Does age matter in advertising agencies?

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Can one be too old to be in advertising? Or too young?

Advertising is a young person’s business, we are being told by some. The new age advertising agency needs to have ideators who know their ipods. Age and experience can be a disadvantage in the digital mindscape, some are saying. The need for “intellectual curiosity” is being stressed.

Matthew Creamer’s feature in AdAge few days back mentioned an agency executive seeking $30 million in damages from the advertising agency for valuing “youth instead of experience” and “terminating older persons because of their age”.

And here I am, someone who grew up feeding on the advertising knowledge and insights from the wizened ones like Ogilvy and Bernbach and Claude Hopkins. Contrasting that reverence for advertising legends had been my secret wish to become the youngest creative director around. I did rise up to lead a team of 8-10 creatives, help start the company’s web division, and work with the creative team to win some of the most coveted accounts in the market that made other bigger agencies see green. Clients were asking for me at the agency briefings, and expecting me at the creative presentations. I have always found it fun to be presenting our agency’s creative concepts to a room full of marketing managers from the client side, many of whom are my father’s age, and managing to make sense to them and win the account. But this was in a country that had the guts to let talent mow down the conventions.

So what is the reality in the market? Who is advertising fortune favouring today here in the Middle East? The GCC? The UAE? Young or old?

If this thing about agencies valuing youth over experience is true, show me a creative director in his teens in this region. Ok, show me one in his early twenties. And I am not talking of associate, assistant, almost creative director. I am talking regional, national, group creative director. Where are these virgin saviors of the digital era?

From my personal opinion, the scales are still in favour of the wizened viziers when it comes to the top positions – not the young Turks. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Because knowing new technologies is not the same as being firmly grounded in the intricacies of human behaviour. And making it dance to your tune.

Yet, I say, if young Turks can, with their work, prove the ability to lead the agency’s teams and take the advertising agency places – give them the toys to play – the corner office, the fancy designation, the reserved car park. And don’t just pack the old geezers off because they have more candles on their birthday cake than the bubbly intern. Not age, but work that works should be the criteria in deciding who stays, and where.

I was once refused an interview for a creative position in Dubai because the minimum requirement was TEN years of experience, and I had just two. I applied anyway. Showed my portfolio anyway. Tried to convince the agency that it’s the work, not the age, anyway. They were amused at my guts. But persistent about the 10 year experience minimum qualification. Much water has flowed under the Garhoud bridge but things haven’t changed much.

At least I can speak for Dubai, for this region. Agencies aren’t going to launch a firing frenzy throwing off their grey-haired VPs to substitute them for the tattooed kid on the skateboard, any time soon. We’re not in London or New York, habibi. Maybe I can aim to be the youngest VP in the meanwhile. No, no… more like the “chief conceptual officer” (CCO) of a creative hotshop in Media City. In a pair of bermudas. Is it allowed?

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39 Comments

  1. Hi Donald,

    Advertising takes its toll. So one has to have a very strong motivating factor to stay in advertising – ‘passion’ is the one word I hear most top ad people mention again and again.

    farrukh

    Reply
  2. HI Farrukh
    What keeps people in advertising? is it the knowledge?,or their years of experience or even passion.

    Reply
  3. I agree with you, Amit.

    Children are actually more creative. Because they don’t know the rules yet.

    farrukh

    Reply
  4. Amit

     /  May 30, 2008

    Age does not decide creative decessions. Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, started Colonel Sanders at the age 65.

    Age factor is mostly concern in Asian countries,This can be evident by the fact that most movies in bollywood concentrate on youth and young people dont like to watch stories of people in their old age.

    Creativity is some thing which cannot be tagged with age . Even a 10 year old can come up with a concept which can be used by ad agencies

    Other thing is ad people waste most of their time watching someone else’s work and they happily copy stuff and label it with their name.

    Reply
  5. Hello Kate,

    Have a look at the post on this blog about finding a copywriting job in the UAE. Most of those tips apply for suits too.

    farrukh

    Reply
  6. Nice quote, Ivan. Slovakians are witty people, look like ๐Ÿ˜‰

    farrukh

    Reply
  7. kate fraser

     /  June 20, 2007

    Hello there –

    I am an Australian working in the UK for an advertising firm. My current role is Head of Account Manager/Account Director and my partner and i are considering moving over to work in Dubai. Are you able to give me any direction on how i can best go about seeking job roles /opportunities with agencies? I have no idea and it appears from your blog you certainly do!

