What we can learn from half-dead Dave

Half-Dead Dave is flying the flag for all of us in our twilight years. If you didn’t read it, Dave Robison,71, has just won an ageism claim after years of being nicknamed Half Dead Dave because of his age and eventually being dismissed from his job as a plumber.

by Nick Band


His story is a story of our times.

Of all the isms in our discrimination vocabulary, ageism is the poor relation.

Using Google searches as an indicator of topicality, mentions of ageism are 10 times fewer than racism and five times fewer than sexism, yet one thing is for sure: it is just a matter of time when we’ll become “old gits” supposedly incapable of thought and motion.

Age discrimination in the workplace is rife despite the laws enshrined in the Equality Act, which protects older people from age discrimination in all aspects of employment including recruitment, employment terms and conditions, promotions and transfers, training and dismissals.

Nowhere is this truer than in the marketing sector which has traditionally been seen as a young person’s business. There are many theories why Adland favours the young. Firstly, there is the issue of cost: young inexperienced people can be paid less and are therefore more attractive. Secondly, there is the notion that only the young understand Tik Tok and the digital world.

There are several major ironies in this illogical age bias:

  1. The UK is short of more than a million employees, yet the majority of over 55s say they can’t find work because of their age. Call me “old” fashioned, but is this not a problem that can be solved in one super-informed move? This damascene moment struck the insurance industry just a few weeks ago when Standard Life announced they stopping using the words “enthusiastic” and “energetic” in job adverts, so as not to deter old people from making applications. Not sure I like the inference that older people lack energy and enthusiasm, but if it opens up the jobs market for the over 50s, then sobeit.
  • Older people have greater empathy with the largest segment of the UK population. A recent Merrill Lynch report estimates that the number of people worldwide aged 60 years and older will double to more than 2bn by mid-century. By 2050, the number of those aged over 65 will outnumber children aged five and under for the first time in human history.
  • If the economy is to flourish, we must focus on the generation with the money. Merrill Lynch estimates that the over-50s account for almost 60 per cent of total US consumer spending and 50 per cent of that in the UK. Unconsciously, marketeers skew their campaigns towards youth in the mistaken belief that they are the prime target audience when in fact the opposite is true. When was the last time you saw an older person in a car commercial? And yet the over 50s make up the majority of new car buyers.

Ageism in the recruitment process is one of the main culprits in this insidious war on age. Recent research by Demos for the Centre for Ageing Better shows that 36% of 50 to 69 year olds say age is a disadvantage when applying for jobs.

Nearly one third of those aged 50 to 69 (29%) in the survey were told they were unlikely to be successful going for a job role due to having too much experience.

Our experience at Future Work supports this. Confidence amongst older candidates is low and many don’t bother to apply for fear of rejection. As a senior myself, the only way I could find work after the age of 50 was to start my own business which currently employs 100% over 50s! Our experience means we work quicker are more productive and more ingenious when it comes to finding solutions to the many challenges we face on a daily basis.

Next time you visit Sainsburys, note how good the older staff are with customers and colleagues.

Ageism in advertising has always been the big elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about, says one recruiter quoted in Adweek.

“Agencies use a kind of a code when they’re hiring, but everyone knows what it means.” For example, the recruiter explains, “We don’t need someone too experienced” or “We want someone on their way up” translates to, “Get me someone younger.” Likewise, “This person wouldn’t fit in our hierarchy” means, “We don’t want a 45-year-old reporting to a 30-year-old.”

The time has come for the world of marketing to abandon its prejudices and embrace the wonder of age. No one has written off Tom Jones (81) and who would dare question Dave Trott’s (74) abilities as a copywriter.

It’s time for a new hashtag: #agerage