InScope: Growing up: tackling ‘ageism’ in the advertising industry

Following B&T’s 2019 Changing The Ratio conference, sponsored by OMD, National Marketing and Business Development Executive, Jennie Gilbert, shares one of her key takeouts for the day.

Magnum’s #NeverStopPlaying campaign featuring 97 year old Iris Apfel

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending B&T’s second annual Changing the Ratio conference on behalf of OMD Australia. Following on from their inaugural event in 2018, B&T continues their mission of making equality and inclusion the norm in Australia’s communication industry and beyond. The day saw incredible speakers come together from all corners of our industry, as we began to tackle all the big questions surrounding diversity.

In today’s age, it is crucial that organisations give a voice to those that need it most. We know that culture shift must come from attitudinal change, however a top-down approach in influencing these changes holds a powerful key to closing the gap of diversity. This is something that OMD is very passionate about and I was extremely proud that our company was again sponsoring such an important event.

It was quite clear that those attending the event were already aware of the importance of what we were learning. We were aware of the stats, of the fact that there are more CEO’s named ‘Andrew’, than there are female CEOs in Australia. We know that statistically, men tend to achieve better economic results when negotiating over women, as women are more assertive negotiating for other individuals rather than themselves. As attendees, we were already convinced that something needed to be done to close the gender gap. As a young female working in media, I attended the conference ready to learn ways I could act in my day-to-day to promote females not just in the media industry, but in the wider workforce. However, I left that day with my attention drawn to another ‘minority’ group that often fly under the radar.

We’re working in a time where the common perception in media is that ‘youth sells’. Everywhere you look, media is emphasising the importance of being forever young, living fast lives in the present and not necessarily thinking about the future. It paints the picture that growing old means you are becoming out-dated and irrelevant. Ageism is an issue that nobody is really thinking, nor caring about, despite its prominence in our industry. However ageism, unlike other prejudices, is something we are all going to face at some point. No matter the colour of your skin, sexual orientation or socio-economic status, one thing is for sure – we are all going to get older. In 2056, 42% of the population will be over the age of 60.

Rebecca Wilson, CEO of ‘Starts at 60’ moderated an incredible panel during the event titled ‘Is the communications industry ageist?’ presented by Cummins and Partners, featuring some of the industry’s most experienced talent such as Julia Zaetta (Editor, Pacific Magazines), Greg Graham aka Sparrow (Founder, The Nest Consultancy), Charmaine Moldrich (CEO, Outdoor Media Association) and Carrie Barker (Sydney MD, the projects*). And they did not hold back. Let’s look at the issues they discussed:

B&T’s Changing the Ratio panel, ‘Is the communications industry ageist?’


Julia Zaetta kicks off the panel with some staggering statistics. Currently, only 10% of marketing is currently directed to baby boomers, despite the fact that they hold 70% of the revenue. The baby boomer market is only getting bigger and 80% of financial assets and 53% of consumer spending is controlled by this demographic. So why is it that we are only promoting ads for retirement plans and bowel cancer testing to them? Carrier Barker presumes that this attention to millennials could be due to a large percentage of talent in media and creative agencies being so young themselves, and are therefore unable to see beyond the audience immediately in front of them. In Bob Hoffman’s article ‘The Age of Creativity’ (author of four #1 best sellers on Amazon), he makes the case that “marketers, it seems, would rather pander fruitlessly to young people than make real money selling things to old people. The idea of people over 50 driving their cars, drinking their coffee, eating their hamburgers, and wearing their sneakers is so appalling and such an embarrassment that they wilfully ignore and disparage the most valuable economic group in the history of the world.”

Radio ratings currently stop at age 54, even though people in their 60s and above account for a large segment of the audience. In addition to this, Nielsen stops their surveys at age 60.

During the panel, Rebecca Wilson raises that there is a perception that people over the age of 30 are brand loyal, and therefore have no desire to shift to new products. We see the audience as ‘done and dusted’ and that they are stuck in their ways. Carrie Barker adds that the reality is, that this segment of society has just as much, if not more, ability to change brands than millennials. Once the mortgage has been paid off, people over 60 are in a window of their lives where they are not obliged to stick to their trusted services such as banks, for the foreseeable future.


