A year ago, Bill Maher riffed on the fact that California governor Jerry Brown, at 77, was too old to be seriously considered for as a Democratic candidate for President. His comments are just as relevant, now that Bernie Sanders is encouraging a discussion of America's last acceptable prejudice.
Ronald Reagan—doddering through his second term—is the obvious cautionary tale here. At 75 Bernie’d be the oldest man ever sworn in as President; even older than Reagan was the second time ‘round.
So... Is he too old? Or is 70 the new fifty, as people say?
Those are the wrong questions. The right question is, What’s Bernie’s life expectancy?
The average life expectancy of U.S. males is now nearly 80. So if Bernie even achieved that average, he would (just) live out his term as President. But as any good actuary will tell you, the average American man who has reached the age of 75 can expect to live about 11 more years. Bernie would have a mere 4% chance of dying in his first year in office. At inauguration, the smart money would bet that Bernie even had enough time for a second term.
How does Bernie’s life expectancy compare to earlier Presidents?
Before 1900, an American male’s life expectancy was less than 50 years of age. With that in mind, virtually all early U.S. Presidents were sworn in at an age that exceeded average life expectancy at the time. But, it’s hard to meaningfully compare Presidents’ ages in the 18th & 19th centuries, when life expectancy was skewed downwards by high rates of infant mortality, dangerous and debilitating physical labor, and when now-treatable age-related diseases were a death sentence.
However, I compared age-at-inauguration with life expectancy for all the 20th c Presidents. On average, a new President took office at an age that represented about 90% of the figure for average life expectancy. Teddy Roosevelt took office at the youngest age—42 years and change. But relative to life expectancy, Clinton was the youngest president—he took office at 46, at a time when the average American man lived to be 72.
Taft, Wilson, Harding; FDR (later terms); Truman, Eisenhower and of course Reagan were all Presidents who were, in actuarial terms, at least as old as Bernie is now.
Admittedly, Harding died of natural causes in office. FDR, too, died of natural causes but it was in his fourth term (his time in office extended by WWII.) Although he was visibly frail in his final term as Commander-in-Chief, FDR is consistently ranked one of the best Presidents ever. Truman, Eisenhower, and Woodrow Wilson are also rated highly by history; even old Ronald Reagan is fondly remembered.
After years of a soft overall U.S. housing market, the Mortgage Bankers Association now foresees a decade of strong demand for both single- and multi-family housing.
According to MBA estimates, the number of households headed by people 45-60 will decrease over the next decade—because of the relatively small size of the Gen-X cohort. The number of rental households headed by Millennials will increase by 2.7 million units. But the largest increase—3 million units—will come from Baby Boomers.
The MBA doesn't make it clear what percentage of this increase will come from existing tenants simply aging into the 60+ category, compared to the number of Boomers who move into rental accommodation as part of an expected downsizing trend. Either way, the relative importance of older tenants is bound to increase.
Since an increased demand for rental housing is inevitable, it seems likely we'll see an increase in multi-family housing starts. It will be interesting to see how big multifamily owners like Hunt Companies and Boston Capital, and big developers like Alliance Residential, Mill Creek, and Lennar adapt their offerings—and marketing—to attract older renters.
The hangovers have finally subsided after the global ad industry’s annual blowout in Cannes. Creatives—especially big winners—are basking in the glow of recognition and their agencies still feel good about those winning campaigns. At least, they will until the expense reports have been filed. And their Lion-winning CDs are poached by rivals.
This year, there was a new Lion award: The Glass Lion. It was awarded for the ad that best shattered gender stereotypes.
There were some high profile American campaigns in the running for the Glass Lion, including Proctor & Gamble/Always brilliant #LikeAGirl ad created by Leo Burnett. It took home an award, but the Grand Prize went to another great P&G campaign created by BBDO India.
BBDO’s campaign (#TouchThePickle) for Whisper brand sanitary pads was a serious, long-copy assault on deeply ingrained Indian taboos against menstruation. I’m sure it totally deserves an award.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Kat Gordon (creator of the 3% Conference) the ad industry’s now got the message that stereotyping or flat-out ignoring women—whether in marketing efforts or in ad agency creative departments—costs their clients money and is just stupid.
The industry has, finally, realized women are consumers and not just models to drape over the hood of a car in a diaphanous gown or cast as a hot bartender in a star-spangled bikini top.
The proof is that “Like a Girl” ads won three Gold Lions. BBDO’s “Touch The Pickle” also won in general competition.
So in the best leading-from-behind tradition, the ad industry has created an award to encourage something that’s already happening. Once again culture leads, commerce follows, and the ad industry brings up the rear. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying sexism’s dead in the ad business, but it’s showing signs of weakening.)