    Many thanks in advance
    Kate

    Reply
  8. Statistics (even age stats) is only as we say here in Slovakia “precise sum of imprecise numbers” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  9. hi

    Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Hello Anila and welcome,

    Yes – it works both ways.

    farrukh

    Reply
  11. Hay guys this is a fact that young lot has more creativity (depeneds):) and are well aware of latest trends are more techy then older lot. And above all to have younger people in your agency is a breath of fresh air but lets not forget the experienced people they will take care of your profits haha right invoices, media researches and media plans.
    I totally agree that art dept. is and should be young artist area.

    anila :0

    Reply
  12. Welcome to the blog, TG.

    Would love to know if in Poland too things are wanted yesterday and clients want their logos bigger ๐Ÿ˜‰

    farrukh

    Reply
  13. really interresting post and comments people
    I’m an art director working in Poland and may be considering moving to UAE and I’m very curious about differences between polish and uae adv agencies enviroments, maybe I would be able to tell you some of my notices,

    cheers from Warsaw

    Reply
  14. Hi Pema – welcome to the blog. You are right, there are so many ‘isms going around these days. I have faced many too. I believe everything should be about the work… but that’s in an ideal world. But we have our joys too in the ad business – where else can you go to work in bermudas ๐Ÿ˜‰

    farrukh

    Reply
  15. Great post Farrukh – thanks.

    I spent 9 years working in ad agencies – got my first job at the tender age of 18. I battled against ageism like everyone else and got frustrated at times. Then two years ago I changed industry and realized how easy I had had it in the ad business (and I only moved to a media company!). I think ageism, along with sexism and many other ‘isms exit in the ad business but I’ll bet it gets a lot worse in other industries.

    Reply
  16. Welcome Ana – you’re doing a good blog yourself!

    farrukh

    Reply
  17. Ana

     /  February 9, 2007

    And almos forgot: thanks for the visit and the comment.

    Reply
  18. Ana

     /  February 9, 2007

    Great post on a very interesting subject.
    A delicate issue that very few people brave raise.

    Reply
  19. Provillus: Thanks for the compliments and taking the time to comment.

    Nadia: I have 10 more years to go for my masterpiece then

    P2: Very motivating comments. I like what you have written

    Anil: Good sloganโ€ฆ โ€œdonโ€™t float in life, make wavesโ€. True, India is so much fun.

    Reply
  20. Anil

     /  January 23, 2007

    Its not the matter whether it is younger or older the creative guy is. Both have different thoughts as well as ideas. Only thing whether u r young or old your idea should be young. In UAE when u c the creative, of course, India is better. Donโ€™t float in life,,,,,,,make wavesโ€ฆ

    Reply
  21. P2

     /  January 8, 2007

    YOU SHOULD FEEL YOUNG AT HEART! and if you do so no one can stop you !
    Whether its in advertising or in any other field.
    So Stop guessing the age start seeing the outcome…not always you can find fault in OLD AGE!

    everyone was young-agressive…but who says you wont be old again…and think if you are in the same field and want to be in this field forever will you say now its my old age…i am 40plus or somthing and leave your passion….no…stop…you are not old as yet…enjoy and let them enjoy….

    p2

    Reply
  22. did you know that van gogh created his masterpiece at age 40?

    Reply
  23. Provillus

     /  November 9, 2006

    This is truly a great post. I like the topics debated here. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  24. Welcome Paula – interesting – golfers read my site (scratches head)?

    Reply
  25. Anonymous

     /  September 18, 2006

    Jassem: How did you manage to send this sms message to my blog? I like your sense of humour. When and if you become a top guy in an ad agency at 35 and you’re a creative person, make things easier and fun for your creative people. And if they’ve been working like mad all night, don’t stare at your watch when they come in late and dazed. To begin with. And give them all, their own coffee machines ๐Ÿ™‚

    Curious Henry: The UAE is a developing market and poses its own communication challenges due to its unique demographics, population mix, consumer behaviour for the creative people. It would take a few more years for us to crack the code and know what works best. But we are getting there, what with our recent Cannes and D&AD wins on the international creative scene. The young or the old could crack it.

    farrukh

    Reply
  26. Henry

     /  September 15, 2006

    Hi,

    From what I see in the UAE, and believe me I have seen enough ads everywhere here, it is all boring. There is absolutely no creativity whatsoever. I am not sure why that is, but it seems to me that somebody is milking the advertsisers and looks like a mafia operation to me. Is it the old guys or young guys? Curious Henry.

