Don’t Hack Off an Older Guy with Money in his Pocket

October 16th, 2019

I’m not rich, but I have disposable income. I drive a 300-horsepower sport sedan with an 80-gig touch-screen control system. I have a smartphone, smart TV, 35mm SLR digital camera and three computers, and I know how to use them. I wear Oakley glasses, own two high-end bicycles, volunteer in my community and vote independently.

Marketers and advertisers, do you know me?

Oh, and by the way, I have gray hair and I’ve used senior discounts at restaurants and golf courses.

Do you know me now?

The answer is “no, you don’t,” according to a Sept. 23 New York Times article on ageism in advertising. The article, with research from AARP, found that my age cohort, while having trillions of dollars in buying power, turned up in about 15 percent of advertising-media images.

A December 2018 Medium article, “The ageism in advertising” by Alex Murrell, says that “advertising is addicted to youth.”

It’s true. Reaching out to Gen Z and millennials with product aspirations and impulsive purchases makes sense for advertisers and brands, and I’m OK with it. Personally, I enjoy watching youthful ads. I find many of them creative, informative, useful in product searches and entertaining. Some help me go back to great places in my life. Others are just not for me (Sorry Diesel, I wouldn’t have worn skinny jeans even when I could).

However, throwing away the buying power of a significant number of people is not smart business. What’s especially sad and maddening is the disrespectful portrayal of my generation. This voting campaign is NOT creative, and is repugnant to me. If you were to substitute people of color, women, LGBTQ+ or any other marginalized group in this advertisement, someone would likely accuse the alleged “creators” of hate speech.

Did I mention I work at an advertising agency?

According to The New York Times article, many advertising professionals blame their own offices for contributing to ageist ads that distort or make older people invisible.

The article reports that in advertising, public relations and related industries in the United States, more than 81 percent of employees are younger than 55.

Fortunately, I work at a nearly-100-year-old agency that has plenty of youth but includes people of all ages and backgrounds. Our focus is on solving problems for a brand’s audiences. Not by demeaning someone. Heck, we even treated zombies with respect.

We’re not perfect, but personally, I’m not either. I’ve occasionally fallen into the reverse ageism stereotype of people younger than me. It’s easy in this era of negativity and is unproductive. In fact, it could hurt your brand.

The bottom line is the bottom line – no matter what the generation. But one trait I’ve found in common among my generation is we vote with our dollars, too. Sorry E*Trade, this campaign is tired and old and just not funny. I don’t think you’ll be seeing any of my investment dollars.


  1. Dag Svihus says:

    Great article!
    All the best from old guy.

  2. Christine says:

    The e*trade ad is brilliant, hilarious and it’s not meant to appeal to an older generation. It’s for people in their 30’s-40’s who keep putting off saving for retirement and are scared they’ll never be able to retire. It’s to poke the bear of that fear in the nicest way possible to get people to act.

    I do agree that ageism is a huge problem in advertising. Already, as a designer in my 30’s, I don’t believe I could be hired at an agency specifically because of my age. That’s absurd but absolutely true. I’ve had an agency tell me they loved my work, blah blah but turn around and hire a barely out of school designer who probably doesn’t know her worth.

  3. John,

    Your still fluid, funny, witty and to the point as a thought leader and writer even as you age! This is another resource (the book is great) that validates all you are doing to “recognize we are ageing (capable and have market power) & are not old (over the hill) and invisible”. Keep up the great work.

  4. Paul says:

    Great article.
    Very soon, the “youth” in America will be blaming us “old people” for everything not going well in their life…while, as you point out, forgetting our value.
    I wish I cared.