TBWA creative who help build Apple brand files age discrimination suit in U.S.

A TBWA creative executive handpicked by Lee Clow to steer the Apple business, later becoming a confidant of its iconic leader Steve Jobs, has filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the agency claiming age discrimination, according to a report in Adweek.

Duncan Milner worked closely on the Apple business as it rose to become one of the most successful and revered brands in the world. His work included “Mac vs. PC,” the iPod “Silhouette” campaign and, more recently, the “Shot on iPhone” platform, according to Adweek‘s Doug Zanger.

In the lawsuit, obtained by Adweek and posted on its site, Milner claims that following the iPod launch in 2001, Jobs said, “You guys gave me a billion-dollar idea!” and later said, “You guys are the best in the business, and that’s why you are here.” The suit claims Milner remained a trusted confidant for Jobs as he fought cancer, meeting with him until just prior to his death.

“[Duncan’s] contribution to Chiat/Day over the last 18 years has been a role model for any creative person here,” Clow said of Milner when he handed him the reins at TBWA Media Arts Lab in 2009. “I couldn’t think of anyone I’d feel more comfortable passing this role on to. He’s truly earned it.”

While ageism has been identified as a growing issue across many fields, the problem seems particularly acute in advertising. The industry has long associated youth with new ideas and creativity—the lifeblood of the industry. But that thinking has been magnified in recent years, as technology rapidly transformed the output expectations placed on creative agencies at the same time many are under pressure to control or cut costs.

As a result many experienced agency professionals (some just into their 40s) have been forced out of the agency game either directly or indirectly with more work being pushed down to junior employees.

“If ours were the music business, we’d be saying that nothing of any consequence happened before the advent of Justin Bieber,” wrote Canadian advertising legend Ian Mirlin in a column for The Message earlier this year.

In a survey of its members last year, the Institute of Communication Agencies found that 40% of people working in the sector are between 20 and 30, while just 15% are between 40 and 50, and only 10% are older than 51.

Aside from working on Apple, Adweek says that Milner worked across TBWA offices, including Toronto.

The suit came after a series of changes that began in 2016. Milner was moved out of Media Arts Labs and into MAL\For Good, the agency’s purpose-driven arm. TBWA declined to comment on the suit, but told Adweek that MAL\For Good “struggled to be profitable as a stand-alone business entity.” That led the agency to “evolve MFG into a strategic, consultative offer within TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A. As a result, Duncan Milner’s position as the creative leader of MAL\For Good was eliminated.”

“I felt I was let go an unfairly, and we couldn’t come to an agreement over what I felt was fair compensation, so I have filed a suit,” Milner told Adweek.



David Brown