Continuing to act as the Wikileaks of the online advertising world (channeling the anonymous insider voices of agencies, sellers, tech folks and more) Digiday asked yesterday if agencies have a "27-year-old client problem?" This of course is an extension of the seller-side rant about the "23-year-old media planner" who lacks common sense, a moral compass, good manners or a sense of shame about how much graft she rakes in. The thread that binds these narratives could be described as "these damned kids are ruining things!" Is our industry being brought down by feral packs of ill-tempered young execs? Do we, in fact, have an age problem?
Yes and no. Yes, there's probably an age problem. But no, it's not the one that gets the headlines.
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Last week I had the chance to watch some of the new episodes of Arrested Development released on Netflix. Like many hard core fans of the series, I anticipated the return of the Bluth family with something bordering on ecstasy. I remembered an almost perfect comedy; a double-helix of intricately intertwined gags, themes and characters that got even better and more interesting with repeat viewing. But then I watched the new shows. "What the hell did they do?" I whined. "Why couldn't they leave well enough alone and give me what I expected." Like so many who look back on "the Golden Age" of anything, I was idealizing the past and damning the present. Truth is, the world has changed almost completely in the seven years since AD went off the air. Distribution channels are different, binge-viewing and full season immediate release are both new. And let's not forget that, in spite of its brilliance, the original was cancelled after just three seasons.
Maybe it's the same for those of us who are 15 or 20 years into our careers in web advertising and marketing. Perhaps we idealize the past. Maybe "the Golden Age" of the business just looks better through the soft-focus of our memories. But it was all smaller, slower, less well-funded than it is today. Of course it can't be the same. Nor should it.
Now, back to those kids. Our age problem is not about youth; the energy and core-familiarity with technology, social tools and mobility that young executives bring to the table is priceless. No, our age problem might just sit with those of us in our late 40s and 50s who continue trying to retrofit today with the yesterday we remember liking a lot better. Maybe the kid we should really worry about is the one that's inside each of us, waiting to get out and embrace today's media world as it really is.