Ironically, "Touch The Pickle" portrays India's old women as completely locked into those old, outdated notions of menstruation. Only the young women are fighting that taboo. Now, you're obviously not going to sell a lot of sanitary napkins to the women in that video thumbnail above—they're long past menopause (another taboo topic!). But would it have killed P&G India to write in one older character who'd tell a young girl, "Don't be submissive, the way I was! Fight the taboo!"?
I guess I should look forward to the day that the Cannes jury presents the first ‘Wrinkled Lion’ award for the ad that best shatters the stereotyped views of old people in ads. Because that will mean that the ad industry has finally realized that its own entrenched ageism wastes creative talent and costs clients billions (if not trillions) in lost revenue.
The first completely self-driving cars will hit the market by 2020. By 2035, half of all new cars will have autonomous capability.
Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Renault and Nissan, promises that the first Nissan capable of completely autonomous driving will be on the market by 2020. Sergio Marchionne, the CEO Fiat Chrysler, recently traveled to Silicon Valley for private meetings at both Apple and Google.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers surveyed 200 engineers working on projects related to autonomous vehicles, asking them when they expected most new cars to be autonomous. Answer: 2035.
They say, “Follow the money.” But a more accurate expression in the tech world would be, “Money leads the way.” Money drives R&D, and research drives new products. In the last year or so, both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have issued reports green-lighting investment in autonomous vehicle technology.
A decade ago, such enthusiasm would’ve been risible. It’s possible that one reason the market accepts the idea today is that by now, many of us have experienced cars capable of parking themselves, staying in their own lane, and braking to avoid an imminent collision. And, shades of Anastasia Steele, where the thought of giving up control used to freak us out, we’ve learned to relax and enjoy this kind of active driver assistance.
The reality of the situation is that as a culture, America has already passed ‘peak auto’.
Young people are less inclined to want their own cars. Although public transportation remains pathetic in most U.S. cities, Millennials and younger cohorts are turning to other options, from car-sharing to Uber. An increasing percentage of them aren’t even bothering to get driver’s licenses. (In the early ‘80s, almost 90% of 19 year-olds had a driver’s license. Now, less than 70% do.) The auto industry realizes that removing knowing-how-to-drive as a barrier to entry may be critical to its future survival.
So far, most of the discussion about autonomous vehicles focus on benefits like freeing drivers to do other things while commuting, and reducing accidents and congestion.
No one is talking about the real reason autonomous cars are destined to succeed: In 2020, when the first self-driving cars reach the market, leading-edge Baby Boomers will be about 75. In 2035, when most new cars will be capable of driving themselves, the oldest Boomers will be hitting 90; even the youngest will be in their 70s.
And, in sharp contrast to today’s 20-somethings, Boomers love their cars. They grew up at a time when getting a driver’s license and a first car were rights of passage. They associate their cars with freedom and self-reliance. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that, for most Boomers, their car is an essential part of their self-identity.
The AAA surveyed more than 500 older drivers a few years ago. 80% basically admitted to their own diminished driving capacity when they reported that they avoid driving in certain conditions. (For example, they said they no longer drove at night, or in bad weather, or during rush hour.) More than half of those surveyed said that losing their ability to drive would pose a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem.
Boomers hate to see themselves as “old”. They’re the ones, after all, who keep repeating, “60’s the new forty” and “Seventy’s the new 50”. But failing eyesight and slowed reaction times can only be denied for so long. And that’s why Boomers will embrace self-driving cars.
For younger consumers, self-driving cars will represent convenience, and that's fine. For older consumers, self-driving cars will represent freedom itself, which is a far more powerful motivator. That's why Baby Boomers will be the most enthusiastic early adopters of autonomous vehicles.
It’s not news to anyone who regularly reads this blog, but Adweek’s finally realized that there are hip old people.
In a recent story, the magazine reported that major fashion brands have been signing celebrity senior citizens—ranging from sexy 60-somethings like Charlotte Rampling and Jessica Lange to 93 year-old Iris Apfel (above).
Adweek raises the spectre that brands like Kate Spade risk alienating younger consumers, though that risk is obviously offset by the massive buying power of Baby Boomers and Seniors.
But the real reason choosing those seniors as spokespeople is that there’s increasingly a sense that it’s actually hip to be... old. As they note, the blog Advanced Style is very popular among millennials. And some millennials are now dying their hair grey.
Yes, grey dye jobs are now a thing. The pop singer Pink has gone grey a few times over the last five years or so, and it’s catching on. One of the Kardashians is doing it. (No, not Bruce.) The phenomenon’s got a hashtag now, #GrannyHair
Ingvild Aslaksen's a Scandinavian teen who definitely does rock the Granny Hair on her Instagram account. The final proof that this isn't just a trend I'm super-sensitive to because of my work here at Revolutionary Old Idea is, when I recently opened a Google search window and started typing, "dye to make hair…" Google filled in 'grey', 'white', and 'gray' before giving me any other options.
