|Ageism in Advertising...Is it Accurate?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
If AdLand isn't being criticized for bad creative, lack of minorities, lack of woman-led agencies, and poor agency-client relationships, there is one issue that can really push some buttons. That issue, our fellow professionals, is the question of Ageism in the workplace. It was come apparent to us, after several of our posts, that this is an issue that must be addressed. It's true, like the conversation on finding minority talent, that finding "senior" talent is a discussion people know should be brought up, but isn't. And as the American populace gets older — including its workforce — this is a question that demands attention.
An article in the New Yorker in 2002 highlighted a 1995 survey by American Demographics (a survey that was quoted in several sources we found) that reported the average corporate advertising representative is 31, and the average accounts manager is 28. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 75% of advertising and public relations employees are between the ages of 25–54, and the UK's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising reported its average age is 34; nearly two-fifths are 30 or under, and a meager 5% are over 50.
Unfortunately, it is not a new issue. In fact, based on our research, it seems that it has been a question since the 1920s and has only escalated since. According to a Testimony for Senate Special Committee on Aging in 2006, the term "Ageism" didn't enter the vocabulary until 1969. Which is interesting, because that comes around the Golden Age of Advertising, when many of the senior professionals in AdLand got their start.
Now, we are not here to decide if there is Ageism in AdLand, because everyplace we looked screamed that it was. What's important to examine is why and how we got here. Is "Ageism" truly discriminatory, or is it an unfortunate by-product of a fast-paced industry? Or is there a bias in American Industry itself that puts older professionals at a disadvantage?
Let's pick this apart.
First and foremost, American enterprise has made employers pick up the mantra that "experience is expensive." In most cases, that's true; a 20-year copywriter veteran would like to think that they demand a higher wage than a college graduate. In a market where agencies try to cut costs wherever they can, they hire young, and hire cheap. There are several situations where this way of thinking can shift. Senior copywriters could swallow their egos and accept lower wages, or copywriters as a whole could demand more for their skills. Simply put, the playing field needs to be leveled. Can experience be tabled as a value, and solely depend on talent?
Second, our culture has the notion of wanting to mold talent while it's young so it can grow into the experienced professional they want. This, too, goes against the new wave of older talent, but also the latest trends of the workplace. The average American worker spends six years at a company, with our millennial colleagues taking that average and ramping it up to hyper-speed by jumping ship at places after two years. There's a blatant discrepancy; employers want young talent to nuture, but they don't stay. Then older professionals want in, but are overlooked.
Third, in AdLand, there is a bias towards the young due to creative demands and the pace of doing business. Based on what we found, there were conversations between advertising executives demanding young talent because of the stressful environments, and that thinking creatively under pressure was an unique activity for the young. Also, burnout for older professionals was a concern.
Lastly, there's the question of accurate use of the latest advertising message. Especially in the age of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, AdLand may think that the older ways of doing business no longer apply.
All are interesting issues, and with us being in the younger crowd, we are sure that we're missing more obstacles faced by our older counterparts. It is interesting to see that age isn't an issue for agency leadership, but a huge concern when filling the ranks.
What is the value of experience in Advertising?
We have been studying the affect of advertising on society, but maybe in this frame of Ageism, society affects advertising. Surely it will change, with the American population getting older, right? Do people wish to be younger? Should agencies fill their ranks with the peers of the aging Boomers? With the economy, it looks like GenY's purchasing power won't match the level of the Boomers in comparison, so how should AdLand respond?
Where's the blame on Corporate America? How would a CMO react if they knew that they were working with a team of 50-year-olds? Would it not be the same if they found that their creative was being done by a bunch of 20-somethings? We would say so, for different reasons, obviously. If Corporate America continues to reward agencies with business because of their young talent, then the problem is not an industry problem, but a systemic one.
Who knows? We certainly won't pretend to provide an accurate answer. But we'll appreciate your comments.
Delray Beach, Florida
Assistant community management intern
Digital Marketing Producer
Five Below, Inc
CDS – Sr. Account Manager - Los Angeles...
Collective Digital Studio
Beverly Hills, California
Silver Spring, Maryland
Director of Web Services
Elgin Community College
Managing Director of Marketing Strategy
Elgin Community College
Senior Web Designer and Developer
Elgin Community College
Media Production Manager
Sr. Media Planner
Lead Marketing Development Writer
GuideStone Financial Resources
Sr Production Mgr Chrysler
El Segundo, California
Senior Web Developer
New Media Jobs