The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Advertising Has Always Been Ageist, But This Is Ridiculous …
January 28, 2008, 7:01 am
Filed under: Comment

So we got sent this book by the direct marketing company, Wunderman.

11/01/2008 [My beautiful assistant, Hari]

Despite me having abit of a love/hate relationship with DM companies, I have alot of time for Wunderman. Actually, let me be more specific – I have alot of time for Lester Wunderman, their brilliant founder.

This man literally created the discipline of direct marketing and even though technology and society has dramatically changed over the years – he’s still as sharp as a tack.

I’ve had the great pleasure of dining with Lester and despite him having nothing to prove, I found him to be one of the most genuine, warm, inquisitive and intelligent people I’ve ever met. 

So what has this got to do with the book I received from Wunderman?

Well it’s because it kills me that a company that was created by a genuine communication visionary has now devolved into some middle-of-the-road, mass-generalising, skills-by-acquisition, emotion-free-process slab of blandom.

Yes, I know Wunderman are hugely successful … yes, I know they have some fantastic people … yes, I know they’ve done [and do] some great work … yes, I know they have a wealth of case studies … however it seems [at least to me] that ever since Lester stopped being an integral part of the organisation, they are quite comfortable putting out statements that are bordering on corporate suicide.

I wrote about one of their previous two-feet-in-one-mouth episodes a while back – but for those who didn’t see it, one of their senior executives announced [and I paraphrase

‘Data simply tells you what consumers did in the past, it doesn’t necessarily reflect what they will do in the future’.

Holy mother of god, what a discovery. That’s right up there with gravity, DNA and instant mash … except it isn’t, is it? It’s called stating the bleedin’ obvious and quite frankly, the originator of that declaration, David Sable, should be hanging his head in shame.

Mind you, at least what he said was true [ignoring the fact he didn’t then talk about how the real power is when you understand WHY people did what they did] what Wunderman has come out with now is so generalising, that it makes a mockery of the whole ‘one-to-one’ marketing discipline.

Have a look at this …

So Wunderman are saying that if you were born in the 1970’s – meaning between twenty nine and thirty seven years ago – you are pretty much a technological snail.

Interesting …

OK, so I was born in 1970 so a statement like that will immediately rile me up as it reminds me I not a spring-chicken, but infact a boring old fart … however even though on first impressions a general statement like “People Born in the 1970’s Don’t Understand Technology As Fast As Young People” seems fair enough, I would still say it has fundamental flaws.

First issue is what is a ‘young person’? 

2 years of age?

5 years of age?

9 years of age?

15 years of age?

Maybe I’m full of piss and vinegar but I reckon in a head-to-head competition, I could take some 3 year old in a race to buy a book on Amazon, so just who are they comparing me too?

[And there’s no need to tell me a young child wouldn’t have a credit card – I know – I was just using that to demonstrate my point. Mind you, given banks desperation for ever increasing profits …?]

Then I want to know what they mean when they say UNDERSTAND technology? 

Are they talking about ‘how it works’ or ‘how to use it’?  

There’s obviously a massive difference between those two interpretations so I wish Wunderman clarified what they meant – however if it is the latter definition, I’ll call them on it.

You see, while people born from 1990 live lives that are seamlessly integrated with technology, people of my era have had such a long time to adapt to the changing landscape that for all intents and purposes, I’d say [in most cases] we are as adept at using technology as any laptop bashing 6 year old.

Sure our reactions might not be as quick – especially when you compare them to a coke-addled, Red Bull guzzling, ADD suffering 15 year old – but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to use the same technology.

Oooooh I’m pumped up now ….

La Tumba de Steve Jobs 

Right, what about the issue that that most of the technology we use was/is designed and created by people who probably fall into the 29-37 age group. 

Apart from the fact that means they influence how the masses tend to use technology, doesn’t it also mean they are rather up-to-date with what’s going on?

Let me tell you, when Bazz takes his big job next to Steve Jobs, I’m going to make sure he advises the guru of Apple to step down because at 53, he is obviously past it.

And last – but by no means least – given Wunderman are obviously trying to position themselves as the God’s of Digital, I wonder what percentage of their staff were born after 1980? 

For their sake I hope it’s the majority because by their reckoning, anyone born before that year is a techno luddite and as such, no use to a digital comms company whatsoever.

[Lets ignore the fact Wunderman started in 1958, their CEO is around 57 years of age and their website looks like this]

Now whilst some of what I’ve said can be disputed, what I’ve hopefully done is demonstrate how their statement has some fundamental flaws – and if I were Wunderman, I’d be be worried about that.

Not because some bald bastard is having a go at them … god no … but because coming out with a sweeping statement like that undermines your claim to being an expert in one-to-one marketing.

Personally, I think segmenting societies technological capabilities by age is daft.

Whilst I appreciate that the older you are, the harder it might be to ‘grasp’ new techniques and/or technologies … that doesn’t mean [1] they won’t get it [2] they won’t want to get it [3] they won’t embrace it

Infact I could argue that the older you are, the more you embrace new technologies [as long as you’ve been shown how to use them and why they’re beneficial] because suddenly things become more exciting to use/do.

At the end of the day, technological understanding / desire / usage is about mindset rather than age – and whilst it might be more convenient for organisations to think this way, because it helps plan their marketing programs, what they are actually doing is ‘dumbing down’ their audience to such a degree that it is more likely to offend than motivate.

This is especially offensive when the organisation doing the ‘dumbing down’ is one who is supposedly obsessed with developing one-to-one relationships.

Last week I wrote about the dangers of mass generalisation … maybe the powers-that-be at Wunderman should watch it and then take some of their own medicine.

