Gift of the Gabberer: Cindy Gallop

Gift of the Gabberer: Cindy Gallop

Interview by Siobhan Fitzgerald

If we needed further proof that people over 50 aren’t past it (Madonna, Cher, Clooney, anyone?), Cindy Gallop is it. The indomitable founder and former chair of the US branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, Cindy is outspoken, outgoing and frankly kind of awesome. At 58 years old she is one of our industry’s most prominent voices and she’s on a mission to encourage other advertising professionals to #sayyourage. We spoke via Skype from her New York office.

S: People over 50 control the majority of the wealth in developed markets, but only 5% of those working in the advertising industry are over 50[1]. What are we losing out on when we only bring younger perspectives to the table?

C: We are missing out completely on the ability to create great work that speaks to the people who have the money to buy stuff.

S: In other industries people are respected as they grow older, and more senior. Why does that not happen in advertising and what should we do to change it?

C: The reason advertising is ageist as fuck is because at the top of our industry is a closed group of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys.

And their perspective is that they only want to hire other white guys, or women who are not, to quote the fabulous Amy Schumer sketch, past their last fuckable day.

So what we have is an industry that is applying a white male lens to who it wants in it, and a white male lens to creating work that should be selling to the primary target audience of advertising that is women, and especially older women. You end up with a double whammy of: a, an incredibly ageist industry and b, an industry that is therefore producing tone-deaf non-relevant and non-compelling depictions of aging in advertising, that therefore does not make an emotional connection with any older person who has the money to buy the brands and products that we are tasked with selling to our clients.

The moment you have older people creating the ads, approving the ads, producing the ads, directing the ads and placing the ads, problem solved.

S: Most industries at the end of the day are run by white, older men. I wonder if there’s anything specific about advertising and arguably the creative department in particular that pushes itself towards valuing younger opinions over old. Perhaps the perception that older people are less progressive than younger?

C: That’s true across every industry, including depressingly every industry that produces a different dimension of popular culture, that in turn shapes the attitude towards aging and ageism of the world as a whole. So what we’re talking about in advertising is also true of Hollywood, it’s true of television, it’s true of music.

Every single output of popular culture is operating a lens that young is good and old is bad, and old and female is especially bad. It’s not unique to advertising.

The problem at the moment is that ageism is baked into the supply chain for our industry. Say you have a client brief that is specifically targeted at older people, it’s for insurance or something. But you have a young white male creative team creating the advertising, and they’ll create an ad that is only designed to display attractive older people. It is approved by their white male ECD who certainly doesn’t want to show unattractive older people in his ads. He then passes it to his agency producer who is often female, but nevertheless knows what the men want; then undoubtedly it’s a white male director who gets hired because female directors are rarely hired by white male creatives, or white male ECDs. The white male director certainly wants attractive people in his ads, and submits a brief to a casting director who may well be female, but knows very well what the agency wants and submits a whole range of casting for only attractive older people. So what you get is the classic “white-haired-good-looking-older-guy-and-white-haired-good-looking-older-woman-walking-hand-in-hand-on-a-beach”. You get this ludicrous idealist beautiful older people thing.

At the other end of the spectrum you get older people as caricatures, designed to be laughed at. Because again that’s what the white male creative team and the white male ECD and the white male director think is funny. I called that out on social media a few weeks ago. Method, home cleaning products, released an ad here, which is brilliant by the way. They made the extremely good investment choice of spending a huge amount of money on the Proclaimers “I would walk 500 miles”, insanely catchy, then re-wrote the lyrics to be about cleaning.

They had 3 vignettes about people being at home cleaning. The first one was a father, a middle-aged guy at home cleaning; the second was a young black woman; and the third vignette was an older woman wearing fluorescent kaftans being wildly eccentric with a bunch of cats. Eccentric, flamboyant, cat lady. I tweeted them, saying “brilliant ad, but why is the older woman in the ad the only caricature?”

Full points to their social media team, they got back to me within the hour—but nevertheless that was caricatured age as a figure of fuck. That’s the problem.

An older woman is turned into an age-old example of a caricature.

