Old Farts Fight With Wise-Ass Youngsters Over Ageism


A recent thread in an industry forum focused on the issue of age and ageism in advertising. Like diversity, it's a hot issue and people take sides. One line of thinking holds "old folks" have no business in the industry because they are inflexible and unable to learn new things. Another line of thinking holds there's no replacement for experience.

While ageism is alive and well, it doesn't make it right. Attitudes that assume anyone over a certain age isn't capable of adding value are alive and well but that doesn't make them right. That line of thinking is idiotically stereotypical and lacks any consideration for the individual's, whether 20 or 80, ability to do a particular job well. It's like saying because you're a woman, all you should do is stay home and cook. Or, because you're black, you should just pursue a career as a hip hop artist. These are stereotypical statements with no basis in fact.

While it's true there isn't much gray hair in the advertising world, that's due to any number of reasons including "older" folk leaving to start successful businesses of their own after having endured the idiocy of too many wise-ass, know-it-all 20-somethings making fools of themselves in front of their equally stupid clients and having to bail them out.

Harsh? Sure. But so is the assumption anyone over 40 is a clueless idiot. Neither line of thinking aids this situation. People should be respected for their intelligence, not the number of candles on their birthday cake. There are just as many stupid 25 years olds out there as there are stupid 65 year old. Age is irrelevant. Or at least it should be. Thoughts?

Written by Steve Hall    Comments (27)     File: Opinion     Mar-15-07  
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Many of us younger folk are good for a lot more than keeping up with the latest trends. Just because I'm 20-something doesn't mean I can't handle managing an important project or a staff reporting to me. And, like you say, people should be respected for their intelligence, not the number of candles on their birthday cake - I say their pay and level of responsibility should reflect the same.

Posted by: andrew on March 15, 2007 02:44 PM

Why stop at age, women have been historically paid less for doing the same job.

Posted by: Cheryl on March 15, 2007 03:14 PM

A good example might be George Parker. While long in the tooth and white of hair, he's still got a razor sharp wit and a keen eye for strategy.

So maybe it's just a matter of how much you drink.

Posted by: Logan on the Run on March 15, 2007 03:18 PM

I'm 52 and amazed at how younger reporters describe my age group. A recent Boston Globe article on online dating talked about "geezers" in the over-50 set using the Internet, and expressed amazement that anyone my age could even use a PC. I've used one for almost 30 years, thank you very much -- I ought to have learned something about computers by now. And another newspaper report talked about an "elderly" woman driving off an embankment -- she was 54. It's all relative, I guess. I once heard my 5-year-old sigh, "Oh, I wish I were three again..."

Posted by: Catherine on March 15, 2007 03:36 PM

the problem is often simple economics. you can pay a 50 year old 100k to be an art director or pay a 25 year old 50k. Now, you might be able to argue that the 50 year old's experience warrants a higher salary, but in an age where cost-cutting reigns supreme, it's hard to quantify just how much extra salary is warranted. on the flip side, it's quite easy to see that you'd save 50k by firing the 50 year old and hiring the 25 year old.

Posted by: t on March 15, 2007 03:41 PM

It's not about age. It's about DNA. One of the most creative minds in our business belongs to Bob Greenberg of R/GA who left his youth behind decades ago, but not his ability to innovate, break new ground, or challenge the status quo. True talent is always in short supply. It should be treasured at any age.

Posted by: Steve Olderman on March 15, 2007 03:42 PM

There are just as many stupid 25 years olds out there as there are stupid 65 year old.

Pretty much sums it up.
Thanks for sticking up (?) for us old farts.

Posted by: Mark on March 15, 2007 03:53 PM

Age is freggin' irrelevant these days. "Boomers" don't want to be thought of as old, rather younger and more free than our ancestors.
I'm 26, but I know my elders are majority of the time more experienced, but the younger people have good ideas too. The "more seasoned" folks are much better at making it happen.

Posted by: Matt S. on March 15, 2007 04:10 PM

George is only sharp because he uses the pencil sharpener.

Posted by: marischa on March 15, 2007 04:12 PM

Its' funny the argument always comes down to 'old geezers' and 'young punks.' There’s the view that the old guys 50+ are inflexible and the young ones only know the hottest cultural trends but lack real brand-building skills, client experience, etc. There's a third group though, the in-betweens.

Younger boomers, guys like me old enough to remember working for old-school ADs with markers drunk after lunch but interested in everything going on now, from viral shit to whatever Crispin is doing. This age group is the sweet spot most, if not all HR people don’t care about because they're too busy scanning resumes for 'Miami Ad School.'

Posted by: makethelogobigger on March 15, 2007 04:13 PM

Some random thoughts:

On the issue of flexibility versus experience, and the thought that the over-40 crowd can't make ads anymore (and I use the term loosely, to encompass any possible form of old or new media): In the early 20th century, the business had the wit to hire women writers to work on packaged goods and fashion. Sexist? Yes. But at least they threw us a bone.

Today, an awful lot of the target audience is over 40 -- if we're going to be dyed-in-the-wool ageists here, we should at least be letting the old farts have a shot at the work that's targeted at other old farts.

Oh -- assuming more or less consistent access to health care in the near future, we're all going to be old farts. We're mostly going to live forever, and we're going to have to work forever.

On the subject of 50-year-olds making 100K versus 25-year-olds making 50K: That would be nice. I've been on my own a very long time, so I don't know if that happens or not. Besides -- I thought it was mostly about what's in a creative's book (again, using the term to mean a body of work, encompassing old and new media) . . .

