Madison Avenue’s corporate lobotomy
Companies are finally beginning to face up to a painful reality. Those much derided Boomers – you know, the people who invented the Internet but, supposedly, can’t figure out how to retrieve their smartphone messages – are retiring and taking their knowledge and experience with them.
It’s like having a corporate lobotomy.
Citing AARP data, Crain’s Detroit Business (July 3, 2015) reports 10,000 Boomers reach the traditional retirement age of 65 every day, a statistic General Motors, among others, recognizes as a call to action. So, starting in August, 2015, GM launches a mentoring program in which Gen Xers and Millennials benefit from Boomer employee experience, both before and after they retire.
Andrew Pena, VP for human resources at New Mexico State University told Crain: “If you don’t do something today, you’re going to be stuck with employees who know basic tasks but don’t have that institutional knowledge.”
Nowhere does the corporate lobotomy syndrome impact institutional knowledge more than along Madison Avenue. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the median age of advertising employees (38 years) is younger than 90% of 267 occupations for which it has data.
Except for motion picture/video and Internet publishing businesses, the only industries with younger employees than in adland are leisure/hospitality (hotels and restaurants), store clerks and car wash workers. Okay, no snarky jokes please – let’s not go there.
Looking deeper into BLS data we learn only 24% of advertising/PR employees are aged fifty-plus, and fewer than one in six (14%) are 55 or older.
This is scary: Americans over fifty are the third largest economy on the planet. So youngsters – super-talented, but still youngsters – are charged with engaging a world they never experienced populated by people whose language they don’t speak.
That doesn’t seem fair to Millennials and it’s certainly not fair to the brands they serve. At least not the disruptive brands; the conformists get what they deserve.
The world’s third largest economy might as well be underground
In 2013 AARP and Oxford Economics conducted a landmark study, The Longevity Economy. It should be required reading for all brands; here’s a taste of what you need to know:
- Longevity Economy: the sum of all economic activity serving Americans over 50
- Population (2012): 106 million
- Percent of U.S. employment accounted for: 69%
- Percent of U.S. wages and salaries accounted for: 65%
- Percent of U.S. household assets: 80% (Federal Reserve )
- 2012 economy rankings:
- #1 USA … $16.2 trillion
- #2 China … $9.1 trillion
- #3 Longevity Economy … $7.1 trillion
- #4 Japan … $4.9 trillion
- #5 Germany … $3.5 trillion
- #6 France … $2.7 trillion
- #7 UK … $2.4 trillion
Despite this enormous spending power, most mainstream brands ignore the world’s third largest economy.
Bizarre: twice the size of the German economy, yet mainly invisible due to an old 1960s era Mad Men mantra: Americans over fifty are too inflexible to switch brands or to learn new buying behaviors – the 18-49 demo is where it’s at, baby.
It lingers on today because Madison Avenue, like the rest of corporate America, has been lobotomized.
Boomer disruptives who knew better, but were too junior to challenge the Don Drapers of their day, are mostly gone. There are just too few left to mentor Madison Avenue Millennials about Boomer-world and its unique dialect, Boomer-Speak.
Boomer brains are still available
Fortunately, hidden under the radar in nondescript buildings around the country, disruptive consultants from the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965, thrive in the shadows. It’s not exactly a cult; let’s just say an underground coalition that knew when to dump last century baggage.
Millennials who want to boost their resumés and portfolios – oops, we mean selflessly help their clients to gain market share – could do worse than seek them out.