Four years ago, we noted that ‘advertising is a young person’s game
,’ driven by the need to reduce costs, bring fresh ideas to the table and talk to new consumers (who are often seen as needing to be reeled in to create lifetime allegiances to brands). This has led to a constant sense of short-termism being rife in the advertising sector, as brands constantly look to speak to the new, youngest wave of consumers.
The result is that older people – both consumers and colleagues – are turfed out in favour of their younger counterparts. It’s an understatement to call this a massive mistake: it’s a catastrophe. The evidence couldn't be any clearer that advertising decision-makers need to factor older people – and older women above all – into their decision making. This isn't just because women drive household spending, it's also due to the power the over-50s hold as an economic powerhouse. To put that into perspective, here are some figures demonstrating the buying power of this group: people in their 50s and above make up 47% of UK adults. This 47% of adults holds 69.7% of household wealth - worth a staggering £6 trillion! And despite all this, only 12% of UK ads feature a person over 50 in a leading role.
Simply put, there is a huge disconnect between the ability of this group to spend and the amount advertisers ask them to spend. They are taken for granted by advertisers who assume they no longer need to advertise to customers who last felt spoken to 30 years ago. As an industry, we need to start showing these preeminent spenders some love, accurately representing them in more ads to reflect their status.
We’re getting better, but we’re not there just yet
Thankfully, we're moving in the right direction, and the ad industry is starting to recognise the pivotal role that women play in making things work. On a personal level, I'm very lucky to work somewhere that acknowledges it isn’t perfect, but is certainly making the effort to improve in every aspect. For example, I was promoted to the board of MullenLowe Group UK whilst pregnant and received strong support from my colleagues on the decisions I made regarding the amount of time I took off for maternity leave. And when I decided to restart gradually and return at my own pace, I felt respected, appreciated and valued by the people I work with.
I'm also lucky to work with people who are constantly checking themselves and looking to be better than they were the day before. A huge improvement has been giving women the opportunity to have the difficult conversations they wouldn’t have felt able to before. Whether that's calling out bad behaviour or asking for a promotion, discussing a pay rise, or requesting an afternoon off for their children’s school play, women feel more able to have a voice than they did before. I still appreciate that very few companies are perfect and some are much further away from perfection than others, but as an industry, we’re collectively moving in the right direction and enabling and empowering women to challenge where they feel they need to.
Diversity is for every day, not just today
Of course, today is International Women’s Day and is a vital part of the conversation around increasing the inclusion and visibility of women in all walks of life, including business. But businesses have to do more than just introduce new policies, which can often be a cop-out.
Yes, making sure you have reviewed and updated your policies to stay relevant is fundamental, but it's table stakes. Bias is often deeply ingrained, and policies fall by the wayside if they aren't supported by forward-thinking leadership teams and by open and inclusive and progressive cultures. Acceptance needs to become a part of the everyday - the norm - rather than something that has to be specifically written down as part of a company’s ethos.
Above all, advertising is an industry with heart
Ultimately, the only way to break the bias is to communicate with one another. Speak to your people, hear from the source and never make assumptions. Unless you’re on the receiving end you won’t get the detail and you won’t understand the nuances, no matter how well-intentioned you are. And, above all, never feel like the job is done (because there will always be improvements we can make).