Age and Advertising, Part Two

Literature is strewn with examples of writers creating and inhabiting characters totally unlike themselves. James Joyce’s Molly Bloom… Michael Haddon’s autistic Christopher Boone… characters like these are so convincingly wrought, they stand as feats of pure imagination.

And then there’s advertising.

Walk around any creative department and it’s 1955. Women (and gay men) work on cosmetics. Men work on cars. Young men work on beer. Middle-aged creatives, what few there are, are in management or herded off to work on pharma.

Defenders of this caste system invoke the “Write about what you know” approach, saying (if not necessarily believing) that creatives whose age and gender mirror the target group will have better “insights” that “resonate” at a deeper level.

Excuse me, but how insightful do you have to be to introduce a new stuffed-crust pizza? And anyway, aren’t the “insights”–so hard-won in endless rounds of focus groups—already there on the brief?

Off the record, agency managers will tell you that client comfort has a lot to do with it too. I have a very good friend who lost her job working—of course—on a feminine hygiene product account when a new client decided she was too old.
Talk about double jeopardy!

Let’s suppose, just for a moment, that casting by age for different types of accounts makes sense. Let’s say you have the Red Bull business. Do you really want a 50+ creative working on it? Speaking personally, there’s no part of my life that requires knocking back a lethal shot of caffeine at 2 AM. None. The only thing that’s going to give me wings at this point is going to the Hereafter.

So fine: to work on a young person’s product it sometimes helps to be young. But now let’s turn the question around. To work on an older person’s product, does it help to be older?

This is where things get fucked up. Because the typecasting only runs in one direction. No one has a problem with a 28-year-old creative working on life insurance, cognac, luxury sedans or (women only please) wrinkle cream. But maybe they should.

Just as there are ads—I’m sorry, I mean branded consumer engagement content—that are totally five minutes ago for their 20-something target, there are also ads that are hilariously wrong for their 55-year-old customer.

Here’s a good rule of thumb:

If you are someone who still sees a role for Red Bull in your life, you have no insight into life insurance.

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