Old people. Apparently they know stuff. And don’t mind telling you.

I had an interesting discussion with a friend last week.  She’d been attending an agency WIP, accompanied by a new team member who hadn’t previously dealt with an advertising agency.

He only had one question afterwards – is everyone in advertising that young? Her answer was, pretty much, yes.

I’ve read plenty as to why this might be.  It’s possibly because advertising’s an industry driven by the new and the fresh, and these two perspectives are believed more likely to come from young people. It’s possibly because advertising’s a stressful industry with long hours and only the young have the stamina. Or it may be because advertising’s an industry that still enjoys a veneer of glamour and young people find the possibility of glamour unnaturally attractive.

All of which may be true, but I’ve been wondering about the implications for the industry of employing so many young people.

And I think, courtesy of Boing Boing, I may have found what the implication might be.  BB reports on a recent study conducted by Scientific American highlighting the tendency of older people to be both more honest in assessing a problem and more helpful in making suggestions to solve it.

The study showed people a picture of a clearly obese teenager and described a number of obviously related problems – sleeping difficulties, lack of energy. Participants were asked what advice they would offer.

Only a third of young people raised the teenager’s obesity as the source of the problems. Young people also offered far less advice, and did so clumsily. Older people were much more honest about the obesity (80% mentioned it) and offered twice as much advice, in a much more empathetic way.

Which if you replace ‘obese teenager’ with ‘poorly articulated brief’, and ‘sleeping difficulties’ and ‘lack of energy’ with ‘average advertising’ and ‘poor sales’, rather nicely sums up a challenge faced regularly by most agencies.

And exactly as in the research, my guess is that young people aren’t likely to mention the real cause of the problem, nor be that helpful in suggesting ways to solve it, while older people are much more likely to confront the real issue, and much more likely to be able to helpfully address it.

(I am, for the avoidance of doubt, an old person.)

PS. Imagine my delight when having written this post I came across the story of Tony Dell.  At the age of 90, Tony is still working, five days a week, at Delaney Knox Lund Warren. And maintaining his blog.

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Old people. Apparently they know stuff. And don’t mind telling you.

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