Ian Truscott explores the issue of ageism in marketing, and the attributes that all marketers – regardless of whether they’re young or old – need to embrace in order to truly make a difference. 

The ignorance of ageism is a rot in many workplaces, robbing organizations of ideas, talent and knowledge at either end of the age scale. And this seems especially true in marketing – both agency and client-side – a field that in some organizations already struggles to be taken seriously, as something more than just the “coloring in department”. 

But marketers feel the ageism pinch at both ends: young marketers are not given the big projects, and are often unable to gain the necessary experience to progress; older marketers are being forced out of the industry by C suites who feel that youth is essential for innovation and keeping in touch with consumers.

B&T, an Australian marketing publication, quoting a UK study, writes: “When it came to marketers, some 41.7% admitted that they’d not been taken seriously at work due to their age. Some three-quarters complained they were seen as ‘too young’ and the other 25% said they were ‘too old’.”

In the En Vogue song ‘Free your mind’, a song about racism, they sing: “I can’t change your mind, you can’t change my color” – and this is also true of age.

Whatever age you are, you can’t change that, and if you find yourself in an unenlightened organization, and unable to change minds, you face a tough decision. Yes, we all have to work to eradicate all the ‘isms’ from our workplace, but the reality is different. We have the legislation, but we don’t have a magic wand (or a big bloody stick to hit these bastards with).

But this article is not about the injustice of the workplace – which many of us, rose-tinted and misty-eyed, still view as a meritocracy. Rather it’s a look at the attributes of marketing that, young or old, we need to embrace.

Marketing is a creative discipline, a place for play.

Yeah, I said “play”. Fuck that ‘they’ deride what we do as all crayons, unicorns and rainbows. It is creative and I’m sorry that ‘they’ did not choose our line of work and that they live in spreadsheets, charts and Salesforce. We’ve also got data, but our value is not to be found in being more like them. And we should not be ashamed that we have to play.

As Heather Simmons, author of Reinventing Dell said: “Those who disrupt their industries change consumer behavior, alter economics, and transform lives.”

The marketing department is well-placed to be the epicentre of disruption and innovation. We tell the story, we define the brand, we influence the agents of change in our industries.

Yes, to be an innovative organization you need the people, products or services to back up that brand promise, but the marketing department can lead that internal change too. It’s not just consumers that need a differentiated story to believe in; our colleagues do too. If they believe it, you change behavior, you change products, you change companies. As a marketer, to boldly create difference is our raison d’être

“People notice what is different. And if your marketing does not get noticed in the first place, nothing else you do matters”

Samuel Scott, The Drum

Marketers need to stay curious, think differently, explore and learn. We have to stay forever young. And I don’t mean this as advice to the older marketer to fake it – to overcome this ageism by getting a tattoo and hipstering yourself up. It’s easy as a tough career takes its toll to become safe, cynical and conservative – I mean to maintain this youthful mindset of continuously pushing difference.

But it’s a mistake to assume the just because a marketer is young they have got this licked, as today’s marketer has to be not only forever young, but to apply this boldly, to say “no” and disrupt. And these are attributes that often come only with the confidence of experience.

They’re also attributes we all need to demonstrate. Young or old, we are all kids and that’s alright.

Thanks to rock star CMO Kevin Cochrane, who is CMO, SAP Customer Experience and C/4HANA for inspiration for the title, from this Twitter conversation. If you don’t follow him, you should.

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