Inside Madison Avenue’s Suicidal Hatred Of Old People

kevin roberts saatchi

[credit provider=”Roger Sterling of Mad Men”]

Take a look at this guy’s resume and ask yourself whether you’d hire him at an ad agency. He’s worked for clients such as Pepsico, ConAgra, Walmart, Skintimate Brands, the NBA, and General Mills.In a normal industry, that kind of experience would be valued as gold.

Yet David Shea spent all of last year unemployed (or freelancing) simply because he’s 56 and has grey hair, according to Ad Age.

Welcome to Madison Avenue, where experience and actual client knowledge work against you.

Agencies favour 20-somethings, particularly in their creative departments, because they assume that youngsters are more cutting age. I recently spoke with an agency CEO who agreed. When I asked him what type of experience he likes to see on a job applicant’s resume, he replied that he wasn’t looking for experience. Or even a resume.

He was more interested in what movies and bands they listened to.

The problem is that the consumers they’re marketing to are increasingly not young people. Young people are a declining portion of the U.S. population. The International Longevity centre at Columbia University told Ad Age that by 2025, one of every five Americans will be 65 or older.

And it’s not as if the over-50s are all reading newspapers and writing each other letters on typewriters, either. They love their iPads. And if you give them grandchildren, they’ll be bothering you on Facebook and Skype all the time. And, of course, older people tend to have a lot more disposable income than teenagers.

Yet age discrimination is rife with the ad business:

  • Westwood One was sued by a 48-year-old ad sales rep in 2011.
  • McCann Erickson settled a suit filed by a 54-year-old media buyer in 2008.
  • Ogilvy & Mather was sued by the 70-year-old creative chief on its Barbie account in 2000.

At the CEO level, that discrimination is reversed. Both WPP and Publicis have post-retirement age CEOs, and neither shows any immediate sign of leaving.

As I’ve said before: Eventually, Madison Avenue and its clients will figure out that it needs to start paying a lot more attention to the silver dollar. At that point it might find its cadre of 20-somethings rather lacking in insights.