October 03, 2016

Advertising's Lost Generation

It started over 15 years ago.

The web was becoming wildly popular. Agencies were quickly becoming consolidated into oversized, lumbering behemoths. The ad industry desperately needed a facelift to hide the fact that it had devolved from an industry keen on creativity into a clumsy financial contrivance of Wall Street sharpies.

In order to align itself with the new gods of business - the wunderkind of Silicon Valley - the ad industry quickly adopted the customs, language, and conceits of that world.

Among the most oppressive of those conceits was the worship of youth.

“Young people are just smarter,” said a smirking Mark Zuckerberg.

Of course, Zuckerberg wasn’t the world’s only arrogant prick. This attitude - though mainly unspoken - became a prevailing ethos in the advertising world.

But advertising is not like science and math where the brightest tend to excel while young. Advertising has more in common with literature and art. Artists and writers tend to do their best work in their 40's, 50's and 60's.

Nonetheless, the agency business has demographically cleansed itself of mature people. Today, while 42% of the adult population of America is over 50, 6% of the population of advertising agencies is over 50. This is not an accident.

If you were over 40, you were very likely a dead person walking.

If you dared to question the received wisdom of the people who were “just smarter" than you, you might as well turn in your badge. You were done.

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry is suffering. It is broadly acknowledged that the quality of advertising has reached an all-time low and is in free-fall. We are learning how foolish and misguided we were.

But the satisfaction of seeing the ad industry floundering and in disrepute is small solace for the pain of driving for Uber.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of talented ad people who were trampled in the insane stampede of advertising’s cultural revolution.

The billions of dollars that marketers have pissed away on idiotic schemes concocted by bungling amateurs will never be recovered. And neither will the careers of the thousands of people who tried to warn us when we were too smart and too smug to listen.

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