I used to be worried about ageism…

—Asking ChatGPT for some help with a column about ageism in advertising got Éric Blais thinking about the need to step up our game, or become obsolete… no matter our age.—

With my originally planned column not quite ready for publication (it’s a good topic… stay tuned), I found myself in a pickle earlier this week, facing a fast-approaching deadline at a busy time.

Fortunately, I knew what I wanted to write about. So, I reached out to my new friend at OpenAI: ChatGPT. I was a little worried they would be in a bad mood after Elon Musk and 1,000 others wrote an open letter urging them to slow down and take a six-month break from further enhancements. But to my delight, they were ready and willing to help.

I had planned to write about ageism in advertising. More specifically, I wanted to argue that retired senior advertising professionals should be judging industry award shows, instead of having medals decided by folks who are still eager to win the same medals for recognition and career advancement.

Wise retired judges are often called upon to conduct unbiased public inquiries. Why not do the same to determine what work is worthy of our admiration? Plus, these individuals might still have a few things left to teach us.

First, I asked ChatGPT a loaded question: Is there ageism in the advertising business?

Unfortunately, ageism is a common issue in many industries, including the advertising business. Many advertising campaigns are targeted towards younger demographics, and there is often a bias towards hiring younger employees who are perceived to be more “in touch” with these target audiences. This can lead to older employees being overlooked for promotions or job opportunities, or even being forced out of the industry entirely.

In addition, ageism can also be reflected in the advertisements themselves, with many campaigns featuring only young and attractive models or actors. This can send a negative message to older individuals, making them feel invisible or irrelevant.

However, there are also many advertising companies that recognize the value of diversity and inclusivity and actively work to combat ageism in the industry. By embracing the knowledge, experience, and perspective of older employees and consumers, these companies can create more effective and inclusive advertising campaigns that resonate with a wider audience.

Then I asked: What can advertising agencies do to combat ageism?

There are several things that advertising agencies can do to combat ageism:

Embrace diversity and inclusivity: The first step towards combating ageism is to embrace diversity and inclusivity. This means actively seeking out and valuing employees of all ages, and creating a workplace culture that is welcoming and respectful to everyone.

Challenge stereotypes: Advertising agencies can work to challenge stereotypes about older people by featuring a more diverse range of models and actors in their campaigns. This can help to break down negative stereotypes and create a more positive image of aging.

Create campaigns that appeal to older audiences: Advertising agencies can also create campaigns that are specifically targeted towards older audiences. By understanding the unique needs and interests of older consumers, agencies can create more effective and relevant campaigns that resonate with this demographic.

Provide training and education: Agencies can provide training and education to their employees to help them understand the impact of ageism and how to combat it. This can include workshops on age sensitivity, diversity and inclusion, and unconscious bias.

Lead by example: Advertising agencies can lead by example by creating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity, and by creating campaigns that are respectful and inclusive of all age groups. By doing so, they can set an example for other industries to follow and help to create a more age-friendly world.

Finally, I asked what I wanted to know to get this piece written ASAP: How about having award show judges who are retired senior agency creative people?

Having retired senior agency creative people as award show judges is an interesting idea that could help combat ageism in the advertising industry. These individuals would bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the judging panel, and their perspective could help to ensure that campaigns targeting older audiences are given due consideration.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that ageism is not just about including older individuals in the industry. It’s about valuing and respecting people of all ages, and recognizing the unique contributions that each individual can bring to the table. While having retired senior agency creative people as award show judges could be a positive step towards combatting ageism, it’s important to also promote diversity and inclusivity at all levels of the industry, and to recognize the value of individuals regardless of their age.

As someone who’s been working in the ad business for four decades, I now realize that ageism is the last thing I need to worry about. Unless the younger generation wises up about really adding value, a good chunk of advertising jobs will disappear because of AI.

Still, I’m hopeful that a higher level of “thought leadership” will still be valued by clients, as long as it’s more thoughtful than my new friend, and how they’ll emerge after pausing for six months to catch their breath.

Eric Blais is president of Headspace Marketing, a consultancy that helps marketers build brands in Quebec. He can be reached at feedback@headspacemarketing.com

Eric Blais