Youngsters today, eh?

I had an interesting conversation last night about the different attitudes that people coming into advertising have nowadays, compared to when I (and my companion) came into the industry.

It was prompted by this blog that I’d shared on Twitter and Facebook a couple of days earlier about the lost art of creativity among advertising students. One commenter made the point that the argument was an old one – more experienced admen (and women) have always thought the youngsters didn’t have the craft skills their generation had.

And, to a certain extent, I agree. But I think it’s amplified in the current new generation. Why? Well, I think there are three key reasons.

1. “I want to be a star.”

First, a general point. In today’s throwaway, instant gratification society, there’s a generation growing up with the expectation of being able to succeed without developing a skill or the necessary experience they need for that success. And because everything’s at their fingertips, it takes even more dedication than it ever has to knuckle down and develop those skills and that experience. If you can’t Google it, many of them don’t want to know. They just want to be ‘the name’ – and some of them seem to almost believe they have a right to it. It’s an X-Factor society full of deluded people who think all you need to succeed is a ‘personality’, ‘belief’ and a heart-rending back story.

I know many young people aren’t like this, but there are far more than there have ever been who are and I think it’s had an effect.

2. Real world perspective

You often hear people complain that politicians live in their own little bubble – they study politics at Uni, then work for an MP before being selected themselves. They’ve never had a ‘proper job’.

You could say the same for many of the new generation of creatives coming into the advertising industry. They study advertising, do work experience in an agency and, if they’re lucky, get offered a job. And it means they have little or no real experience of life outside advertising.

I know a number of people my age who fell into the industry after trying a number of other careers. I, for instance, was a waiter and barman, helped run a restaurant and worked as a radio sports journalist before finally becoming a copywriter. A lot of the new generation don’t have the kind of perspective that this experience brings.

3. Let’s be social

The third, and perhaps the most important reason is that online, and particularly social media, have completely changed the rules.

In one sense, this explosion of new platforms for creative ideas should make them even more creative. But I think it can actually restrict thinking because, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium becomes the message. Instead of focusing on producing a great idea, they start thinking about viral videos, gamification and making things experiential.

It’s putting the cart before the horse. And it means the crafting of ideas suffers.

Now, I’m a great admirer of a lot of the social campaigns you see today. But I often can’t help wondering if a concept couldn’t have been refined, a headline been considered more carefully, or a visual made more relevant. It seems the excitement of doing something on a new platform can get in the way of a simple, relevant, effective creative idea.

So, there you have it. Have I got a point, or is this just an old codger’s rant? I’d appreciate your comments.


7 thoughts on “Youngsters today, eh?

  1. You do have a point. I think the ‘bubble’ and lack of real-world experience is something that particularly rings true. I teach the very students you describe, who are going straight from university and business schools into careers in advertising. Some of them are bright, talented young people, but it’s really important for those who enter the industry to be grounded in life outside. Particularly important for creatives, as their job is to provide interpretations of diverse messages related to all kinds of different businesses and causes.

  2. An interesting argument and one with which I pretty much agree. The ‘medium becomes the
    message’ is absolutley true. There is a generation, and a generation prepared to listen to them, who believe that the first thing to do on receiving the brief is to work out which new tool, medium, technnique or gizmo they can use. No need for the in depth searching for a usp, the hours of research to try to understand the business and market; just ‘this looks like a chance to sell our Three Star package of website, SEO work and back office resonse handling’.
    The reality is that all media ares still candidates for a brief until you’ve fully examined who you want to reach.
    And then you create a great idea. One good enough to work in any relevant media.
    As to the ‘bubble’ I’m not quite so convinced. I remember a time in agencies when experienced agency people were very suspicious of graduates because they came straight from academia and tried to tell existing practitioners what to do. The feeling was not that they hadn’t done other jobs; it was that they hadn’t put time in, in agencies.
    I was one of the generation, and class, who went straight from school into an ad agency. Sure I wanted to get to the top. Of course I wanted the executive’s badge, the glory of the pitch. But to get there I had to work in production, writing copy instructions, pasting up guard books and pestering my way into client meetings by proving I knew more about the detail than my boss did.
    Coming from university or not, what makes the current crop different is that they have no emotional feel for the history of advertising nor the wit to see that’s it’s not nostalgia, it’s expereince. They may have new media at their disposal. That’s not unprecedented. Radio and TV were new once. They may have new technology to help them. That’s not unprecedented either. The photocopier was a boon when it arrived, as was fax and the (dreaded) Chromalin proof. The point is there is now a refusal to see that virtually every brief, every problem, has been encountered before. There is a blindness concerning the experience of others. Ask the next young blood you encounter which great advertising autobiographies or text books they’ve read. I bet I can guess the answer.
    If you’ve got advertising in your blood, you’ll have the time of your life. If it’s not your life you’re just a civilian.
    Right now we’ve got a lot of new weapons in the hands of civillains. That’s dangerous.
    Pete Goodrum