The fashion world is still wrestling with the whole “what does this mean?” question when, of course, it’s fashion so it may just be a random choice with no significant meaning. Here at Revolutionary Old Idea, however, we’re interested in things we’re sure it doesn’t mean.
Grey obviously no longer necessarily means ‘old’, ‘tired’, or ‘uncool’. That’s great news, especially for women. (Men have always been cut more slack; it’s always been possible for George Clooney to be both grey and sexy.)
What are the factors driving the new acceptance of grey hair among sexy women?
- The increasing awareness of Boomer and Senior buying power, on the part of brands that previously targeted younger women only
- Mature celebrities hanging onto their own sex-symbol status, who are in turn still admired by Boomers and Seniors who resent the idea that only young people can be attractive
- The rejection of unattainable and unnatural beauty standards by women of all ages
- And just maybe the realization by young people that youth is fleeting. By making grey the new blonde, they’re playing the long game for themselves
Ironically Adweek's breathlessly reporting this trend, to readers who, mostly, work at ad agencies where a grey dye job would be the epitome of cool, but actual grey hair is career-limiting. As I've always said though, Culture leads business, and clients lead agencies. The ad business will be the last to realize that grey's the new blonde.
Last year, I wrote about the first ad in Kimberly-Clark’s Depend brand’s ‘Underwareness’ campaign. I recently saw this new spot, which picks up the original visual, emphasizing young, attractive people out in their Depends undies... and little else.
Incontinence is big business, and it’s growing. Depend, which has long been a generic term like ‘Kleenex’, now faces competition from P&G’s ‘Always’ brand. So, I suppose we can expect to see more aggressive and creative ads for a category that used to be pitched in more practical, understated terms.
According to Omnicom’s Organic, which has a detailed case study for this campaign on its web site, there are “more people with bladder leakage in their 20s than there are in their 80s.” I’m not sure where they got that number, but I would venture that they’re using the kind of statistics Mark Twain referred to when he said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (According to the Mayo Clinic, urinary tract infections, and pregnancy and childbirth can cause incontinence in young women. I.E., temporary conditions account for most of those 20-somethings. Meanwhile menopause and prostate problems lead to incontinence in older folk; for those people it’s chronic. That’s why sales of incontinence products track with the increase in the older population and why the average age of Depend buyers is far older than the average age of the actors cast in this commercial.)
On the face of it, Depend is saying, "There's a lot of people who are (at least occasionally) incontinent. They're not all decrepit old biddies. We make products that you'd never know were incontinence undies, and you'd never guess who buys some of them."
A side benefit of this ad strategy is, people who aren’t incontinent (yet) may well come to feel that it’s no big deal, just another life phase, and Depend has them covered. They’ll age into the market taking the brand for granted.
I certainly don’t hate this ad, but I don’t love it, either.
My ambivalence comes from this: Every year, magazines like People put out "Sexiest stars over 50" stories. And they piss me off because a.) half of them have just turned 50, and b.) the women on these lists all look about 40. So while the words celebrate the idea that you could be sexy in middle age, the images they present send a different message.
This ad comes from the same place. It's still, between the lines, telling you that to be attractive, you have to either be or at least look young. There's a shot of a young woman on a scooter. Would it have killed Organic's creatives to find an old scooter rider? Or, couldn't we have some old-but-active people in this spot? Or just one old couple who obviously still find each other attractive? That would be more honest too, because while there are some young Depends users, who appreciate Silhouette Active Fit, the majority of customers are old people who appreciate the slimline design just as much.
So, I’ll give this a ‘meh’.
Now, if a commercial about incontinence makes you squeamish, you definitely won’t be thrilled by an ad for a toilet that’s conspicuously good at flushing away “splatter”.
Yet, this ad for American Standard's new Vormax toilet is certainly sticking to the rim of my brain. I just wish I knew why they cast old people in the spot.
Is it because American Standard knows the average age of people who spec high-end toilets? I sure as hell hope it’s not because as we get older, splatter becomes more and more of a problem. Because that’s one of the few physical insults my older friends haven’t delighted in describing, when they talk about my future.
But seriously... This ad by 22 Squared is part of a series for American Standard that definitely doesn’t stick to the ad industry’s tried-and-true casting of young-and-beautiful spokesmodels.
I reached out to American Standard’s marketing chief, Jeannette Long, to ask whether the choice of casting was strictly driven by the actors’ comedic chops, or whether it was influenced in part by the brand’s research into the average age of their customers. But, Ms. Long was on vacation. If she gets back to me, I’ll update this post. What I can tell you right now is, the ad is running on HGTV, where half of all viewers are over 50, so creating a spot that will resonate with older viewers makes good sense.