I do wish people would get over the stereotype of the middle-aged technophobe. Maybe I go overboard in the other direction -- I make sure the first impression people have is geek and the second is creative. As for the stereotype of youth as technology experts: I wish our kids would learn to maintain their own damn machines . . . and don't get me started about the cute young thing at OfficeMax who didn't know what a hard drive looked like.

Posted by: Mary Baum on March 15, 2007 04:56 PM

It’s interesting how ageism is getting so much attention in an industry that has run on exclusivity (racism, sexism, nepotism — you name it) for generations. Now that the White men are getting old and being tossed aside, they’re suddenly crying foul.

Posted by: HighJive on March 15, 2007 05:55 PM

...and just because I'm about to turn 50 doesn't mean I can't handle managing an important project or a staff reporting to me, either. I find myself in more and more situations where I'm being viewed as if I could be potentially obsolete. This is scary. There's so much left I want to do in my career, I feel like I'm just getting started. The last 5 years of my life have been very enlightening. I never viewed myself as lacking relevance but as I'm "crossing over" it seems like aging is just a mistake I made because of poor judgement and not a natural part of life. The world of advertising and everywhere else needs to reaggregate around different criteria. A world sorted by age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity limits everyone. And is kinda out of style.

Posted by: Stephen on March 15, 2007 06:11 PM

You goddamn punk kids with your "hip-hip" and your baggy pants. Think you're so smart.
GET OFF MY LAWN! Damn punk kids.

Posted by: Hugh on March 15, 2007 06:29 PM

hj - first ya have to be considered before you're tossed aside.


Posted by: makethelogobigger on March 15, 2007 07:11 PM

I am 32 and feel like I only have a few years left in the biz-- it's worse than Hollywood standards! Maybe we can all band together and start our own Geezer-Tube and charge all those young punks $$$ to advertise on our site.

Posted by: Kate on March 15, 2007 10:52 PM

I was on iStockphoto recently and was looking for pictures under "business". Practically all of the pictures had youngish looking people - late 20's to early 30's. When they had a photo of a woman who looked like she was, say, 47, they called her "mature"...the new euphasmism that's used. The younger ones mostly didn't have an age related adjective.

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn on March 16, 2007 12:07 AM

Forty seven is prime. Meat, math, or brain matter. Am there, and have halfway done it.

And who cares about earnings and careers. Who likes to pay taxes anyway. Health insurance is for wimps, right?

besides this industry you speak of would eat a person alive. I'd rather go by means of bad spinach. Assholes. Sorry, that slipped. Sorry, anger management rehab coach.

Angry negative people are bad for your health, but probably more fun to have sex with. I'm a electron in a world of poophead protons. I-so-dopey.

Posted by: marischa on March 16, 2007 12:23 AM

As an outsider looking in .... both Ogilvy and Trout are "old" (and one dead) but they were once young, I would assume. Sidestep the little bits of history repeating, please.

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed on March 16, 2007 10:11 AM

//Now that the White men are getting old and being tossed aside, they’re suddenly crying foul. //

HighJive, if the white men you're talking about actually had any say in the running of an agency, I'd agree with you. But the ones getting tossed aside aren't the owners or managers, they're the working slobs.

Sames's true in almost every industry, not just advertising.

Posted by: Bob on March 16, 2007 10:58 AM

... also true, It's also like saying if you are intelligent, business minded, creative, and beautiful, you shouldn't stay home and cook.

Either way you get an Addy and other great appellations that you deserve.

Posted by: marischa on March 16, 2007 12:00 PM

I'm sorry I got into this piss fight a little late. I have been announcing a race with a bunch of young punks running around a race track in a circle. I am every bit as old as George Parker and my hair is all white. I'll match our knowledge, experience and ability with anyone fifty five and younger. We too are old enough to spot a looser, and know when to quit, and my teeth are still very long and sharp and I bite. When you need a little advice give one of us a call and we'll tell you how to write out the check.

Posted by: Roy on March 16, 2007 08:24 PM

Of all the "isms," ageism is arguably the most ridiculous and most futile to promote. I wish I could be around when those who now disparage the "aged" and their abilities inevitably get "old" themselves and realize they were possibly a bit hasty..... boo hoo... poor babies.

Posted by: Lin on March 18, 2007 08:01 PM

I think our best-spent time could be far better invested in learning from one another...I am remembering some of "our" great and not-so-great days not long passed. Watch people when there is a disaster...(i.e.9/11); we can still learn a lot from one another, no matter good or bad day, regardless of age, race or anything else that would normally separate us into individual groups. We are all part of something so much larger; something that should unite us body and soul. I like to still think we all need one another; its a scarry world out there folks.
take care,

Posted by: Jan on March 20, 2007 04:24 AM

Read Steve Olderman's comment. Bob Greenberg is timeless. You are not. You are an old fart with no talent or creativity. love, Your co-workers at rga

Posted by: roger on July 18, 2007 02:41 PM

Read Steve Olderman's comment. Bob Greenberg is timeless. You are not. You are an old fart with no talent or creativity. love, Your co-workers at rga

Posted by: roger on July 18, 2007 02:42 PM

Read Steve Olderman's comment. Bob Greenberg is timeless. You are not. You are an old fart with no talent or creativity. love, Your co-workers at rga

Posted by: roger on July 18, 2007 02:43 PM

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