Spooner on… the real reason us oldsters don’t like ads

spooner newHaving already written fifty (50!) columns for Lord McKelvey’s prestigious and monumental organ, Decision Marketing, the premier source of news and opinion for those of us playing in the laser-focused, one-to-one, marketing sandbox, or whatever the hell we’re calling it this week, I am ideally placed to see the themes that have recurred over the decades.

So this communication, nay, directive, from the fresh-faced, tight-buskined, top-hatted Lord McKelvey, came as no surprise to me:

“Spooner! You feeble-minded, washed up, technically-inept old hack!

“Marketers (and no doubt their agencies) seem obsessed with Millennials and GenZers, but these youngsters are all skint, with massive mortgages or huge rents and little or no disposable income.  So just what is the problem with targeting the over 50s? Saga have made a killing out of it for years…

“Here’s our article reviewing a study by media agency, The Kite Factory. 
Is the problem due to the age-old issue (quite literally, it seems) of marketing and advertising agencies being populated by the young? If so, isn’t it about time they employed grown-ups? Few other industries dismiss experience so readily, so what’s the problem? Your thoughts please, and pretty damn prestissimo.”

This is one of those very few occasions when I am forced to disagree with Lord McKelvey, sad to say. No doubt I shall come to regret it. But here we go!

The real issue is right there in the words of Christian Taylor, a senior planner at The Kite Factory: “…only 16% of over 65s agree advertising influences their purchase decisions, and only 9% enjoy ads on TV”.

Now that I am ancient, and not, like dear Charlie in the full flush of the prime of my life, I see this all too clearly. THOSE ADVERTISEMENTS ARE NOT FOR ME. That music, not for me. Those fashions, not for me. That digital platform, not for me.

I may be a great fan of JPEGMafia, but only because my 20-year-old son introduced me to him. I may buy Vogue and Hunger Magazine every month, but only because I am a pretentious ponce who worships beauty in all of its manifestations. And I may be amused by the pranks, larks and antics occurring on TikTok and Snapchat – but only because I see them reposted on Twitter.

The sooner that older people recognise that the world has moved on past them in most of its trivial, cultural manifestations, including advertising, the better.

And I think people in their 50s instinctively know this too.

When it comes to agencies and their creative people, the issue is clear. Older creatives are more expensive than younger ones.

In the past, when planners were less powerful, this might have created a problem. Account people valued the experience and expertise of older teams and worried about the Krazy Koncepts produced by younger art directors and copywriters.

So, if they knew that the brief was going to a younger team, they just made it tighter – influencing the outcome in the direction of their perception of the target audience and allowing less freedom to that creative team.

Some of these account people were driven by the desire to “give the client what the client wants”, others were using their experience and understanding of the end-consumer to shape a better outcome. The bigger the agency the easier it was for account people to always engage with their preferred, older team.

This was just pragmatism. Yet the quality of creative briefing was very uneven indeed.

The rise of the planner promised a utopian creative department where the quality of briefing by deep-thinking, specialist planners was so high that it, somehow, wouldn’t matter which team it was briefed to, the outcome would delight client and consumer alike.

So, it was believed, briefing of the highest quality would generate excellence in the creative work, whomsoever that brief was briefed to.

And if that was the case, why pay huge salaries to older creative teams on the basis of some awards that they might have won in the past? If the briefing was to be so meticulously audience-specific and so inspiring, why indeed?

And, of course, the rise of digital advertising with its tiny spaces and mania for keywords compounded the issue. Why would you ask a person you are paying north of £75,000 to fiddle about with banners and MPUs – or that dread, dead hand, “content”?

Let him or her “set the concept” and bully the graduates into implementing the campaign in all of its “granular” awfulness – and use the fading glamour of the industry and the prejudices of CDs when hiring, to ensure a steady stream of those graduates prepared to toil in the click-bait mines for the chance of a fat salary and more creative opportunities in the future – until, ultimately, as we see so often now, there is one fabulously well-remunerated ECD at the head of an army of post-teens producing shoals of digital advertising krill and the occasional whale of a D&AD Pencil-or-Cannes-Lion-scooping Krazy Koncept.

As an old MD of mine was fond of saying “it is what it is”.

Lord McKelvey worries that these youngsters are not producing advertising that engages with older consumers.


Older people tend to consume and enjoy pre-digital media like print and radio – and wouldn’t dream of making a buying decision based on what advertising they might have encountered. For many of them, purchases are predicated on word of mouth and the kind of quaint Internet research that was so game-changing in the 2000s.

Planners often complain that certain audiences are “hard-to-reach”, but the older consumer isn’t hard to reach at all, no, he or she is hard to persuade, which is another thing altogether.

The challenge isn’t youthful creative teams, or the nature of the chosen medium, not even the salience of the proposition. It is the world-weary cynicism of a section of the community that has always been suspicious of advertising even when it was at its most entertaining, charming, or transgressive.

“I liked those Hamlet cigar ads, but I would never have dreamed of smoking one.”

“I like the sexy-voice lady on the M&S ads, but I only go there for the dinner for two deals.”

“That new commercial for BT Action Movies is fabulous but, as far as I’m concerned, they’re a phone company.”

Getting older people to consume your products is not a question of changing the nature of the communication, it is a question of providing them with the products that they want at prices they believe are fair.

Creative agencies would do well to consider the Reithian mantra from the foundation of another failing institution, the BBC.


Do that and those pesky oldsters may even part with some of their hard-earned cash.

And, remember, Mick Jagger is in his 80s.

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative


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