    Reply
  27. jassem

     /  August 11, 2006

    lolz, guyz.. wz nvr gud wid numbers,, feel like wrapping up all the numerals in a box and put it in d coffin of d inventor!! im 22 n switchin 2 ad-world.. feel alrdy sooooooooo OLD aftr readin all d posts.. farrukh ur posts wre kool… i gotta query.. may sound absurd,, bt hey tats me.. suppose i bcm d VP wn m bout 35 smethin.. wats nxt bro,, m talkin in terms of creativity,, or do i jst add zeros on my paycheck??? can a VP be creativley active if he likes to??

    i knw, i havent even set my first step,, yet m askin bout ultimate ones,, coz m confused,, i rarely c VP’s n all do anythin creative,, thy jst boss aroun’ n party.. tats d scene hre in india,, all d pressure z on d young ‘TURKeys’,, thy do all d work n presnt d thanksgivin feast n d hog of d VP gulps it down,,, n dsnt even say Thanks! lolzz

    Reply
  28. Yara – I like your ambition. It’s good to get started early – I got m y first offer from an ad agency while I was in college – and I took it ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  29. Roshni: Well said. But sometimes numbers are used to decide numbers. Paychecks are sometimes decided based on number of years of experience, awards won, etc.

    Reply
  30. yara m

     /  August 3, 2006

    i would accept the challenge and work in an advertising agency right now although i’m only in my second year of university majoring advertising and marketing, and have no experience in the field yet.
    But i believe that we can get experience only by living life to its fullest and taking advantage of every oportunity.
    hopfully one day i personally run the ad agency.
    Don’t float in life,,,,,,,make waves…

    Reply
  31. Age is but a number…it doesn’t reflect anything!

    Reply
  32. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2006

    Welcome to the blog Alisha,

    Full points for getting the movie right. It’s BIG, alright.

    I started in advertising when I was around 20. So, ‘young’ to me is not 30-something. I am not 30 (yet) and still I have close to 10 years in the field already.

    You could say I am straddling both worlds – old hand and yet not grey-haired… LOL.

    farrukh

    Reply
  33. Big!…i think….yes…the movie with tom hanks …somthing along the lines of the word ‘big’

    im all for the experience thing too..now that thats clarified…

    when you say young why dyu keep referring to teenagers? ๐Ÿ˜ id have though 30-ish counted as young..well…ie. in comparison to a 56 year old..

    anyway…the point for this comment was to say it was nice reading it..guess it had to be a good read being the product of ye O great copywriting one.

    will be back to read all that the sleepy eyes and yelling mother didnt permit me to…

    adieu!

    Reply
  34. Anonymous

     /  June 9, 2006

    true,,,,i totallly agree

    Reply
  35. Anonymous

     /  May 30, 2006

    Dotone,

    I’d love to see a teenager run an ad agency – just for kicks. It’d be fun while it lasts, believe me.

    What was that movie where Tom Hanks designed toys?

    farrukh

    Reply
  36. Anonymous

     /  May 30, 2006

    Welcome to the blog Noe,

    Yes, young people making ads for young people makes sense. Babies are used to sell creams for the ‘baby skin’ association perhaps.

    I have worked with a teenage art director, as well as an art director who had almost as much experience as my age, during my various stints at ad agencies. Guess which team was more fun ๐Ÿ˜‰

    farrukh

    Reply
  37. Not age. Doesn’t matter if one’s a tatood kid on a skatboard with hanging white iPod wires or a bald classic oldy still driving a chevo. C’mon man, but when it comes to Directing, it’s kind of a managerial level position where mostly the new kids in town don’t get its deisciplines and it takes one to know the market they’re facing as well–experience–period.

    Reply
  38. Noe

     /  May 28, 2006

    Hi,
    Interesting article. Well I think advertising people need to be young at some level. Not for their creativity,nor for their disponibility but simply because…”everybody” wanna stay young. So the young are actually the leader/prescriptors for their own segment. Managers will always need to have a certain age, mainly for organizational,risk management, human interactional skills.
    I worried about a time when the young adult will feel old earlier and try to stick to the youngsters, and so on…we might end up with babies in the creative dpt…now that reminds me that Nivea and stuff use babies to sell skin product for women…wow…

    Reply

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