Does The Ad Business Need Older Leaders?

With the compelling title; “Time for 50+ to Make a Comeback” this article in Adweek recently argued that ad agencies should wake up to the fact that the near 80-million strong baby boomer market, where consumers spend billions of dollars, is still very important — and perhaps should be spoken to by people actually part of that generation. The author points to several recent top level hires at US agencies in their mid-50s. In addition, new business development hires at four major ad agencies are in their mid- to late-40s.

Too often in the ad world, younger people are hired instead of older ones, and there is a belief that youth in and of itself is good.

Agencies will argue that it is their skill to get inside the mind of any consumer and discover insights that can be translated into compelling communications. However, the one big difference is summed up in the word ‘experience‘.

If I were asked to write a strategy or a campaign targeting teens, I could do it. Why? Because (despite the disbelief of my teenage daughters), I was once a teenager. I have personal experience of being one! Of course I’d need to study their ‘new’ media habits, watch some teen oriented TV, listen to the music, research online and do some behavioural research (just as one would do for any audience) and bingo! I can relate, therefore I can create.

Experience‘ allows me to perform that mental leap. However, the reverse is not true. Younger folks obviously have no such experience of what it feels like psychologically or physiologically, to be older. As we see all too often expressed in communications targetting boomers and older, they often get it wrong!

Naysayers will argue that if men can ‘create’ for women and visa versa then surely young can create for old? The big difference is the abilty to project and relate. With ageing there are a kaleidescope of emotions and a panoply of physical change that cannot be imagined by younger folks. For example, how would a young person know the emotions involved when one enters retirement.

Above all this is the greater issue of ‘will’. Ask a young copywriter what they would rather work on, a campaign aimed at their own generation or younger, or a campaign aimed at older people? You know the answer.

For all the reasons stated above, I think this issue goes beyond the ad industry. Perhaps a more fitting title would be, Do brands need older leaders!?

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