Monday, October 14, 2019

ITMS. (It's the money, stupid.)

There’s a lot of ageist crap in the agency world today. There’s a lot of ageist crap in the non-agency world as well.

Playing dissonant music at 110 decibels or mixing a commercial so loud it could curl your hair is sure to offend my generation’s sensibility. As is the industry’s refusal to cast anyone over 40 in a spot unless they’re basically in the commercial to be the butt of a joke. And the constant refrain that we want to be “cool” and “part of culture,” which is code for saying “we don’t want old people.” I realize I’m blind to much of popular culture (and proud of that fact) but I don’t even know what it means to be part of culture.

In my almost 62 trips around the sun, outside of “Where’s the beef?” or “Just Do It,” or Obama’s “Yes, We Can,” or Trump’s vicious and wistfully racist “Make America Great Again,” or “Got Milk,” I can’t think of that much that’s descended to the level of influencing culture.

Maybe I’m softening in my old age (that’s ageist) but I think the real issue in how people over 35 or 40 are treated today is not ageism. It’s experiencism. Expertisism. Or even wisdomism.

Any of those three isms are always accompanied by another ism: Cheapism.

I don’t think agencies inherently abhors old people.

I think agencies inherently abhor paying people. 

They're cheapists.

And experience, expertise and wisdom cost money. Rightfully so.

Democracy, as Tom Nichols points out in his masterful book “The Death of Expertise,” means we enjoy equal rights versus the government and in relation to each other. But it does not mean that we have “equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge.  It assuredly does not mean that ‘everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.’ And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.”

Such obvious nonsense is how we got a president with no knowledge of history or the Constitution. No knowledge of science or precedent. Not even a child’s knowledge or right and wrong.

Such obvious nonsense is how we got a holding company where only 2% of employees are over 60. Where everyone, regardless of their experience, expertise and wisdom sits in the open, like ducks in a shooting gallery. Maybe as a consequence, the work that appears online and on television is dull, insipid and more often than not downright insulting.

As Nichols puts it, “This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen… To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.
“Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself. Yes, I said 'Western civilization': that paternalistic, racist, ethnocentric approach to knowledge that created the nuclear bomb, the Edsel, and New Coke, but which also keeps diabetics alive, lands mammoth airliners in the dark, and writes documents like the Charter of the United Nations.”
In our little corner of the world’s economy, the abnegation of experience, expertise and wisdom assures that as an industry we have forgotten Bernbach, McCabe, Ammirati, Ally.
We have forgotten Cliff Freeman and Hal Riney and Bill Backer. We have forgotten the business and marketing problems of the past and the often ingenious ways brilliant people had solved them before the majority of those within agencies today were born or were still in diapers. We have forgotten people like brands who act like people they like. Brands that make them think or laugh or even cry. We no longer remember incidentals like that.
When I was a kid I had a harridan of a mother who made sure I had an Ivy-League education before I ever left high school. I learned things by rote that are gone now. Maybe we no longer need those things because we have Google.
But we do need brains that were trained to store and recall information faster than the fastest machine.
Often in the course of a week or a month it’s not unusual for some doe-eyed account person to accost me as say, “George, we’re in a pickle. We need such and such by two.”

It's usually something that involves assimilating, unraveling and translating something badly thought-out and terribly written. More often than not, I get about an hour or two to take that steaming pile of tripe and turn it into something that is memorable and powerful.
I usually have it done sooner than I promised. And they look at me and say, “Damn, you’re fast. How did you do that?”
I don’t say anything. I just adjust the oxygen flow on my breathing apparatus, tighten my wide white belt and hike up my plaid pants to just below my double chin and simply smile.

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