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Ageism Agency Advice Work & Wellbeing

How do you solve a problem like... ageism in the marketing business?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

June 1, 2021 | 12 min read

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

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How can marketers make the industry less ageist?

In the push to create fairer workplaces in marketing and advertising, ageism is often the forgotten factor. But it’s present, both in bias against older candidates and in the way older consumers are portrayed in creative, and in brands’ prioritization of younger consumers.

So, what would you do to make the industry less ageist?

How do you solve a problem like... ageism in the marketing business?

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Anna Dalziel, founder, 40 Over Forty

Less talking, more action. That’s why I co-created 40 Over Forty – to highlight the diverse talent the industry has but chooses to ignore. A recent McKinsey study showed that companies have put their inclusion and diversity initiatives on hold because of the pandemic, but now is the time to make this a priority. Diverse businesses are more profitable. It makes common sense and business sense.

Yet progress will only happen when perceptions and processes change; blind CVs for recruitment and reverse mentoring will help demonstrate 40-plus people are being acknowledged and valued by an industry wrongly obsessed with youth.

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Perri Mensch-Grinberg, vice-president of human resources, Rapp

At Rapp, 45% of our population is over the age of 40; 15% being over 50. We believe diverse teams are the key to producing diverse work. It’s impossible to create groundbreaking ads if a team is made up of carbon copies of the same employee. This is why we strive to embrace fierce individuality at every turn.

We have a mentorship program that helps to bridge the gaps between older and younger generations. We offer equal learning and development training to all employees, allowing employees of all ages to stay up-to-date and to hone their skills. We offer flexible work arrangements that provide employees the agility to support individual work styles and balance business needs. We are also in the process of implementing an AI software, OnGig, which ensures that our job postings and descriptions are free from bias as it relates to ageism. We also work to avoid selection criteria that may limit our pool of candidates, and therefore impact diversity. Above all, we want to ensure that we’re creating an environment where all people, regardless of age, feel heard, respected and valued.

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Ollie Scott, founder, Unknown

It’s not nice to see some of the most profound thinkers cast aside because they’re presumed to be irrelevant. It’s important to remember that the best ideas come from our ability to combine different experiences and ways of thinking. Inside of fueling the divide, bridge the gap. Bring together your most open and willing employees, young and old, and see what happens. Cognitive diversity is our special way of staying alive and it reaps results that prove that it is ageism in the marketing business that needs to be retired.

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Gary Kopervas, senior vice-president of brand strategy, story design and innovation, 20nine

With change going on everywhere, companies are facing wicked problems they have to solve for in order to drive growth. It’s been our experience that wicked problems require a wider lens. From a creative ideation standpoint, the last thing you want is a homogenous group of people in a room creating solutions to a problem. We find that matching boomers, gen Xers, millennials and gen Zers together in a creative environment leads to richer and a wider spectrum of solution options. There is a deeper well to draw from. If creativity is the goal, creating a multi-generational environment can help fuel better solutions.

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James Smith, managing director, The Kite Factory

While agencies with a conscious drive to increase diversity may try to reduce the average age of senior leaders, client-side there can sometimes be an unspoken leaning towards the grey hair in the room. In media we so often talk about ‘relevance’; fail to resonate and you’re likely to be left by the wayside, and that applies to anyone at any age.

We must find ways to break down the barriers that prevent the knowledge sharing by osmosis. Encouraging the senior team to sit among the newest recruits builds a learning environment. If we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the problem, everyone loses.

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Ally Owen, founder, Brixton Finishing School

‘Where is everybody?’ rang constantly in my head as I passed 40. Entering your prime in the workplace was akin to being an endangered species – I knew ‘our’ numbers were dwindling but I was too busy surviving as a single parent at work to look at why. Ageism is an insidious virus that marks generations of talent as ‘redundant’ when the opposite is true – their experience is what makes them invaluable in a workplace. At Brixton Finishing School, alongside The Uninvisbility Project & WPP, we are using our award-winning expertise at transforming the confidence, competence and employability of talent marginalized by age prejudice, particularly women from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

I founded Brixton Finishing School as a midlife woman. I feel I’m only beginning to build to the peak of my potential and I am determined that other midlife women reach their potential too.

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Duncan Tickell, chief revenue officer, Immediate Media

In the workplace, experience brings value to a business and so it’s important to have incredibly supportive and inclusive policies in place, including flexible working practices for people at all life stages. We’ve recently rolled out menopause education to increase understanding and support in this important area as an example of our commitment to an age-inclusive culture.

