It’s time to give older creatives some love
First published on Campaign
When I started out in advertising back in the 1980s, I used to look at my (very few) colleagues in their 40s and wonder what I’d do when advertising finished with me. Forty years later, I’m still wondering the same thing.
Somehow I’ve managed to stay in the business, but I have no idea how or why. Although I‘m immensely grateful to still be here, doing what I enjoy, I’m sad that I’m very much one of a kind.
As far as I know, of all my contemporaries, only my partner Andy and I are still employed. Some are freelancing, often following redundancy, and are invariably finding it harder and harder to find work. The vast majority have now “left” the industry.
Advertising has changed massively over the years. But one thing has remained the same – ageism. Of all the “isms” we, as an industry, are currently making great efforts to tackle, ageism is still slipping through the net.
According to the latest IPA survey, just 6% of agency staff are over 50, yet this age group accounts for 47% of the population. People who work in advertising are some of the most professional, intelligent, sensitive and proactive individuals I’ve ever met, yet for some reason we’re all guilty of allowing this to happen. We still tend to assume that we have a shelf life and simply accept it.
One thing that’s clear is that chasing the latest trends and trying to keep costs down lead agencies to recruit younger employees while letting go of older ones.
And cultural bias, even though it may well be unconscious, also makes them assume that older employees don’t understand new digital platforms.
But our job is to change perceptions and to sell, and that’s exactly what experience teaches you.
Keeping older people in the business matters because, apart from the moral implications, without them we are doing our industry and our clients a disservice.
By ignoring the enormity of life skills and insights older people bring to the table, we’re losing out on the simplest way to connect with half the population who hold the majority of the wealth.
And it’s a trend that’s continuing to increase. By 2040, the over 50s are set to be the biggest spenders in every category.
Maybe even more concerning is the fact that up to 88% of older consumers feel misrepresented by advertising. My dad used to say that advertising wasn’t aimed at him, and we’d laugh. Now, I know exactly how he felt.
The minute I left my 40s behind, brands suddenly assumed I’d be discussing funeral plans in garden centres, or develop an overnight hankering to go on a cruise, or that I’d be spending my weekends trimming hedges or chasing my grandchildren.
The difference in age between 50 and 90 is the same as between 0 and 40. So why treat us all the same?
Something fundamental I’ve learned about getting older is that you never feel your age. You may look different but you still feel the same. You don’t suddenly like different things. There are activities you maybe can’t do any more.
Much as I’d love to go ice-skating I’d rather not end up in A&E. Just because we’re older, we don’t undergo a change of personality. At 93, my mother-in-law said that inside she felt the same as she did at 18.
The older you get, the more you grow into yourself. Fewer things bother you. Ridiculous deadlines, difficult clients, changing briefs… it’s not a problem for us oldies.
By the time we get to the other side of middle age we’ve generally been through some major life crises. We don’t sweat the small stuff any more. We’re problem solvers. We get things done. We’re not ready for the scrap heap.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for us oldies. Agencies are taking diversity and inclusion extremely seriously, and the spotlight is at last beginning to fall on ageism.
My own agency, The&Partnership, has an initiative called “High vis creatives”, which seeks to increase the visibility of all kinds of underrepresented groups – including older people. And by offering me a job when I was 50, it was already practising what it preached.
VisibleStart is another great scheme. Set up by Jane Evans and Jacquie Duckworth, co-founders of The Uninvisibility Project, in conjunction with Brixton Finishing School, and funded by WPP, it’s a free, eight-week programme that aims to retrain midlife women in skills that are in high demand. The idea being to fill the gaps many agencies are facing.
But more than that, it’s a complete support system for women who want to get back into work but have found themselves marginalised by age prejudice.
Visible Start are also putting together positive examples of imagery of older women, as is The Centre for Positive Ageing, in a bid to address the negative stereotypes of older people.
At last, things seem to be changing, and with more flexible working, and the aftermath of the big resignation, the time seems right to appreciate everything the older generation can offer and give them some love. After all, today’s 25-year-olds are tomorrow’s 55-year-olds.
Briony Hey is a copywriter at The&Partnership