In the meantime, what makes this such a brainworm? Besides the wacky humor, the surreal location of the toilet, and the even more surreal reappearance of the woman in the final shot; casting this prim and conservative-looking older woman makes the spot funnier than it would have been had it been made with younger actors.
It’s currently scoring an 82% approval rating on iSpotTV, with almost all positive comments. Ad Age’s Ken Wheaton called it ‘perfect’, and I’m sure that the unexpected casting was a factor in his rating the spot so highly.
That adds up to a grade of Eh+ here on Revolutionary Old Idea. It's a spot with an inspired casting choice that makes consumers of all ages laugh (a little nervously.)
The Wall Street Journal recently confirmed that aging Baby Boomers are still using drugs. I don’t mean the doctor-prescribed kind, I mean the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” kind, that they first encountered in the 1960s and ‘70s at places like Woodstock.
The article pointed out that accidental drug overdoses are as common among the 50+ crowd, these days, as they are among Millennials. (It also mentioned that the over-50 age group is the only cohort in which the rate of sexually-transmitted disease is increasing.)
Of course these days there are quite a few states where doctors can—and increasingly do—prescribe marijuana for ailments that until recently were just accepted as a natural part of aging.
A few months ago, Florida voters narrowly defeated Amendment 2, an initiative that would have put Florida on a path towards legalizing medical pot. A Quinnipiac poll just before the vote showed that 84% of voters over 65 supported the measure. And, 62% of voters 50-64 admitted to smoking pot—more than any other demographic.
So while Boomers’ and Seniors’ musical tastes may have moved on (and I’m not saying they have) there’s at least circumstantial evidence that the “sex & drugs” part of that cliché are still going strong.
While the tone of the Wall Street Journal article was finger-wagging, marketers and advertisers need to learn a different lesson from this Daily Factoid.
Here it is: us old people grew up in an era of experimentation with drugs and sexual freedom. As we aged, we became parents but we didn’t become our parents. While we were raising kids and in the workforce, many of us toned it down. But now we’re at an age when we know what we like and some of us could care less whether ‘the man’ approves. That statistic I cited a few paragraphs above, about pot use in the 50-64 cohort is instructive. I'm not saying that those trailing-edge Boomers necessarily smoke more pot than anyone else, but they're more open about it. Sex, drugs? Yes please.
That holds true for older—often much older—Seniors. My mom is 89. When her neighbors in the seniors’ condo put out a plate of brownies, there’s a good chance they’re laced with pot. And I have another acquaintance who’s pushing 70—a grandmother with an artificial hip—who finds that the young members of the Kansas City ‘polyamory’ Meetup group she attends are easily shocked by her sexual exploits.
If you’re a young ad creative and you want your messages to resonate with Boomers and Seniors, stop talking to us—and especially portraying us—as a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. We’re probably having more fun than you are.
I love coffee. But the other day a friend of mine who really loves coffee invited me to a "cupping" at one of Kansas City's artisan roasters. A cupping is where coffee tasters slurp coffee off spoons, pretty much exactly the way your mom told you never to do it. It seems that mixing the coffee with a lot of air releases the flavor.
Anyway, my point in telling you this story is that all the coffee samples were prepared using the up-to-date coffee geek's méthode du jour: the Aeropress. From Brooklyn to Portland, from Sundance to SXSW, guys are riding up to cafes on their fixed gear bikes and specifying they want a single-shot coffee brewed in an Aeropress, which is a device that's sort of a cross between a portable espresso machine and a bicycle pump. As the name implies, the water is pressed through the coffee grounds by a cushion of compressed air.
Since the Aeropress is the darling of Millennials, you may imagine that even I was surprised to learn that the inventor, Alan Adler, is in his 70s. He's been inventing stuff for decades, including a Frisbee-like flying ring that's sold in the millions.
Adler's not even that big a coffee drinker, but he was inspired to develop a cheap and effective fast-brewing system after he read that when the water spends less time in contact with the coffee, it comes out sweeter. Of course, from my perspective here @BrandROI, I'm a little disappointed that he's now sold millions of Aeropress machines (they retail for about $30) almost without advertising. But I can't argue with his strategy, which is to get the machine into the hands of coffee geeks like the ones who put on that cupping I attended. They then become evangelists for his brand.
Like my last 50 over Fifty subject, Barbara Beskind, Adler works in Palo Alto, where he's still inventing stuff.
To read a great story on Adler and the Aeropress, go here.
Every once in a while, I see a commercial that resonates perfectly with the older audience, in spite of the fact is has no older actors, and makes no mention of concerns particular to mature consumers. That’s the case with this YouTube pre-roll ad, conceived by The Martin Agency and produced by Park Pictures.
