Bad news, you wet-behind-the-ears advertising executives and creative thinkers; hard lines, you pimply expense account libertines and nouveaux riches sloganisers; tough cheese, you callow brand managers and pony-tailed poseurs: the tentacles of this most meddlesome of all governments are reaching out to encircle and stifle you all.
No more will you be permitted to indulge your youthful fantasies and speak solely to the alcopop generation. Henceforth you must move aside and throw open your minimalist offices, your interior landscaping and your perfumed restrooms to the crabbed specimens of a generation that time forget. Or else. According to learned counsel, Britain’s advertising industry could face compensation bills running into millions of pounds because of impending legislation outlawing age discrimination in the workplace.
The problem – if indeed it is a problem – is that of the 14,000 or so people employed by leading agencies, fewer than one in five is aged over 40. We do not know why this should be so, though there must be a strong suspicion that discrimination is at work here, that there may be a feeling among agencies that the whizzy business of sly innuendo and coarse rib nudging is too demanding, too contemporary, for those whose summers number 40 or more.
Well, they could be in for a shock. On that grim day, when the halls of adland are thrown open and the grannies march in, rolling up their sleeves and breathing fire, advertising could be on the verge of whole new depths.
For simple, anecdotal empiricism, ie casting a glance at the world around – the pubs, shops, beaches, landing grounds, fields, streets and hills, we shall never surrender – tells the observer that we have an ageing population whose juvenility surpasses that of any found elsewhere on this globe.
We have women, well stricken in years, whose bodies are pierced and tattooed and whose rolling, naked midriffs cleave the sultry summer’s air like supertankers breasting the waves. We have men, for whom puberty is a memory so distant as to belong to a different archaeological age, with rings in their ears and God knows what in their skimpy Nike shorts. We British are unrivalled in the art of growing old, not merely disgracefully, but without a shred of taste or remorse.
So advertising agencies have nothing to fear from the impending invasion of mature talent, other than a sharp and welcome decline in standards brought about by an infusion of old blood. When the vintage vulgarians move in, FCUK, once thought daring, will be seen for what it is, an expletive gone wrong. A generation born in the Swinging Sixties has nothing to learn about tat, and much to teach. If you want crudity – and most of advertising does – these calloused relics of the early rock and roll years are the boys and girls to deliver. It may take slightly longer, that’s all.
One commentator has expressed the hope that when agencies are obliged to employ older people, advertising will at last recognise the existence, never mind the spending power, of the over-50s. That, however, seems unlikely, simply because, as noted above, ageing has become a regressive process, a retreat into adolescence.
A woman of 55 with studs in her nose and a rose tattooed on her ankle will not thank you for trying to sell her a stair lift when what she wants is a season ticket to Ann Summers. So when she eases her size-24 frame into the creative director’s chair, you had better watch out.
What may happen is that advertising becomes more generous in its approach to neglected minorities. After all, a generation that wore the fashions of the Seventies is duty bound to be forgiving of foibles and follies and to treat every weirdo as an equal.
Take naked ramblers, for example. I may be wrong, but it seems unlikely that any advertising at all is at present directed at these harmless, fun-loving folk. That they exist is beyond question. Only last week, there were five sightings in the Yorkshire Dales alone. The practice is known as “boots-only hiking” and is said to be gaining in popularity, particularly in hot weather. One man was reported to be strolling the Pennine Way wearing only a floppy hat, hiking boots and socks and carrying a rucksack with a white flag on top.
On one occasion, he approached a woman on a canal towpath and bade her “good afternoon” without breaking his stride. It is not reported whether or not he raised his floppy hat, which, if he were a gentleman, he would certainly have done.
It would take someone of a mature outlook to see the marketing potential here. A wisdom borne of years would instantly appreciate the man’s need for an occasional change of hat, for instance. No one wants to be seen out and about on the moors wearing the same old shabby floppy number day in, day out. Similarly, why a white flag? Why not something nice in paisley? And why not – here’s an idea – a flag that can be raised or lowered to suit the mood of the moment?
Believe me, when the lost legions of the gerontocracy rediscover themselves and storm the citadels of adland, nothing will ever be quite the same again. For one thing, the stairs will have lifts.