Opinion: Eight ways to turn ageism on its head

By June 4, 2019Advertising

As a proud 59-year-old, I’ve been championing the power of age in the advertising industry for years. We are a powerful force in popular culture with the ability to shape what people think, believe and do. We can change the way aging is depicted in advertising by changing ageism within the ad industry itself. If we do that, we can change the way society views aging. So I’m asking all of you to help eradicate the one ‘ism’ that affects every single one of us—because we all age.

Here are some powerful actions you can take to end ageism, whatever level of the business you’re at and whatever job you do.

It’s time to do what we’re great at: reshaping culture.
For too long we’ve been part of perpetuating a culture that celebrates youth. Evian’s long-running tagline presumes that everyone wants to #liveyoung. But there’s so much we’re not leveraging, strategically and creatively, around the idea of #liveolder.

Tap into the aspiration of age.

We’re very happy with who we are. We don’t aspire to be young. But young people aspire to be us. Here’s why:

We don’t give a shit.

We have self-confidence that comes with age.

We know what really matters.

We’re free to express our individuality.

We’ve developed our own sense of personal style.

We’ve developed our own sense of home style.

We have better relationships because we know what really matters.

We’re experienced—at everything.

We’re well-traveled.

We’re starting businesses at the highest rate of any entrepreneur group.

We have money to spend.

Lead with what’s aspirational about being older, and the young will follow—not the other way round.

Show us as we really are.

We don’t look, dress or act like those old-people ad clichés. But we do flirt, date, fall in love and have sex. You can tell great brand stories with us at their center, behaving as we do in real life.

So next time you cast an ad, cast older.

Stop, catch yourself and actively brief your casting agent/director/photographer to cast talent 10 years or more older than the age you were about to go with.

There’s a huge amount of money to be made by taking older people seriously.
The Fed’s Nov 2018 study found that millennials compared to previous generations have ‘”lower earnings, fewer assets and less wealth.” We’re the ones with the disposable income and we’re looking to spend it.

Conduct the thought exercise of “If we were to target people 40 and over with this brand, what would that look like?”

Whatever brand you work on and whoever your target is, try this exercise (maybe as part of a brand away-day or pitch brainstorm). Research older consumers’ attitudes and behavior towards your brand; quantify the opportunity with them; identify the trends that would make your brand especially compelling to them. At the very least, it’ll make you think differently; at best, you might find you have a huge money-making opportunity on your hands.

The data is out there. Use it, or pioneer it.
In the first instance, AARP has a wealth of data, insights and trends—everything you need to do all of this research.

But, you can add older respondents into any research you’re doing.

Broaden the age range of who you’re talking to, and see what they have to say.

Pioneer a thoughtful, insightful, newsworthy research study into over-40s as the marketing target of today—and new, creative terminology.

There’s a new study into the habits of millennials released pretty much every week. Be the first to do a study on over-40s, over-50s, over-60s. We hear that millennials are ‘killing’ this thing and that thing… Why not identify instead what older people are “birthing?” And while we’re at it, let’s have some new names. It’s time we retired “Boomer.”

When you’re told the target is youth and millennials, ask “Why?”

Seriously. Ask why. Have the discussion, with client or agency.

The future of work is hybrid.

That means we have a future that’s comprised of the the fresh perspectives of youth plus the experience and expertise of age.
Create cross-generational work interactions at every opportunity. Keep hierarchical structures flat. Put the youngest person on the team in charge of leading the team. Bring in older/more experienced people to be “part of”, not “in charge of” a team.

Introduce a “menternship” scheme. The new world order of internships: “menternships” recruit older people to provide mentorship and experience in return for opportunity and skill-building.

Leaders: hire the biggest growth driver for our industry—expertise.
Think how much easier your life would be and how much smoother your business would run if your employees knew exactly what to do in a crisis because they’d seen it all before? If they were able to analyze any business situation to get to a solution quickly; stayed calm under pressure; were great people managers; had excellent craft skills and technical capabilities; and, because of all that, were extremely time- and cost-efficient?

Guess what? There’s a ton of us out there who deliver on all of that, available for immediate hire! That’s why I don’t call people like me “older”—I call us “experts.”

Test-drive us. Identify upcoming employee “gaps” (parental leave; sabbaticals; vacations; sick leave) or short-term opportunities (pitches, projects, experiments) and actively look to fill them with us: older, expert candidates. Brief HR, your recruiters, your employees to search out candidates and make recommendations for short-term positions. You may find we turn into great longer-term hires.

Experts are not “too expensive.”
Actively seek older candidates for open positions and be straightforward that salary trade-offs are balanced by opportunity and new experience. Many older candidates are open to taking a reduction in historical pay levels when balanced with opportunity and the chance to gain new experience/training and to build up their resume. Identify the benefits for us and welcome a transparent, open conversation about the value for both sides.

Ad industry media: you have a role to play.

Celebrate older talent with 40 Over 40/50 Over 50/60 Over 60 lists. We have a plethora of 30 Under 30 lists—and we absolutely want to celebrate and highlight the younger talent in our industry. But now it’s time to celebrate the expert talent. And when you do, please celebrate the experts who are working, and those who aren’t working. So that right-minded agencies can snap them up.

Lastly, one small action everyone can take: #sayyourage.

Say your age and own your age. Age isn’t just a number, it’s a very special number. You are the sum total of all your learnings and life experiences to date and that’s what makes you valuable. The older you get, the more valuable you get. Your age represents your value. It’s what makes you as special and unique as you are. Always #sayyourage no matter what age you are because ageism exists at every point along the age spectrum. You can be dismissed for being too young as well as for being too old. Be proud to #sayyourage all the way through your career and life, because that’s another small way we can change ageism for all of us.

This is just the start. This call to action is a living, breathing manifesto. I welcome your own ideas. As an industry, we need to measure and evaluate the results of taking these actions—so I want to hear about everything you put into practice and what happens as a result.




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