S:  What sort of role do you think clients should play a part in insisting upon a more diverse group of agency staff who are able to better understand their target audience?

C: Clients should be mandating it, because they have the money and the contracts and the power. So if somebody like Unilever for example, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, with a portfolio of literally thousands of agencies—if they mandated that they wanted all of their ECDs to be women, ideally women of colour; that it wanted older teams, diverse teams, across gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and age, and you could not get on its agency roster unless that was the case, then you’d start to see change very quickly.

S: In the creative department we very rarely see briefs that ask us to talk to people in the 50+ category, which is obviously such a lucrative group. I wonder, are we all leaving older people off the agenda for some reason?

C: Yes!

The problem with the fetishization of youth in our industry is that every client and every brand wants to believe that their target audience is younger than it really is.

And that’s a big mistake. Because again, we older people are the ones with the wallets and the bank accounts and the money, especially older women.

S: The average age of a creative is 28 and the average age of a new car buyer is 56. There’s obviously such a massive disconnect there. Do you think there is opportunity for good creative agencies to be operating in a space that talks directly to the 50+ category?

C: Yes, there are a few agencies that have the nous and the vision to do this already. There is Grace Creative in LA, which basically creates advertising targeting older people and older women in particular, they have a great blog called Girls Gone 50. There is Silver Group in Asia, Kim Silver started this to speak to older people in the region, there is Fancy in New York which specifically targets women and older women, Jane Evans in London who has her own business targeting older women (see Jane’s opinion piece in this month’s Gabberish), Terri And Sandy here in New York, two older female creative directors who started their own agency. So it is starting to happen.

S: Everyone in the industry should be concerned about this, age discrimination will affect every one of us in time. So actionable points. What do we do?


What I would recommend is, start the agency of the future, which is staffed with the people you want to work with, creating the advertising that you want to see. Because when you demonstrate that that works, every other agency will want to copy you.

I’ll share with you another idea that I had. A friend of mine who is a very celebrated creative director in our industry who is now older and struggling to find another job. I said, here’s what I would do to change perceptions of older people in our industry. I would get together a collective of you and me and everyone over the age of 45 or 50. Senior people in strategy, account management, creative, media, whatever it is. I would give this group a name that tackles the issue head on—I’d call it the Old Folks Home.

Then I would do 2 things. 1: I would make it known that the Old Folks Home was available for freelance, pitch, whatever—us and our wealth of talent and experience. And secondly, I would announce that once a week the Old Folks Home would take up residence at any particular bar or lounge every Wednesday from 6 to 8. During that time anybody who wanted advice or help could come and speak to any one of us, to ask us to review their portfolio, to bring their business problems to us, to bring any knotty strategic problems they were struggling with or any problems in their career, and we would dispense free advice. But the only condition is that you have to be under 25. Because the under 25s in our industry are at the bottom of the career ladder who aren’t getting the kind of quality mentoring they need from those high up in the heady clouds of management.

Then they’d go back to all their agencies and go “fuck me, you would not believe how amazing it was getting this fucking amazing advice from this 50/60/70-year-old person, for whom I now have a new respect”.

And that is how you break down ageism.

The other thing I’m doing—I started the hash-tag #sayyourage. I basically tell people how old I am wherever possible. I’m 58. I shout it from the roof tops. And I’m encouraging everyone to say their age. Mind you this is the opposite of other people trying to combat ageism by saying “age is just a number”. I don’t agree with that stance because it’s trying to dismiss your age. When I say #sayyourage what I’m saying is “own your age”.

You are the sum total of what all your life experience, be loud and proud about that. It’s a fundamental part of who you are and the value you bring to business.

And by the way, I think what people lose sight of is that ageism operates at every stage of the life spectrum. Young people are frequently dismissed, especially young women. Their views are trivialised, they’re not listened to. So everyone should own their age, say their age and keep saying it, all the way through their entire career. Because that’s the way we can change ageist attitudes.

1. Source:


Gabberissue #6: Age

Gabberissue #6: Age

Playing The Long Game

Playing The Long Game