The spot perfectly channels 1950's suburbia in a way that’s simultaneously ironic (a nod to ad-fatigued Millennials, 95% of whom click “Skip Ad” the moment it appears) and which brings back fond memories of TV nuclear families from the days when Americans had a choice of a handful of networks, not a handful of devices on which to watch video content.
Young baby boomers might remember the ‘false freeze frame’ trope from the short-lived ‘Police Squad!’ TV show, which used the device in the closing credits. But whether you’re seeing the gag again or for the first time, the humor comes from watching the actors closely as they strive to remain frozen in place while they fight the urge to break into laughter.
If Geico or Martin had come to me to say, “Help us ensure that our spot will also work on older consumers,” I’d’ve said, “Don’t change a thing.” This is a perfect example of an all-ages gag, so the spot gets a grade of ‘Eh!’ (Hey, I am Canadian.)
Do you really want to get me started on this? 40 under 40? Everyone in the business is under 40.
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.
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.
Although I like to present 50 over Fifty subjects you don’t already know, there’s a good chance you’ve recently read about Barbara Beskind—a 91 year-old part time industrial designer at Silicon Valley’s uber-hip IDEO design studio (they designed the Apple mouse.)
I admit, I may have almost been the last guy to learn of Barbara, when I got a Twitter message from the 3% Conference’s social maven @LaurelLu about her. As I noted to Laurel Stark Akman, perhaps the world of product design is ahead of the ad world, when it comes to seeking seniors’ input, because when a product doesn’t work, its failure is clear and unambiguous. When ads fail, they do so silently.
The backstory on Barbara Beskind is, she was an early specialist in design for injury rehab, who rose to the rank of Major in the U.S. Army. After an equally long career in the private sector, and long after ‘retiring’ she applied for a job at IDEO when she heard that they were researching design for the aged. That was in June, 2013 when she was already nearly 90 and living in an assisted living facility.
The Wall Street Journal quoted IDEO’s Gretchen Addi, “She’s a designer here, and she does get paid for some of the work that she does.” I recently called the firm’s Palo Alto office and confirmed that Barbara still comes in most Thursdays. Her role includes consulting and developing personal projects.
But there’s something else going on, too. And it’s that Barbara Beskind has become an internet meme. The first journalist to pick up the story was the Journal’s Tim Hay, who is based in the Bay Area and covers tech stories. He wrote about her on the Journal’s Venture Capital blog last April.
His original reporting was cited a few times, but Barbara’s story didn’t get real traction until she was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered early this year. The NPR story was, in turn, reposted (read: plagiarized) by dozens of bloggers and web sites, and—as I write this—there’s no sign of this meme losing steam.
The underlying personal story’s interesting and inspiring. “Most days, I feel 20 years younger [than I really am],” says Barbara. “On days I go in to IDEO, I feel 30 years younger.”
But, what fascinates me is that, as this 90-year-old-with-job-at-hip-agency story has such a life of its own. People—including people far younger than her—have a real appetite for a story about someone who, despite age and macular degeneration, still has a vigorous and curious mind.
I suppose more and more people are starting to actually imagine being old, and wondering what it will be like. If they’re lucky, their lives will be like Barbara Beskind’s.
Gallup.com recently released results of a survey of Baby Boomers’ discretionary spending, which suggests that, as a group, Boomers’ spending fell from 2008 high of $115/day to a low of $55/day in early 2009. Since then, it’s rebounded back to $105/day. I.E., Boomer spending has nearly doubled since the bottom of the recession.
While the methodology of the survey leaves a lot to be desired, the results still provide some interesting food for thought. Based on the numbers reported, Gallup suggests that there are really two distinct Boomer cohorts. They dub them ‘leading-edge’ (born 1946-’55) and ‘trailing-edge’ (born 1956-’64). Gallup’s not the first to make such a distinction. Way back in 1985, Schuman and Scott conducted a broad survey of Baby Boomers, asking them to recall seminal social memories. Older Boomers cited the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the civil rights movement, feminism; and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Younger Boomers cited the cold war, Vietnam war & protests, and Watergate. The second group is less cohesive and more cynical. But, I digress...
According to Gallup, leading-edge (technical term: ‘older’) Boomers are more likely than trailing-edge (younger) ones to report that they’re spending more this year than last year. Gallup draws this conclusion: “Leading-edge boomers appear to have greater latitude in their spending—and are applying it to things they would prefer to do rather than things they have to do.” [Their italics]
There are a number of reasons that members of the older cohort would have different financial situations, compared to the younger cohort. Most of the older ones are over 65; they’re more likely to be retired, hence less burdened by work-related expenses and more likely to have their financial situation tied to the stock market, which has recovered to pre-recession levels. Trailing-edge Boomers are the ones most likely squeezed from both sides, too; they could still be helping pay for their kids’ college educations, and are more likely to have surviving parents who also need assistance.
