Obviously, ageism is a social ill – on the same spectrum as racism and sexism.
But let’s not forget that discrimination is only bad if it means undervaluing someone without good reason.
Discrimination for good reason is completely justified.
Discriminating against the over-70’s if the selection was for a 100m race, for example, would be entirely rational.
And it just may be that Social Media is the first communications discipline in history for which ageism is justified. Do you see a lot of over 40’s on Snapchat? You don’t.
Ageism in advertising has always operated at both ends of the scale. If you were ‘just a kid’ (i.e. 25 or under) you wouldn’t be trusted to make a big TV ad.
And if you were 45 or over, you were told you were being taken to ‘a really fun place for cool people’, before being led gently into a back alley and never seen again.
But within the agency-acceptable 25-45 year old age band, there was broad agreement about how advertising should be conducted. We maybe watched slightly different TV shows and read different magazines and newspapers, but there was no disagreement about whether those media ‘worked’ or not.
And yet now, for perhaps the first time, there is.
The vast majority of social media critics are an older generation. Bob Hoffman, who runs the notoriously social-sceptic Ad Contrarian blog, is an older guy. And although he is careful to base all his arguments on fact, I still suspect he’s a bit like the musicologist who feels he can ‘prove’ that The Beatles are superior to hip-hop.
The facts certainly indicate the emergence of a definite age divide. Let’s take a look at them.
The most salient and inescapable fact about media and advertising today is that digital media consumption is growing, and everything else is shrinking.
(This is from a presentation that Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget delivered last week – see it here).
Furthermore, only about 15% of Americans aged 16-24 claim to watch TV, versus 70% of those aged over 65. And the 18-24’s have begun watching 30% less TV in just the last four years. (Meanwhile, they check their phones every 10 minutes).
The average person watching TV is old. The median age of a US network viewer is 62-64. For Fox News, it’s 68.
Of course TV isn’t dead. It will settle down and find its niche, just as radio has, and print.
But that niche could be old.
And the people (like Bob) queuing up to slam social media… well, I don’t want to be ageist here (and I’m no toddler myself), but I have to wonder… are they just old?