With over three decades in the marketing and advertising industry and a CV that spans Senior / C-Suite positions across agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, George Paterson Y&R, Leo Burnett and RAPP, Jeff is an absolute fount of wit and wisdom. In 2019 he went out on his own to found Fifty Not Out – a collective of positive ageing advocates and marketing realists who work with businesses to enlighten them on the New Old (people aged 50 to 75). He shares his views with us on ageism – both internally and externally – in the advertising space.
Tell us about your journey from working in-house to “going out on your own”. Was there a specific turning point or did it seem like a natural progression?
Well, in a business that’s not short on big egos and a certain amount of hubris, it’s hard not to find people that believe they can ‘do it better’. And I guess I’m no different. However, going out on your own is a lot tougher than it looks and I dabbled in it a few times, before committing to Fifty Not Out. The difference is, this time, I was ready – both emotionally and financially. Plus, we believe we have a very strong idea and positioning that not only helps marketers – but does some social good, as well.
There’s a well known narrative around ageism in Advertising, is this something you have witnessed and why do you think that is?
Personally, I have not been affected by ageism – even though for the past several years I’ve been the oldest guy in the room. Ageism happens when you’re not performing as well as expected – and you’ve become too expensive to justify. A lot of people my age talk about ‘wisdom’ and/or being wise and trying to put a value on that in terms of a ‘wisdom economy’ … that’s evolved (in our favour) from the ‘knowledge economy’. There is certainly some merit in this thinking. However, at the end of the day, if you’re good, you’re good. And people will pay for that. If you’re OK, well …’. No matter what your age.
Senior citizens constitute a significant part of the consumer market. Yet marketing to seniors is often ignored by many Australian companies – why do you think that is the case?
In Australia there are roughly 8 million people over the age of 50. For the sake of argument, let’s assume 50% of those are not that well off (and maybe not worthy of your marketing dollar). That gets us to 4 million people. But these 4 million people have close to 70% of all disposable income in the country. Not just assets, but disposable income. To NOT consciously go after this market is at minimum, negligent – maybe even stupid, but certainly ageist. Youth culture marketers believe old people smell. Smart marketers know they smell … like money.
There seems to be a broader conversation that distinguishes between “elder” and “elderly”, and that even this idea of “over 50s” falsely blankets a broad range of life stages. Can you explain in a bit more details how you categorise the “Over 50’s segment?”
These days, 50+ is almost a 50 year cohort of spending power. And you’re telling me all people over 50 are the same? Right, that’s me and my 93 yo Mum in the same marketing plan? Really? I love her, but we don’t have a lot in common from a commercial point of view. At Fifty Not Out we focus on what we call the ‘New Old’, those between 55-75 that are ‘living more life’ than any other time in their life. They’re healthy, wealthy and they act like they’re 35 (with a wallet). Most marketers treat 50 like 80 – and this is a costly mistake.
The future of the creative agency model is another long-time debate – what effects do you feel will CV19 have on accelerating these changes?
I believe CV-19 has simply exposed the expense of carrying too much overhead in a very tight margin business. The bigger effect on agencies has been in the increasing proliferation of MarTech which often negates (perhaps erroneously) the need for creative thinkers. I believe this is a mistake. Yes, anyone can push a few buttons and crank out some ‘filler’ key-word driven content – and why pay over the odds for that? But this will not deliver the results that come from smart intuitive thinking and inspired executions. Agencies can still ‘own this space’ – but they have to make sure the best people are working on the clients business. And deliver.