For all that Gallup’s study prompts as many questions as answers, it’s nice whenever a mainstream organizations views “Baby Boomers” and/or “Seniors” as more than a monolithic group. The distinction of leading-edge and trailing-edge Boomers is a start.
There are close to 100 million Americans over 50. No group that large could possibly be made up of people who all think, or for that matter spend, the same.
The Statistician’s Curse: Gallup’s methodology notes are sparse, and do not address any of these issues...
- We haven’t been told whether or not these figures are inflation-adjusted. If they are not corrected, today’s $105 figure is still quite a bit shy of 2008’s $114 peak. Full recovery would equate to about $125 today.
- This study is based on a telephone survey in which random respondents self-reported an estimate of the amount they’d spent that day, in various categories. Self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate.
- If Gallup has research examining whether or not the recession has influenced self-reporting errors, they haven’t shared it.
In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama hammered away at the idea of "middle class economics". He outlined policies to address the shrinking of the American middle class by increasing upward mobility among the working poor (e.g. making two year college tuition-free) and shoring up the erosion of the existing middle class' purchasing power (e.g. with some form of universal child care for working parents.)
Yesterday, the New York Times' Upshot team of Alicia Parlapiano, Robert Gebeloff, and Shan Carter analyzed broad trends in American class mobility and purchasing power. They defined 'middle class' as people in households earning from $35,000 to $100k in present-day dollars.
The Times' view is that in the last third of the 20th c, the share of the population in the middle class steadily fell as more and more middle income American households moved into upper-income, six-figure territory (inflation corrected.) However, since 2000, the middle class has been shrinking for different reason—families are falling out of it.
Where I got interested was when Upshot broke out graphs illustrating the change in the size of the middle class since 1967, by age. People under 30, 30-44, and people 45-64 are all much less likely be members of the middle class today than they were in '67. About 60% of all those groups were middle class at the beginning of the period and today the share is in the mid-40% range.
Senior citizens buck that trend. In 1967, only about 20% of seniors had middle class incomes. Today, 39% of them do. And it's not because more seniors started out rich and ended up in the middle class, either; the number of well-off seniors has increased too. Meanwhile, the number of low-income seniors has happily dropped from about 75% to less than half.
Note that senior citizens are still over-represented among low-income households, although an analysis that examines gross income only (as this one does) ignores the facts that seniors are more likely to own their homes, and less likely to have work-related expenses such as child care or the costs associated with operating a second car.
It's not possible to ascribe the steady increase in the number of middle class senior citizens to a single cause. In case you're wondering, Social Security benefits began in 1940, but there was a 50% increase in total payouts between 1960 and '65. Medicare also began in 1965. The data certainly suggests that this minimal social safety net has a positive impact on the ability of Americans to enter the middle class.
Bloomberg Business Week recently ran it's first ever 'topless' cover, featuring a slightly sagging 70-something torso. That was a reference to a brilliant feature story about the decline of Abercrombie & Fitch, and the ouster of the brand's CEO Michael Jeffries.
Jeffries, who is 70 but desperately clings to lost youth, took over the brand 22 years ago. Depending on your point of view, he was either a creepy, micromanaging narcissist or a retail genius. I'd say both. You should definitely read the entire story, by Susan Berfield and Lindsey Rupp, to fully appreciate this character, who turned a moribund sporting goods brand into a multibillion-dollar homoerotic fantasy. He had a Gulfstream jet with a four-man cabin crew—all male models who were told what underwear to wear. (Boxers.)
It's easy to read this great Bloomberg piece as Greek tragedy—or at least an updated tale by Theodore Dreiser—and miss a message that I find a little bit heartening.
Jeffries built what is arguably the most youth-besotted brand in America. Visitors to the flagship store in New York were actually greeted by shirtless male models with bodies as hairless as a salamander.
Until recently, the company refused to carry anything larger than a size 10, even though the average U.S. woman is size 14. Music volumes and light levels in the stores were set to drive out older consumers; all part of a plan to ensure the shoppers were young and thin. Over the years, the company settled lawsuits alleging both ageism and racism, which I suppose is not surprising considering that it existed primarily to allow spoiled upper middle class high school students from midwestern suburbs to fantasize that they were, in fact, the children of Hamptons billionaires, afflicted with terminal ennui.
