Living in New York and working in advertising I rarely see people over the age of fifty.
My elders seem to be a secret population — a growing, sizable, increasingly healthy and wealthy group — that I’m never exposed to, let alone have the pleasure of working alongside. This is one of the worst things about working in Marketing right now.
As an industry we’re obsessed with youth, we’re endlessly trying to get “upwardly mobile Millennials” or “hard to reach youthful influencers” or some nonsensical and largely broke crowd who can’t afford the premium SUV we have on offer. Meanwhile we’ve not looked around the BA First Lounge or the Hyatt Hotel lobby, or the Emirates Business class cabin to see that all the people with money and influence are actually rather old. And wise.
Occasionally, on the rare events where I get to listen to some of the wonderful old folk of advertising, it quickly makes me realize how much we as an industry suffer from a lack of wisdom. We have incredible levels of vision, an abundance of precociousness, brilliant creativity, but as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all.
It’s a problem, but it takes wisdom to realize how important wisdom is, so we don’t notice it. And for many young leaders, how can you miss something you’ve never experienced?It started to happen in the early 2000s — expensive, wise people that hadn’t grown up with Blackberries and expected long lunches and business class seats that didn’t get open plan offices, were slowly removed from the business. We didn’t notice it for quite some time because we were too busy playing with our new toys — the internet, the banner ad, the microsite, and the iPhone. We had rallying cries to get digital folk on the pitch team. We’d fly hapless 24-year-olds around the world to ensure we had the voice of youth on the team, but we abandoned the voice of context.
It’s now been such a long time that we’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to have someone in the room who objectively knows more. Who, while earning the big bucks (that it’s hard to explain to our clients) understands real clients’ issues, and who above all else, can see the changes in business and marketing in the context of decades of what has happened before. These days we lazily assume that things have changed & their knowledge would be out of date now, what can we possibly learn from someone who may happen to have a 16 year old daughter, and therefore probably has a more intimate understanding of contemporary behaviour than anyone.