As an ad guy, I have to admit to being a bit of an outlier. I didn’t plan on going into advertising while in college, where I received two degrees in English. Had someone told me then I would find a home in Adlandiana, I would have laughed. An English major sullying his hands shilling for The Man? Ridiculous!
But time, and the need to earn a living, changed all that. After getting my master’s degree, I told my wife that a doctorate wasn’t for me since it would mean writing more and more about less and less for fewer and fewer. And upon discovering the salaries one might find in Adlandiana, I headed there and never looked back.
My first home wasn’t in Adlandiana but in a bordering country — the marketing department of a ginormous state university. It was there I started copywriting and eventually began moonlighting for local design studios and ad agencies.
I eventually left Ginormous U and joined a local agency that did almost everything. Ads. Direct mail. Collateral. POP. Trade shows. Web sites. Banners. Branding. I even did two Super Bowl spots. At the time, the internet was coming into its own, money was falling from the sky, dotcoms defied their critics, and life was good.
Then it all went south. The bubble burst and agency folks all over the world found themselves looking for work. I left my first agency with a generous severance package and then landed a short stay at a little shop. After that I found a new home helping pharmaceutical companies acquaint doctors and patients with medicines that could improve people’s lives. Pretty rewarding work for an aging ad guy, all things considered.
Such was my agency life in Adlandiana — a country where I was always an outlier. What made me an outlier was my age. I was over 40 when I joined my first agency. After settling in, I didn’t pay much attention to what was obvious to everyone who lives there: advertising worships, employs, and advances youth.
This blinding interest in youth makes little sense. In glorifying and chasing consumers between 18 and 35 (or 40 or 50, depending on the media buyer), advertisers and their agencies continually overlook the one segment of the population that has more disposable income, more raw purchasing power, and more free time to spend, travel, and generally indulge themselves than any generation in the history of the world — folks over 55.
It’s unlikely any of this will ever change. Unless of course a clever CMO somewhere gets a clue and realizes there’s tons on money being left on the table because brands are ignoring a silver-haired giant that could make them rich.
So the next time you see a luxury car ad filled with beautiful, svelte thirty-somethings, a TV spot for a pricey premium beer being guzzled by a gang of hotties, or countless ripped, scantily clad couples strolling along beaches selling high-end vacations, you’re seeing them because the people who commission, make, and place those ads — surprise, surprise — look a lot like those very same people.
Of course, the people making the ads probably aren’t as attractive or hot or ripped as the people in the ads, but that’s okay. Advertisers are fond of what’s called aspirational advertising — people don’t see themselves in ads per se, they see who they want to be. True enough, I suppose.
Yet what about the 55 and older crowd? Do they buy nothing but Depends, Alzheimer’s medications, Viagra, and reverse mortgages? What they see in all those ads filled with millennials are people they stopped being a while back and know they will never be again. It’s a wealthy bunch waiting for someone — anyone — to pay attention to them and all their money.
When it’s time to reach that uncoveted demographic, you might consider someone who’s part of it to write your next ad, create your next campaign, and craft your brand’s story. Someone like me.
If advertising is no country for old men, I’m as young as they come.
— John Hofmeister