young people and old people. Now that I'm leaving the agency business, I can tell you the truth: There are plenty of stupid old people, and plenty of smart young people. But on the whole, older people understand advertising better than young people.

Young people are certainly in closer touch with pop culture. And if you think pop culture is what advertising is about, then have at it.

In a society in which half of consumer spending is done by people over 50; in which 75% of financial assets are controlled by people over 50; in which 62% of all new cars are bought by people over 50; in which 94% of all CPG categories are dominated by people over 50, the fact that the average agency has almost no one of this age is incomprehensible.

It is a testament to narcissism, delusion, prejudice and stupidity.


Gary La Pointe said...

You identify account planners and copy writers but the media department should be the ones who see through the BS in the quasi-research and be objective. Most of them see what the computer spits out never understanding the reality of the data. Just ask a TV buyer about Standard Deviation and the huge margin of error in so much of the spot TV they negotiate. Most, if not all, would be stunned - I'll bet their clients would be even more surprised

Christopher S. said...

What about those of us who are neither "old' nor young? I feel old. Does that count? Very very old.

George Tannenbaum said...

--George Tannenbaum, age 55, New York's 11th oldest copywriter.

tore claesson said...

When a 50+ person is considered old don't forget that many have children. Which translates into consumption on behalf of their children. In my case I have 2 teenagers at home. We are an open house to many of their friends as well. We overhear their conversations. When they forget we're in the next room. Not spying. But just overhearing.

We know what makes them tick, what brands they like, we know the games they play, we know the foods they eat. What drugs they, well, other kids according them, take.

50 plus creatives often know a lot about the latest things young people consume that perhaps a 30 year old won't.

One is certainly not useless and clueless at 50. Sure, I did some work in my 20s I'm still proud of. Work I think would be good even today.

But somehow I think I'm a better judge today. I'm faster today.
As you point out, I also probably know better what works and what doesn't after years of experience, trial and error.

And besides. I've probably tried all social media channels there is. I blog. I read a lot about digital. Online. I may not be what some call a digital native. But I'm certainly not a digital tourist either.

I've been immersed in digital longer than most digital natives. Which is another myth about those in their 20s. Just because digital happened when we were young rather than babies doesn't mean we don't get it.

The 50 plus generation in our industry is vastly underrated.

In addition to knowing our jobs we may also have a perspective that means we don't fall for all bull.

Thank you Ad Contrarian for always writing a interesting and smart blog. T.

paulbenjou said...

Let's face it. Advertising has been and will likely always be a young person's game, overlaying their own values and perceptions on the general population. Its' a mistake that will perpetuate. I too have been in this business 43 years, made the same twenty-something mistakes, had a few failures and many wins. It is unfortunate that the under 50 crowd eclipses the 50+ crowd with the kool-aid they are served up.

Quag said...

Stop the presses. Someone was just laid-off at Y&R.

You're now the the 10th. Congrats.... Enjoy it while it last.

charlotte said...

Being 'well over 50' and in advertising over 35
years, I truly appreciate this post.

Every generation thinks they invented sex, drugs and
rock ‘n roll.

A non anonymous said...

I'm 26. I often find myself at odds with not just colleagues my own age but the older folk, too. I get along strikingly with the 65+ crowd. Probably because we share the same skepticism. Perhaps I am old at heart. Or just a curmudgeon. A young contrarian. Or maybe it was all that LSD in college.
No. It's that while my colleagues, old and young, were studying the latest marketing trends and ROI analyses in their ivory towers, I was out in the real world painting houses, cutting yards and selling pot out of my dorm room. I was making money while studying.
Some of us youngsters are old at heart. Or at least we're severely jaded. Or we're not jaded enough. Either way we can see through the bullshit. Maybe age has nothing to do with it. Maybe its just experience and perspective. I too was a straggler to the ad world. But I was hungry and
Do not lose hope, Bob. Some of us are out here to make our clients money. Not engage their fans. Not drive awareness to their brand. But actually sell shit in a creative, compelling and unique way.
Anyway, I must extinguish some social media marketing knuckleheads.

GG said...

orrrrr.......... like everyone else in advertising, you fetishize and upweight your own demographic ;) i guess some things never change!

A non anonymous said...

I'm 26. I often find myself at odds with not just colleagues my own age but the older folk, too. Perhaps I am old at heart. Or just a curmudgeon. Or maybe it was all that LSD in college. Or maybe it’s the Fuck Authority attitude.
That’s not it. It's that while my colleagues, old and young, were studying the latest marketing trends and ROI analyses in their ivory towers, some of us were out in the real world painting houses, cutting yards and selling pot out of our dorm rooms. I would bet most of the adpeople, young and old, have either forgotten about or have never known the real world.

My point is that I know just as many narcissistic, delusional and stupid old folk as I do young folk.

Do not lose hope, Bob. Some of us youngens are still here to make our clients money. Not engage their fans. Not drive awareness to their brand. None of that silliness. We actually sell shit in a creative, compelling and unique way.

Tony Mariani said...

Gary can you expound on the "Standard Deviation and huge margin of error in so much of the spot TV they negotiate".

Siobhan Cleary said...

I love that the 26-year-old, LSD-sampling college grad, with an innate connection to oldsters posted twice.

Chuck Nyren said...

"No, I don't think a 68-year-old copywriter can write with the kids. That he's as creative. That he's as fresh. But he may be a better surgeon. His ad may not be quite as fresh and glowing as the Madison Ave. fraternity would like to see it be, and yet he might write an ad that will produce five times the sales. And that's the name of the game, isn't it?" - Rosser Reeves

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Still trippin', apparently, but at least it's not a bot. Though, the thought of a spam-posting robot under the effects of LSD are tantalizing.

Rob said...

I love this post but I would say that it's as much to do with attitude/mindset as it is with age. I know some young guys in adland who are amazingly worldly and mature and hungry to experience life first hand (rather than via a computer screen) and some older guys who are delusional and disconnected to everyday, normal life.

But yes, I love this because ad land needs to value creativity not discriminate on age and they have a long, long way to go.

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Willem van der Horst said...

I second that, both liked the post and it's not just an age thing - though of course maturity and experience can be coming with more age. Though also for ad agencies it can be coming from experiences of different industries before moving into advertising for people to have broader views than say people who went straight from a classroom to an ad agency as a grad or something.

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Matthew said...

Bob, I'm not looking forward to you leaving the agency world. Who will call us on our bullshit...

Allen Roberts said...

Not just advertising!
Consider the age of those looking after your super funds, and the lack of life they have lived.
Peter Drucker called the wisdom of older people "Intellectual capital on demand", a descriptionI have always (at least since I turned 55) liked.

Something new said...

Wow. Old people giving cynical rants about the youth of today. Don't see that very often.

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Yes. The +/-10% ratings variance are based on adults 18+. Once you narrow your target and that number increases. Those increases vary depending on age, how often the program runs each week, the rating size, etc. Those variances can be +/- 80%. A scary situation.

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