What's heartening about that? Mainly that, eventually, it failed. After explosive growth in the late '90s, the company's profits trended down. Some of that was inevitable; the company had targeted a demographic that's notoriously fickle. But A & F's problem was mostly self-inflicted. Dickish comments Jeffries'd made blew up on Facebook. A recent survey of teenaged girls asked, "What brands have you stopped wearing?" and two of the top three answers were A & F and it's subsidiary, Hollister. Eventually, even kids in the clique tired of that exclusionary vibe. A & F's subtext went from 'affluent' to 'asshole'. Investors began complaining about his $140M/year compensation, and the un-approved management role taken by his life partner.
Late last year, the brand's parents — in the form of Arthur Martinez (ex-CEO of Sears and Chairman of the Board of A & F) grounded the high-flying Jeffries—literally, taking the keys to the Gulfstream—and firing him a few months before his contract was up. The company's looking for a new CEO.
Good luck to him (or her.)
I spent a few days in San Francisco last week. I was there to address a session of the 3% Conference, which is usually all about the topic of sexism in the ad industry. It is called the 3% Conference because a few years ago, the conference founder—Kat Gordon—realized that only 3% of mainstream ad agency Creative Directors were women. That seemed to indicate discrimination to her, because she was pretty sure that more than 3% of consumers were women. Since she began publicizing this disparity, the ratio of female CDs has risen to 11%.
Anyway, thanks to me (I think) Kat added a session on ageism this year. I presented along with the Emmy- and Cannes Lion-winning Hélène Côté. Of course, there is no ageism conference; if there was one, it would have to be called the 0% Conference, since there are virtually no over-50 creatives in hands-on roles at big agencies.
I heard two recurring themes. The first was that women—who (duh!) still carry most of the child-rearing load, even in modern families—were often excluded from the all-night creative sessions that are part of ad agency culture. And, participant after participant complained that while they’re now present in agency creative meetings, their ideas often don't seem to get heard in group sessions.
In one panel session, I watched two women sparring on the topic of work-life balance. A Late-Gen X mom was refreshingly honest when she told the audience, basically, "I handle this issue by being exhausted all the time." Her Early-Millennial co-panelist just blew off the entire concept of work-life balance. That's not for winners, any more, I guess.
After a few hours listening to variations on those themes, something really bugged me: No one stood up to say, "Look, the reason ad creatives are called upon to work through the night isn't because there's anything inherently emergent in the ad creative process; they are called upon to pull those all-nighters because the people (men, by the way!) who manage ad agencies are incompetent."
I was disappointed that the women in attendance seemed to have bought into the notion that the big ideas come at 3 a.m. and if they couldn't be there alternating beers with Red Bull, eating cold pizza, and making giddy, exhausted fart jokes with the bros, they were destined to be left behind, career-wise.
Bullshit. For every good 3 a.m. idea, there are 99 shitty ones (and at least nine perfectly good 3 p.m. ideas.)
The idea that women are producing their share of great ideas, but that they don't push their ideas forward as aggressively as men was the whole premise behind the hash tag #takethemic. Kat Gordon mentioned that she'd met one presenter when she took a coaching workshop called, "Silence your inner critic."
In Q&A sessions, participants stood up to say, "When the agency gets together to pitch ideas, mine don't get picked." They got advice like, "Make sure you don't begin statements with phrases like, 'You've probably already thought of this but...'" or, "Stop making statements with a raised pitch at the end, because it makes you sound uncertain."
It occurred to me that I was in a room full of people from the first generation in which everyone got a trophy in school. I resisted the urge to stand up and say, "I've got some bad news: Half of you are, by definition, below average. So right away I can explain why a lot of your ideas aren't getting picked."
But in their defense, the ad business does over-reward presentation skills. And it is a gender trait that women tend to collaborate and seek consensus while men aggressively push their private agendas. That's a problem because the corollary of over-rewarding presentation skills is under-rewarding ideas.
So again, I was frustrated that no one stood up to say, "Let's change the business." Instead, the advice women gave women was, basically, "Be more like men."
Irony #1: If the conference succeeds in convincing those women to adopt the same strategies used by the men in their ad agency, they will have succeeded in changing a creative process that currently discriminates against women into one that discriminates against a different 50% of the population: introverts. It would be a hell of a lot better if the industry was actually capable of determining which ideas were better, not just which ideas were better presented.
When I was researching my book Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's, it occurred to me that every industry faces its own defining problems. I coined the term Gardiner's Paradox to describe the way that each industry promotes the people who can best adapt to those challenges. The paradox part comes in because the people who thrive on those problems are the ones least likely to change business models in ways that will eliminate them altogether.
In the ad industry's case, two of those defining problems are chronic mismanagement—leading to the sort of chaos that forces creatives to work all night—and an arbitrary and unscientific approach to testing and evaluating creative—which turns brainstorming sessions and client presentations into verbal wrestling matches between egomaniacs. It almost certainly is true that men, as a group, are more likely to thrive in those settings, and it's precisely because the industry's male-dominated that it hasn't ever eliminated those fundamental problems.
