Behind every joke, there's a kernel of truth

Courtesy of ADWEEK, here's the story of a series of short films, that serve as a call-for-entries to the 2015 AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) awards. The online-only spots all explore the same premise, which is, Here are the lives of today's hottest ad creatives—as they'll be in 35 years.

Only two of these recent AICP award winners are still in the ad business in 2050, and one of them's just holed up in a janitor's closet. Another’s completely senile; one’s incarcerated. The only woman in the group gets, by comparison, kid-glove treatment. She still has a nice office. There's just one catch: as the script makes clear, she's gone bat-shit crazy. 

The one thing they’re all clinging to is that, as AICP award winners, they’ve got a commercial “in the Museum of Modern Art”.

I’m going to leave aside the fact that these creatives aren’t really “in MoMA”. The museum does collect and exhibit design objects, but no ordinary visitor to the museum will ever see the AICP award-winning spots, no matter how diligently they search for them. The commercials are not in the museum’s permanent collection, they’re archived in the museum’s film collection. None of these creatives are listed anywhere in the museum’s online database. 

But I get it. This is advertising. We play fast and loose with the truth. So I’ll let the implied promise—Enter our contest so your work can live forever in a famous museum—stand.

What I can’t let stand is, the future as imagined for these people. Every old person in these spots is pathetic. None of them have anything to live for, except the tenuous claim that their work—which will, of course, actually be long forgotten in 35 years—is “in a museum”. 

Of course it's a joke, but you need to bear in mind that it wasn't just imagined for them, it was imagined by them. This series of spots was conceived without any of the usual client-imposed creative limitations. These are the spots the brightest lights in the ad business conceived when they had free rein.

In their brainstorming session, someone might’ve suggested doing the spots in blackface. That idea would’ve been summarily killed. Not because they would’ve thought, It’s hilarious but we’ll be attacked by politically-correct zealots. Rather, because they would’ve realized, blackface isn’t funny any more. Yet, the spots they made bear the same relationship to ageism that blackface does to racism.

So, Gerry and Rob, thanks for validating the thesis of Revolutionary Old Idea: that ageism is the ad industry’s last acceptable prejudice.  

You could’ve come up with any idea, but you settled on aging. And this is the old age you imagined. Every single life portrayed is ghastly. Don’t misunderstand my criticism: I'm not a killjoy. I have a sense of humor about aging. I realize these spots were written and shot for comic effect; there'd be no 'ad' here, if these senior citizens were shown as still-vibrant creative forces.

But behind every joke, there's a kernel of truth. Most of the scripts make it clear that the 'old' versions of these guys bitterly resent being forced out of the business. For the writers, these spots are gallows humor, because they all know it's really gonna' happen. This is, in fact, how the ad industry sees old age.

Ultimately though, I’m not infuriated because this campaign is wrong. I’m  angry because it’s stupid. If this is how the industry’s creative leadership sees aging, how can Barton F. Graf 90001 or McCann2 possibly create ads that will resonate with mature consumers?

50+ consumers represent a $3,000,000,000,000 market in the U.S. (Yes, there really are twelve zeros in that number.) How much of that three trillion bucks  are clients leaving on the table, because these guys can’t imagine a life worth living as a senior citizen?

Tor, Tiffany, and Ted, in a few minutes online I identified several Grey3, co:collective4, and Droga 55 clients for whom mature consumers are profit-critical. If this is really what you think of, when you think of old people, how can you possibly craft messages that will resonate with older consumers?

To be clear: It’s a joke. I get it. But the choice of this particular joke says a hell of a lot about the ad industry. Ironically, if you’ve read this far, skip down to the next post, and read about Barbara Beskind. She's far older right now than any of the characters portrayed in these spots, and she’s a creative force.

You five should be so lucky.

 

Notes

The agencies cited in this post all have clients for whom the business of mature consumers is profit-critical. For example...

1—Barton F. Graf 9000 handles Dish Network. The median age of adult television viewers is over 50.

2—McCann handles Chevrolet. The median age of Corvette owners is over 60. And if you think I'm picking on the Corvette as a notoriously 'old man' car—which it is—bear in mind that nearly half of all Chevy Volt drivers are over 50. McCann's also proud of its work for Mucinex.  

3—Grey's U.S. clients include Gillette. Until young guys drop the whole beard fad, I'm guessing Gillette's customer base will skew older. Grey also brags, on its web site, about work done to launch a new season of 'Dallas' on TNT. The median age of a Dallas viewer? 57.

4—co:collective lists Infiniti as a client. Want to help Infiniti sell a bunch more high-end cars? Ya' gotta' put a spell on the 55-64 cohort. That's now the single most important age group in the car business. co:’s Wells Fargo and Kohl's clients also do a huge business with Boomers and Seniors. 

5—Droga 5's impressive client roster includes Airwick, Jockey, and Prudential—companies that generate much if not most of their income from mature consumers.

Droga 5's Ted Royer, who's in his 40s, is the only ad star who is depicted as still working, though he's portrayed as a pathetic, morbidly obese loser who, when asked what he's proud of, lists his initiative to put waffle-makers on every floor.        

Droga 5's Ted Royer, who's in his 40s, is the only ad star who is depicted as still working, though he's portrayed as a pathetic, morbidly obese loser who, when asked what he's proud of, lists his initiative to put waffle-makers on every floor.

 

 

 

 

Gerry Graf, the head of Barton F. Graf 9000 graduated from high school in 1984.        

Gerry Graf, the head of Barton F. Graf 9000 graduated from high school in 1984.

 

 

 

 

co:collective's Tiffany Rolfe: in her imagined future, she's a consulting witch.           

co:collective's Tiffany Rolfe: in her imagined future, she's a consulting witch. 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange is the new gray for Grey's Tor Myhren.        

Orange is the new gray for Grey's Tor Myhren.

 

 

 

 

McCann's Rob Reilly is treated most cruelly of all, but it's all in good fun, right?        

McCann's Rob Reilly is treated most cruelly of all, but it's all in good fun, right?