    • Thanks Pete, some really valid points. I think the main thing is that this generation aren’t prepared to put the groundwork in like you and I did. They expect it to be theirs for the taking from the moment they step through the doors of an agency. My point about the bubble is that I wanted to be a writer, and designers and art directors I met when I first came into the industry just wanted to design. But today’s graduates seem to want to be in advertising and don’t necessarily have an affinity for the core skills.

  3. Phil… your post hits me on a couple of levels.

    First off, as someone with a few gray hairs to my name, I can definitely relate to some of what you’re saying. I was in a pre-pitch meeting very recently in which the youngest person in the room seemed way too eager to talk about how we could “gamify it” using “RFID tags” and connect it all up using “Facebook connect” so that we could utilise the social graph. I hadn’t met him before, but thankfully I knew about all of the tactics he was referring to. However, what was missing was the most important ingredient in any good advertising strategy… “WHY”. It was not apparent WHY his idea would work, because he (and the rest of the people in the room) hadn’t really spent enough time really digging deeper into the brief. And to be fair to him, it wasn’t that these ideas WOULDN’T work, but more that he had come to the ‘conclusion’ that this was the approach we should propose to the client before we’d really even had much discussion about what their problem was. He may not have realized it, but this gave the impression that he just wanted to do them because he thought they were “cool” or that they would somehow validate his presence in the room as a “digital specialist”.

    However, on the flip side, I’ve been the youngster in the room full of new ideas and with no experience to use as a filter. On more than one occassion, I’ve had ideas that people with “experience” completely didn’t get and have been dismissed because someone thought I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about the brief, or that I hadn’t had enough “real-world experience”.

    Think of the CEO who thinks “I don’t need to be on Twitter, none of my friends or close business associates are” and misses out on the opportunity to connect with his marketplace (and his employees) in a more useful and relevant way. Or the agency director who sits on a new idea a bit too long and loses an important client to a competitor who comes along and puts SEO or back-end tracking, or some other new weapon into context and offers the kind of change that hits the bottom line. Sometimes all of the experience in the world does not make us better at success.

    Today’s graduates exist in a world where you can become rich and famous without even a drop of “real-world” experience… however, most of the ones you and I are talking about won’t become rich OR famous. They will either learn to listen to the more experienced people around them (who are willing to listen to them) and gain some perspective along their slow and steady journey in the business, or they’ll end up leaving advertising and getting it somewhere else.

  4. Thanks Drew. I think you make a valid point – we’ve all been the youngster in the room at least once in our lives, full of fresh ideas and just waiting for someone to recognise our insight. And I’m not advocating that we ignore them, because they do bring new perspectives into the room. But certainly from a creative point of view, a lot of the time they seem to put the new technology before the idea. And it sounds like you’ve seen that at first hand.

    I also think the expectations of the young guns nowadays far outstrip what we expected when we were starting out. Yes, we all want to conquer the world. But I think if you’re starting on the bottom rung of an agency, you need a touch of realism. It’s OK to have that dream – but you need to understand it’s not going to happen tomorrow. And it’s not going to happen unless you’re willing to put the hard yards in. Unless you’re extremely lucky and/or a genius. And in my experience, a lot of the younger generation don’t seem to appreciate that.

    • Couldn’t agree more Phil. Reminds me of my favourite quote from Fight Club: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

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