And when it comes to brand marketing, we’ve long espoused the value of our mature audiences – our research has shown that over-40s are tech savvy media consumers who importantly hold the majority of the spending power. We call them Generation Wealth and recognize they have been overlooked for too long by many brands that mistakenly see younger generations as the priority.

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Stephanie Sumner, senior vice-president, growth, Public Label

Half of US consumer spending comes from people over the age of 50. As agencies transform their staff to represent the same diversity reflected in that of our country, generational diversity must be considered as well. Experience matters. At Public Label, our mission is to help brands recognize and align with consumers’ motivations. Without having all age groups represented at the table, we are doing a disservice to our client partners.

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Sue Kruskopf, founder and chief executive officer, KC Truth

We welcome age and experience in our doctors and lawyers, so why not in advertising? As a 64-year-old woman who runs her own agency, I can tell you ageism has always been an issue. It’s time for a change. There’s a big knowledge gap, and our younger counterparts are missing out on learning the finer points of relationships and meetings. We’re doing our part in the fight against ageism. I recently hired a 50+ year old, and I am glad to have someone with his wisdom and knowledge of business to help guide and mentor our team.

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Annalie Killian, vice-president strategic partnerships, Sparks & Honey

Advertising is often driven by flawed assumptions. Youth is portrayed as aspirational, and by omission or stereotyping maturity as undesirable. More than 500% of budgets are targeted at millennials; yet consumers 55+ spend more than double the 18-34s.

Let’s replace this obsession with youth with strategy informed by cultural insights to firstly, fully humanize the value and values of consumers at every age, and secondly, mirror the intersection of multiple generations living, working and playing side by side.

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Kellie Chapple, chief operating officer, Bulletproof

Ageism within the industry and the way brands prioritize younger consumers are intrinsically interlinked. It’s our industry that creates the communication with consumers in the first place, and I couldn’t say the last time I saw a brief that targeted the gen X consumer.

With millennials being seen as the more exciting consumer target, there seems to be a tendency to skip past gen X. To address this head on we need to build teams that not only understand but also reflect all consumer generations.

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Tess Alps, founding chief executive officer and ex-chair, Thinkbox, WACL president 2003/4 and council member, ASA

This is not a problem with a simple solution. We need the ‘don’t give a fuck’ candor of the stars who have run companies, who have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Too expensive and too stroppy? Employ them as consultants and pay for output and results.

But we also need the wisdom and knowledge of the people who continue to do valuable but unshowy jobs. Refresh them with retraining and new roles.

Flexible-first working policies should be a given and will solve many diversity issues. And a bit of respect all round goes a long way.

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Jasman Ahmad, strategy director, Accord Marketing

Marketing’s problem with ageism is that we categorize the latter half of life into one demographic. We often hear the phrase ‘over-50s’, which in essence means we’re lumping together four decades’ worth of personality types, life stages and living arrangements into one audience profile. To solve this, we should focus on things that run a little deeper than date of birth. We need to break down the mature market into tighter brackets and overlay age with psychographics to understand not just the ‘who’ but the ‘why’ of the people we are trying to reach in campaigns.

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Jax Ostle-Evans, managing director, Stink Studios

Quite simply: hire older people! Today, brands need to be authentic. They need to reflect society, and that includes those of us who are over 40. Yet there is a dearth of women aged 50+ in the advertising business, and of older voices in agency teams that can ensure these cohorts are reflected in the work we produce.

As we get older, we gain a sense of perspective and clarity. It’s this type of knowledge and experience that can’t be fast-tracked. Never let the new platforms put you off, and never stop learning. I love the idea of the 60-year-old me still doing this.

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Tom Denari, president and chief strategy officer, Young & Laramore

The challenge in representing older people accurately in marketing is that our personal perception of our own age is a bit of a moving target. Most research demonstrates that once we reach our 50s, we tend to discount our actual age by about 20%. So, if you’re targeting a 50-year-old, it’s reasonable to show a 40-year-old, instead of someone actually in their 50s. Otherwise, the viewer might think, “that person is way older than me.” I’m not sure that I’d consider that portrayal as ageism. It’s simply understanding human perceptions and motivations.

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Kelly Bayett, co-founder, Barking Owl

There’s no shortage of people thinking younger is better, and that advanced age is a disadvantage to understanding what people perceive as ‘hip and cool’. In music, there’s extra pressure to feel young and relevant. You want to ensure your team is diverse in age because everyone brings different experiences to the table. We were hiring a sound designer and went with the older candidate. Creativity, confidence and speed are important and to encompass those things, you need time in the chair and time with clients. He also happens to be pretty cool – for an old guy.

Each week, we pick a new topic for discussion. If you feel like sharing your thoughts, email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

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