Age: handicap or asset in advertising?

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Bullz-I, a firm in the ‘business of finding and developing business leaders’ has posted an interesting article in its blog. The topic: ‘learning’ and age. (Aside: I thought Bullz-I’s description of its business was interesting – more on that later).

Having reached the category of ‘old’ in advertising life, I could relate to the topic very much. When I joined advertising, there was an unwritten rule about experience: the more experienced you are, the bigger your responsibility & designation. It’s not the case any more.

In my opinion, there is a general preference towards the younger lot, specially in creative. It’s not surprising to find Creative Directors in their late 20s and early 30s. Same is the case in the client side – Marketing Heads in mid-30s is the norm. Superior talent and results go hand in hand. Recently, Perfetti India promoted their 36-year old Marketing Head, Samir Suneja to the post of CEO. Obviously, his track record in building the brands has been recognized.

On the flip side, those who are 40-plus (or pushing 40) in advertising have made life difficult for themselves. I believe that they have not kept pace with the changing roles and demands. In my experience, most of them are comfortable approaching their the way they used to approach it 10-15 years ago. This attitude is most visible in their approach towards anything to do with Internet/online advertising. I am not suggesting that they should learn Flash and become animators. But they should open their minds to what is possible in new media. I have come across people who simply refuse to go beyond the basics even it comes to web surfing. Nifty use of web tools, smart browsing are all seen as domains of the geek. The urge to try new stuff(be it as simple as trying a new browser (instead of the good ol’ IE), figuring out what RSS feeds are, trying new extensions in Firefox to make browsing better) is rare to find among the older lot. Not it’s not as if smart web browsing makes one think outside the box when it comes to advertising. But this attitude comes in the way of thinking beyond the 30-second TV spot. The eagerness with which they watch TV spot compilations like Shots or TV-ad register is missing when it comes to figuring out the best of internet ideas for the client.

Currently, the youngsters are showing a lot more risk and propensity to think beyond the TVC. That’s perhaps one reason why they are preferred for designations which were out of their reach earlier. Which brings me to the other aspect of this topic: quality of experience. In some cases, working 4 years in a particular domain/category would be far more enriching than working years on end in another category. But a longer experience has one aspect which can only come with age: the ability to learn from mistakes and failures.

It all depends on the individual, of course. If there is a willingness to learn, anything can be mastered irrespective of one’s age.

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