Charmaine Moldrich believes the point that society is now in an age of transition. Baby boomers are now finding themselves as a middle ground between millennials and the era of their parents. Health has improved, and people are now living well into their 90’s. They are also more connected to technology than their parents were, and often it no longer makes sense to retire at age 60. However, despite the wealth of knowledge they have to offer, society is almost resistant to their advice.

It is evident that ageist attitudes, whether hidden or subtle, do filter through the workplace. We are obsessed with attracting young talent in our agencies. We believe that younger staff bring fresh ideas and that our staff over the age of 60 have a best-before-date (see BrandHealth’s Best Before Date campaign). By disregarding older team members, we disregard their expertise and overlook a massive opportunity to knowledge share. Historically, it’s part of our primal memory, that surrounding ourselves with people like us makes us feel safe and part of a community. However, this is a recipe for disaster. Throughout the day at Changing the Ratio, it was highlighted time and time again that diversity struggles when people only hire applicants similar to themselves. Teams thrive when people from all walks of life contribute their experiences, values and opinions. It is imperative that cross collaboration occurs to drive the best ideas and results.

Brand Health’s ‘Best Before Date’ campaign

Referring back to Bob Hoffman’s article, who continues to argue that creativity flourishes, rather than flounders, with age:

“There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. Last year it went to Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64. The recent Pulitzer Prize awards were interesting. The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54. The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55. The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.

Meanwhile at this year’s Academy Awards, three of the four winners for acting were over 50: Francis McDormand, 60; Gary Oldman, 59, and Allison Janney, 58. The fourth, Sam Rockwell, will be 50 in November. The Oscar for Best Director went to Guillermo del Toro, who is 53.

Next we move to television. The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who is 79 and is creative consultant on the show. The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress. Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62. The Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73; Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62.”

Hoffmann reiterates the fact that the ad industry treats those over 50 as ‘creatively exhausted,’ despite the fact that they dominate the worlds most coveted creative awards. From an economic perspective, it’s proven that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnical diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians. This is just another reason that we should be paying more attention to this age group.

What can we do to stop ageism?

Julia Zaetta says “you are not the age your body appears”. She refers to herself as being a 25 year old stuck in an older body. Julia speaks on the behalf of other baby boomers, stating that whilst they might have aged, they are still eager to work and develop themselves both personally and professionally. So how do we get the media industry to see the inner 25-year-old? The onus lies upon workplaces to create an accepting and inclusive culture within their agency. A place where ideas are welcomed from all corners and experience is respected at all levels. If companies can lead by example, then attitudinal shift internally will follow.

Greg Graham, more affectionately known as Sparrow, illustrated the fear that grows amongst older employees when moving between jobs and companies. He speaks on the struggle they face often being told they are ‘over-qualified’ for a position or not quite the right ‘cultural fit’. This is where the top down effect must come into play. HR teams and recruitment officers must strive to cultivate a culturally diverse team. We are seeing positive changes being rolled out, with Ogilvy creating a six-month creative internship program titled The Pipe, with no maximum age limit.

As people working in the media industry, we have the power to challenge the briefs we receive from clients. We are often so focused on campaigning against racism, sexism and discrimination (as we should be) that we disregard those who have fought this fight before us. We can disrupt the ‘millennial’ obsession and generate positive images of older groups in society. Brands are already adopting this practice, such as the incredible Dove #ShowUs campaign, focussing on representing a cross section of women, not limited to different skin colours, or Magnum’s #NeverStopPlaying campaign featuring 97 year old Iris Apfel as well as L’Oreal’s Golden Age Campaign featuring Helen Mirren.

Helen Mirren for L’Oreal’s Golden Age campaign

It’s clear we still have a long way to go when tackling the issue of ageism in our industry and our work. Change will only come with attitude shifts, which can come from both the top down and the inside out. We have the power in our work to harness change, promote vibrant services to older consumers whilst also still satisfying our millennial obsession. Media isn’t just a young person’s game, and through collaboration of young ideas along with seasoned experience we will all get better with age, like a good fine wine.

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