Flipping Ageism and Ad Agency B.S. The Bird

by | Oct 14, 2015

In the advertising agency business, it’s best to get out before you get old. Or so goes the common wisdom. Naturally, there are many notable exceptions. David Ogilvy was 39 when he wrote his first ad, and he spent the next 25 years of his life actively involved in the making of advertising.

One could argue that it’s a job for young people, due to the late nights, immense workload and high pressure situations that come with landing and keeping multi-million dollar clients.

Joanthan Cude of McKinney believes one must become and then remain “resilient” to survive in advertising.

As I began ruminating on life and advertising, I couldn’t help but think about how, as one ages from 25 to 50, advertising becomes a steep pyramid, and people fall off in droves. It’s not necessarily because their talent dims or because they lose their ability to think critically or because they can no longer connect with young consumers. It’s because, for all the psychic highs an agency career can bestow, it comes with a tremendous amount of wear and frustration. Much of your best thinking and a lot of blood, sweat and tears end up on the proverbial cutting-room floor.

Cude doesn’t mention ageism in his article, or the fact that if you’re over 40 and working in an ad agency, you better be working from a corner office or your days are numbered. Instead, he puts the blame squarely on the people who fail to be resilient. Of course, that POV is a failure in itself. Let me rephrase resilience. Let’s call it shit-sandwich eating, because that’s a lot closer to reality. Some totally sane, resilient people simply opt out, not because they’re beaten down by the ad game. Some people find or create a better game for themselves, which is the ultimate act of resilience.

Also, let’s examine a few cogent facts here. Agency attrition has nothing to do with older people not knowing how to relate, or sell, to younger people. Younger people are clearly not the demo. According to Media Post, Americans older than 50 have double the discretionary spending power of any other age group. The average head of household is 52. The average new car buyer is 56. The average Mac user is 54.

In short, the market for goods and services is dominated by people who are over 50, but the people charged with serving up the marketing strategies, the creative ideas and all the rest that helps drive the economy forward are much younger, sometimes decades younger.

What if young people work in advertising because they don’t know any better? Seriously. It’s easy to be swayed by a decent salary and beautiful workspace, plus the chance to see your work on TV or in print. Put another way, what if young people are the only people agency owners and managers can convince to work there?

When we moved to Oregon, I was 43. I half-heartedly looked for an agency job here. Given the tattered economy and my own disgruntlement with the agency business model, I needed a new answer. For a time, I thought I’d need to leave advertising and start over. Then I saw what I needed to do. I needed to separate what I love about the work, from what I detest about the toxic agencies where it is created. From this initial spark, Bonehook was born.

Bonehook is now the anti-agency. I’m a critic and a practitioner of advertising, and my company is a reflection of me. The agency business is bloated, antiquated and a great waster of the client’s time and money. We start from this premise and ask prospective clients if they’d like the traditional treatment, or if they’d prefer a better way.