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Does Digital Have An Ageism Problem?

Does Digital Have An Ageism Problem? Tom Hespos
I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t given ageism in our business much serious thought until recently.

There are the occasional articles about it in the trade press.  From time to time, I hear rumblings about it in industry forums and in the occasional personal anecdote relayed by an older friend.  Like I said, I didn’t pay it much attention.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been at the same job for 10 years and haven’t had to test the job market during that time.  Many of my friends, particularly on the digital ad sales side of the business, have had trouble finding the right opportunity lately.  Like many of you, I try to help them network.  Sometimes I hear feedback about the job interview process and hear things like “I think they were looking for someone who can keep up with the 25-year-old media buyers.”

Meaning, of course, that there’s some doubt about the abilities of some of our industry’s more tenured and experienced sales folks to wine and dine their typically younger counterparts on the other side of the negotiating table.  Let’s just say that hearing something like this should set off at least two warning blips on your business ethics radar.  And we’ll leave it at that for the time being.

When it comes to digital marketing, nothing I’ve heard first hand from a reputable businessperson has struck me as particularly ageist.  Until recently, that is.

A couple months back, I went to one of those industry lunches where agency execs get together to talk shop.  And I was seated across the table from a young VP at a holding company agency many times the size of mine.  He was a decent enough guy, but at one point when asked about challenges facing the digital ad industry, he talked about “certain people who got into the business early” who were “holding the industry back.”

At the time, I thought this was hilarious.  You see, over a decade ago, I started something called the Old Timers List.  Today, it is known as the Internet Old Timers Foundation, a private group for some of the most experienced people in our business.  When I started it, the term “Old Timer” was a joke.  That is, the notion that there were Old Timers in a business that was hardly six years old was comical.  Now that more than a decade and a half has elapsed since the first Internet ad was served, the humor is no longer evident.

So I thought this young VP’s comment was funny because he clearly didn’t know who he was sitting across the table from.  And if he had known, perhaps he might have held his comment back.  (Or who knows?  Maybe he was taking a jab at me and I’m the clueless one…)  Point is, I thought it was funny until I thought about it a bit more this morning.

And it made me think that if a young person in our business can paint with such a broad brush and not be called on it, maybe we should reflect a bit further on the notion of age bias in our industry.

So I’ll put it to you, readers.  Do you think we have an ageism problem in our business?

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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