Irony #2: It was a man, John Gerzema, who presented an extensive research project proving that both men and women, in countries around the world, believe that business and government would be more profitable and effective if they were managed in a "more feminine" way. (For example, corporate CEOs overwhelmingly agree that their businesses would be more profitable if management was more empathetic.)
The whole premise of the 3% Conference is that the ad industry does a disservice to its clients through its underrepresentation of women. In that sense, the business does 'need' more women, but it doesn't need more women who think and act like men. It needs to get more feminine.
Of course, by the same logic, it also needs a lot more input from mature creatives, too.
Subaru's great 'tree hugger' spot walks a very fine line, by making fun of the brand's status amongst tree huggers. The reason I like the spot is that presents a funny, loving portrayal of the aging hippie grandmother.
Sure, she's a caricature, and she's prone to saying and doing things that make her son roll his eyes, and which occasionally shock her prim daughter-in-law. But the little girl is enthralled, and looks at her worshipfully. On balance, it's a positive portrayal and one that's refreshingly different than the saccharine 'grandma' characters we usually see.
Clearly, the spot's aimed at Millennials, like the driver and his wife. But the 'Woodstock' sign's another little nod to Baby Boomers and Seniors, for whom that word will always be evocative. Subaru's agency, Carmichael-Lynch, did a great job creating a spot that sells the Outback to the prime target demo, which will also work well on buyers in the key 55-64 cohort, too.
At first, the line about "I was naked zip-lining…" stood out for me, because zip-lining wasn't a thing when grandma was young. But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea that maybe grannie was naked zip-lining just in the last few years. Why not? So, I'd leave that line as-is.
But there is one tiny change that could move this ad from a solid A- on the BrandROI scale to an A+.
If it was up to me, I'd give the grandmother one line in which she looks around the car and asks, "What model did you say this was?" or something to convey her thought that she just might buy one for herself. After all, I guarantee you that as many (if not more) new Outbacks are sold to 55-64 year-old buyers than to young parents.
If Subaru and C-L had brought Revolutionary Old Idea into the process, it would have been easy to cut a second version of the spot specifically for older audiences—in which grandma is acknowledged as a potential driver, not just a passenger. That version could run at low cost in the (many!) TV shows that skew older than 55.
Apple and Facebook were in the news recently, because both announced that ‘egg freezing’ would, henceforth, be covered by their employee healthcare programs.
Commenters on this news generally fall into one of two camps. There are those who view it as evidence that tech companies are finally taking female talent seriously enough to offer this exotic and expensive health care ‘benefit’, and those who see it as an implicit threat—get pregnant and your career’s over.
But I see a third message from the tech industry to its employees: Some time in your early 40s, your career’s going to end, anyway. So, have your kids then.
I suppose most of the 20-something tech grads those companies recruit expect to be rich and retired by 40, anyway. And, most wouldn’t give a thought to the plight of people who are currently 40 or older; I mean, of course those people are hopelessly out of date, and couldn’t possibly expect good tech jobs. No wonder no one’s recruiting them.
But maybe some Millennials will be a little disquieted by the message Apple and Facebook are really sending: Even you, sought-after digital natives—forget about staying up to speed, forget about the fact that you’ll be building whatever brave new tech world we live in, in 15 years—because when you’ve built it, we’re throwing you out, too.
I suppose it might be some small consolation that you'll still—barely—be old enough to have children.
As the midterm election approaches, one thing is already clear: Boomers and seniors will have a disproportionate impact on the results, whatever the results may be.
I spent an hour parsing the data on recent elections, paying particular attention to voting patterns by age of voter. I expected to find older citizens are more likely to vote than younger ones. But even I was surprised by the extent of the differences in young vs. old voters.
After the 2012 elections—obviously a presidential election year—the U.S. Census Bureau gathered data from 50,000 households and broke down the ages of people who reported that they had, in fact, voted.
According to the Census Bureau, about 46% of people under 44 actually voted. The group of people between 45-64 (let’s call that the Boomers) were far more likely to vote—almost 68% of them voted. And senior citizens were even more likely to vote—almost 70%.
Of the cohorts supplied in the Census Bureau’s dataset, 18-24 year olds are the least likely to vote. There are a variety of reasons for that, including that age group’s high mobility. People 65-74 were the most likely voters, with voting rates dropping slightly for people over 75; that drop’s likely explained by the oldest voters’ difficulty in actually getting out to the polls.
But wait, that was a presidential year. If you’ll pardon the pun, it turns out younger voters are far less likely to, ah, turn out for midterm elections. In the last midterm election (2010) voters under 30 were less than half as likely to vote as those 30 and older.
What does this all mean? Half the votes cast next month will be cast by people over 50.