19 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Calm down,

Comment by John

How disappointing Wunderman has lowered themselves to exclaiming the sort of generalised rubbish you’d expect to hear from a small town councillor, but then when you’re desperate , I guess you’ll make any sort of claim to get noticed.
This could be one of your best posts ever, it’s angry, funny, insightful, opinionated, “classic” Campbell.
Reading between the lines, I think WPP should be getting worried about you but if they let one of their companies put rubbish like this out, I’m guessing they won’t realise it till it’s too late.
Well done Rob, great post and just in time for George’s return 🙂

Comment by Pete

Stop being such an old man Dodds, this is fucking brilliant. Congratulations on managing to write 3 serious posts in a row Rob and congratulations to me because I said you would, so I’m better than any planner, I’m up there with tea leaf reading gypsies

Comment by Billy Whizz

Could I ask who this book is aimed at?

Based on your post, it seems the content is inappropriate and inaccurate for both internal and external audiences but I’m interested to know who they are specifically targeting with it.

Very enjoyable post though I’m sure the board of Wunderman and WPP may not agree. Keep it up, it’s why we work with you.

Comment by Lee Hill

holy shit! this post is awesome and instead of getting my back up, i think it’s fucking hilarious! i

and i’d like to ask the fuckbag who wrote that byline what he has to say about both my nanna and rob’s mum who are all-skyping, flash-card toting, digi-queens and they were born in the 1930s!

technology is not just a buzzword for anything that you fucking plug into the wall – it’s the outcome of a process of creative and process-based thinking and i think that perhaps mr copywriter at wunderman needs to learn how to use a dictionary before putting out lovely generations like that.

and can someone please tell the typesetter that his font is only associated with the 70s by those born in the 50s. if he really wanted to make a comment about 70s babies, he should have used jamie-reid style cut’n’paste or that handwritten scrawl.

Comment by lauren

oh, and i love that steve jobs tombstone pic too..

Comment by lauren

oops – i meant generalisations instead of generations ha!

Comment by lauren

Having spent the best part of three hours with “Senior Management (45 years old)” of this agency trying to explain to him “how the internet web thing works” I can confirm that, in terms of what goes on within Wunderman, their statement is actually correct; all Wunderman staff over 35 could seriously benefit from simpler e-media.

Comment by Marcus

Oh dear! Are they conveniently ignoring the fact that the 50+ market is one of the biggest internet users?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

1) You don’t think digital, you act digital. Digital is just technology, an evolution of existing behaviours of communication. So your thinking should be communication thinking, marketing thinking or whatever term you choose, but not digital thinking because that’s focussing on the technology and not what you’re seeking to achieve.

2) Segmenting technological capablilities by age is daft of course, but it’s a pretty daft delineator of a lot of segmentation these days. But you’re guilty of a similar generalisation by implicitly saying you’re representative of your age group. Technological ability/familiarity like any other is down to a combination of “intelligence/understanding” and crucially exposure – the latter being a function of the fluidity and nature of your social circle. As Marcus points out there are huge numbers of peopel who don’t get it, similarly there are surprising numbers of under 20s who don’t and whose integration is not as semaless as you suggest. The former might be down to exposure, the latter to intelligence – I don’t know.

3) I said calm down because it’s only a bit of nonsense puffery and to add my own generalisation at this point, nobody pays attention to that because they increasingly realise that actions speak louder than brochures.

Comment by John

Hello John …

I didn’t say I was typical of my age group did I?

I know I’m not typical … just like I know my Mum is not typical … that’s why I said age is something you should not segment by, because it’s more to do with individual mindset and [probably] ‘technological access’.

My rant was the fact that Wunderman were happy to call anyone born after 1980, a techno-dullard and that’s just bollocks.

And I can’t calm down because even though it is the worst sort of puffery you can get, it’s still being spouted by an organisation who ‘claims’ to be experts in 1-2-1 marketing and yet everything they say is contrary to that.

Wait till you see the post I write about them later in the week … it’s advertising claim porn and not in a good way at all.

Comment by Robert

I’m still waiting for them to say “no”; that makes them experts at 1-2-none marketing.

Comment by Marcus

I hope you’re unique.

Comment by John

Good strategy – ignore what I wrote in the hope it’ll all go away. That’s what quite alot of PR firms advice their clients to do when there are ‘issues’ that could cause consumer concern.

I’m impressed 🙂

Comment by Rob

Sometimes age segmentation is useful, but to me age should be flexible; you are as old as you feel sort of thing.

So when you say 25-34, what you mean is, anyone who feels like they belong/identify with that age group.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

This was the segmentation model of web 1.0 (this is what we used to flog to clients back in 1997-8):

“Technographics” by Forrester research

I’m almost blushing with shame (but I was young back then, needed the money and didn’t know better).

Comment by Marcus

You and Malcolm Gladwell would get on like a house on fire. He wrote a damning article on Wunderman as well.
What is it with WPP companies? Don’t they realize not all publicity is good publicity. I’d rather trust Pol Pot with my marketing needs than any Wunderman. Great post, keep it up.

Comment by Jack Rushby

Hello Robert. I spent 3 horrible months freelancing at Wunderman back in 1995. They never accepted that creativity could make a message stand out, to them it was all about the “consumer focused deal” which nine times out of ten was a price promotion or something crappy like a pen or clock.

I do think direct marketing can be really good, you just have to look at some of the stuff that’s come out of Tequila South Africa and NZ does to see that, but I would believe there’s WMD in Iraq before I’d ever accept Wunderman were a digital expert.

I love my job 🙂 Jemma x

Comment by Jemma King

Hello Jack … not sure if you’ve been here before, but with quotes like “I’d rather trust Pol Pot than Wunderman” you have an open invitation to pop back.

And as for you my dear Jemma, I note you never put that 3 month ‘solitary confinement’ on your CV when you came to us, ha!

Comment by Rob

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