Making ageism old news: Acknowledging (and addressing) advertising's bias challenge

Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals
Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals

Where are all the "old" creatives?

We live in a youth-obsessed marketing culture. Behind and in front of the lens, we’re casting young talent and staffing a seltzer-filled office with wunderkinds. We are told that this youth-centric approach is ‘strategic’ - allowing agencies and brands to better reach Millennial and Gen Z consumer, who become wedded to brands in their 20s for life. 

By doing this, we have created blindspots and we are missing out on business opportunities. Without representation of the over 50s, we are ignoring some of the most powerful spenders and brand loyalists: Gen X and beyond. In the UK, the over 50s hold 70% of the UK’s wealth and own three-quarters of the housing market.

Only 6% of the advertising industry is over 55. So where are all the "old" creatives? (Also, since when did we start calling 50 old? Jennifer Lopez’s recent Super Bowl performance just blew away all myths around ageing. Yet, perceived stereotypes of older women (according to UK by UM) are that they are ‘mutton dressed lamb’, ‘frumpy’, ‘hormonally unstable’, ‘gossipy’, ‘out of touch with technology’ and ‘great with children’ (who is rolling their eyes right now?).

The advertising industry has a long history of overlooking the value of creatives who do not fall within the age brackets of the young, trendy and digitally savvy. Take these inherent age biases and incorporate career gaps due to children, injuries, or illness which often arise among mid-career women and men, and the odds become even more against workforce age diversity.

When asked how difficult it would be to re-enter the workforce if they took time off from their career, 77% of respondents in a recent study said that it would be very or somewhat difficult to find a job if they took two years off. Consider a sector where you’re ‘only as good as your last piece of work’ or a gap larger than two years, and returning feels even harder. The fact is we miss out on some of creatives who are at their peak in their 50s, when we’re at our creative best, according to one study.

The good news: agencies are starting to recognize the industry’s age bias and establish initiatives aimed to ensure older creatives regain their seat at the table or perspective in the brief.

Mirroring these diversity initiatives in your organization starts in the recruitment process, by viewing a resume gap not as failure but rather as a sign of rich life experiences that deepen a candidate’s creativity, empathy and understanding.

We are the first set of workplaces to have five generations on the shopfloor. This is an incredible opportunity for cognitive diversity, where different kinds of thinkers collaborate to spark new, fresh ideas and innovative thinking.

Acknowledging that the age gap exists is just the first step. Next, we must create spaces and places in our workforce for diverse creatives to age gracefully.

It’s time to start thinking that CV gaps are creativity’s gifts. Ageism is discrimination against ourselves. 

To find out more about our industry returners program Creative Comeback visit The inaugural NYC program launches on March 23 - April 6. 

Ali Hanan is CEO of Creative Equals.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free