By - CTL
May 16, 2018


By Dorothy Thompson.  

Autumn is always my favourite time of the year. The hot weather, a fading memory; the cooler months, a time to rug up, enjoy soups and catch up on some much loved old movies. The pressure to be overtly active goes into a necessary hibernation, at least for short while. It is for me, is a time for reflection.

One of the things that isn’t quite so pleasant however, is as the years tick by, creaking joints remind us of the foolishness of youth and that we’re all getting a little bit older. My brother-in-law just had his 60th birthday, he is a keen golfer so I gave him a card, the message was clear; “I’m Not Over The Hill. I’m Just Playing The Back Nine”.

It was this that started me thinking about ageism, and naturally my thoughts turned to the advertising, marketing and the production industries.

It’s a funny thing if you’re a commercial TVC director, in many respects young creatives believed to have passed your prime when you hit 45. God forbid you have the temerity to even contemplate pitching on a storyboard when you’re in your mid-50s. It seems fashionable to believe that all the skills that you have developed throughout a lifetime of honing your craft disappear like water in a dam in the outback, during a long hot summer.

But it’s not just in production; it goes across the board through Marketing, Advertising, Broadcasting the lot.

I was sitting chatting and having a delightful lunch with a wonderful fellow who has just been made Managing Director of one of the largest advertising agencies here in Australia and NZ. He had left another multinational some six months earlier. He frankly said to me: “you know I’m 48; I wouldn’t like to be trying to get a job if I was past 50”.

This got me thinking, why do we not value the experience and wisdom of our older community. Yes I know the world has indeed changed, and yes, I am critically aware that 15 of the largest corporations in the world today were not in business 20 years ago. But surely that isn’t a good enough reason to throw out all that experience.

Whilst thinking along these lines, I thought about America; things there it is very different. There the great TVC Directors work well in to their late 70’s. Take for example Joe Pytka, (born November 4, 1938) is an American film, television commercial and music video directing icon. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He holds the record for the most nominations for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing –Commercials. Tell me he’s too old. But here in Australia, you wouldn’t even get him up to the starting blocks. Sad isn’t it.

Ageism is toxic both for the culture of the advertising, marketing and production industries and their creative output.

“The CMO of one of the top two advertisers in the world asked if I am old enough to remember VHS when my suitability to advise was questioned”.  

“The assumption that you would not be committed to a new challenging role because of your age and the exception of leave for children”.

‘Older men are wise. OIder women are just old and past their prime”.

These three stark and highly personal takes on how ageism affects the advertising industry and the people who work within it were shared on the confessions board of this of a recent seminar event held to discuss this very issue. The event shone a light on the untold stories of ageism in the industry. From those who have been belittled or ignored, to those who had been told they were the right or wrong side of 30 and others who had had to hide their engagement ring in an interview, the tales of ageism shared on the night spanned the generations. The event, held at Publicis Media’s offices in the UK, lifted the lid on the toxic implications of ageism in advertising marketing and production, both for the industry itself and its creative output.

One of the key note speakers was Gina Hood, president of Bloom, From their web site Bloom: (We believe that the communications industry should be one in which all women can achieve their potential. 

While diversity and gender equality continue to be talked about at length, it is clear that there’s still some way to go for women in comms).

She said: “From the obsession of youth you see in the media, to the assumption that older people can’t be innovative, the pressure on young people to hit certain goals by certain times in their lives helps create an environment in which we are held to and judged by our age.”

The average age of employees at all IPA membership agencies is just under 34. If you look around your average creative shop, you would be forgiven for believing that women simply shrivel up and turn to dust after the age of 40. There remains a misconception in the industry that age and innovation are mutually exclusive pursuits.

When Campaign UK and MEC undertook research into ageism in the advertising industry last year, the results were not encouraging, nor attractive. Among respondents, 79% agreed that the industry comes across as ageist. A quarter had been told they were “too old” when being turned down for a job.

Age discrimination is particularly toxic for women. Almost half of women don’t see themselves in the industry past the age of 50, and it is difficult not to conclude that a red thread runs between this lack of older women in the industry and its continued inability to represent older women in advertising.

Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals, pointed to her organisation’s research, which showed just 9% of people have their best ideas in the office. She said: “We don’t come to work to have our best ideas. Different people have different rhythms; the office isn’t the only place work happens.”

She believes that getting workplaces to adapt culturally is key to the success of our industry. Suggesting that companies create a “shadow board” to solve the problems usually handled by the traditional board, the time for a new approach, she insisted, is now.

“Hiring young people on low salaries, working them into the ground and burning them out isn’t working,” Hanan said.

It is a trend exacerbated by cost cutting, which means the industry is shedding older people, who could be those important role models, supporters and mentors to the next generation of talent.

In the midst of this cacophony of pressures, Jonathan Durden, co-founder of PHD and male-grooming brand Below the Belt Grooming, suggested that companies should invest in house therapy for people to be able to talk openly and find the space to discover what really makes than happy.

He said: “Happy people mean energy and a great place to turn up. At the end of the day, [the office] is where we spend our lives and there isn’t the room to find out if you are happy. It’s an investment by a company and it makes a difference.”

The key to solving any problem is the first to recognise that the problem exists. Whilst discussed at length in Europe and the UK, and it seems not to be such an issue in America. The ageism chasm here in Australia is hardly ever spoken of.

It is a tragedy that the younger generations are not given the benefit of learning or being mentored by a largely marginalised or forgotten part of the older community. What might they learn or experience if we sort to this terrible injustice.

With the government insisting that the retirement age be increased to 75, (I suspect mostly to cover up the appalling hash that they have made of making provision for the grey brigade). With life expectancy through modern medicine and greater understanding of the ageing process, meaning we are all living longer, surely it would behoove us to take advantage as a community of the collective wisdom that those who have passed the unfashionable age of 50, and all they have to offer.

This does not relate to wisdom alone, it must as a matter of fact that life experience businesses experiences a vaster with the more years you have doing things. As knowledge about fundamental life problems solving and that wisdom does not refer to purely academic or intellectual knowledge, experience can be acquired vicariously or by direct instruction; rather it encompasses insight into human nature and the complexity of the life course, this can only be achieved through exposure to difficult and uncertain questions about the meaning and conduct of life as well as a deep reflection upon and critical evaluation of one’s personal and professional experiences.

Whilst indeed the world has changed, evolved, moved forward (sometimes questionability for the better), there is no doubt people are still down deep people. Curiosity, the desire to improve their life and that of their families remain the same. The things that motivate them to buy the products we advertise and market, all remain very much the same as they did 50 years ago. The method we communicate with them, and the message may vary, however if you cut person they still bleed red.

Understanding the principles that made Ogilvy and Bernbach famous still work today. Surely those that honed their skills over many years of practising, have much to offer the younger generations.

The debate should start now and should be fierce. To lose this experience would be criminally stupid. Let’s start by demanding that we openly talk about these issues. We at CTL are proud to do so.




  1. A wonderful article, you are as only as old as you feel.

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