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Gerry Farrell and the Millennial Impudence

Published January 5th, 2017

Did you know that I’m a piece of shit millennial designer that doesn’t respect my elders? Gerry Farrell does and he worked at the Leith Agency, which makes whatever he says irrefutable fact. His op-ed article in The Drum entitled “Young creatives believe they have nothing to learn from older generation – but they couldn’t be more wrong” is his hot take on why my generation is lacking in creativity and incapable of coming up with fresh ideas. If only we would allow him and his ilk to fart their accumulated wisdom directly into our eager faces, we’d have so much to learn. Instead we stubbornly choose to remain ignorant, embroiled in our “carefully trimmed beards” and boring marketing statistics.

Farrell’s article is an exercise in taking things at face value and offers little advice beyond a reading list and a few names to google for young creatives. His initial assertion that my generation haven’t heard of the great ad men he looked up to in the 1980s is admittedly mostly true in my case (though I have seen both the Guardian ad and Smash “Martians” ad he quotes as notable examples) but his admiration for these people – and apparent desire to learn from them as a junior – seems to imply an irritation that he is not similarly admired and revered, now that he finds himself in their position, albeit less well known.

Dohohoho
Gerry and his friend proofread his article

His opinion is nothing new – the fantastic Mark “copyranter” Duffy has been bitching about my generation for months in his regular articles for Digiday, except with an added dose of self awareness and humour that makes for more worthwhile reading. In critiquing campaigns and ideas instead of people (okay, sometimes specific people but not entire generations), Duffy manages to convincingly argue that millennial mad men are frequently bankrupt of originality and incapable of producing effective advertising concepts. Farrell’s argument seems to be that because we haven’t read the books he’s read, heard of the people he’s heard of and our work isn’t lining the pages of the D&AD annual that he likes, this somehow definitively proves we have a lot to learn. None of this really counts as criticism, it’s just nostalgia.

Gerry clearly isn’t a fan of more data driven approaches to advertising or audience targeting, bitterly citing a competitor’s programmatic advertising claims as the main reason he recently lost a pitch. His initial argument is about focus – advertising that sells still requires a good core creative concept irrespective of how you target potential customers. While there are definitely businesses that have lost sight of this, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any competent creative my age or thereabouts argue otherwise. Advertising through digital channels gives us a plethora of reliable data we can use to more accurately measure the effectiveness of our work – unlike traditional mediums like print and television – which I would think is a good reason why clients are spending more in this area. Pretending that people “tolerate offline advertising” and “hate online advertising and actively block it at every opportunity” conveniently forgets that fewer people are watching television and those that are are usually fast-forwarding through ads. Discussing this might have meant admitting his ability to “craft a commercial” may no longer be valuable.

Ringo Pizza Hut
Perhaps the greatest commercial ever crafted

He does make a handful of other legitimate points in his article. He argues that “the digital boom years” have afforded legitimacy to a whole new brand of huckster and con artist passing off traditional forms of creative work – like copywriting – as new elevated practices because they now involve digital media. He also justifiably lambasts the devaluation and obfuscation of the word “content” by morons with dumb job titles like “global head of content” which is something I think we can all get behind. What isn’t clear is why Farrell seems to think these kinds of arseholes belong exclusively to my generation when I’m pretty sure a quick LinkedIn search would unearth an abundance of middle aged digital/content consultants and evangelists currently scamming businesses and public orgs out of four figures with useless post-it note workshops.


Check out this “content”

And if people Farrell’s age don’t go down the consultancy or contracting route in their late career, they start their own agencies and usually continue the practice of underpaying staff and overcharging clients, often to the detriment of creativity. My generation may be “pushing up” but I’d argue that’s largely because fair compensation and opportunity is thin on the ground for what is now considered a junior or “middleweight” creative professional. Myself and an older friend both worked for the same salary as juniors despite me starting my first job almost two decades later. Speaking of juniors, I’m assuming Farrell gives up his time to mentor the students at Napier he seems to have hope for – if not, the time he used to write this article could have been better spent.

In his most self-aggrandising paragraph, Farrell comments on ageism in advertising – something fairly common throughout creative industries – and not-so-subtly implies that his crime of being 57 years old is why he was let go from the Leith Agency (despite “getting a five-star appraisal, a bonus and a payrise”). Bringing back painful memories of the messages I used to send my ex-girlfriends, he writes the marketing blog equivalent of a Taylor Swift song stating that he’s “never felt more fulfilled” and that he’s “doing some of the best work in [his] career”. I don’t doubt it – free of agencies I’ve also produced work I’m proud of – but he also betrays a key reason why this article exists; a couple of his younger agency bosses called him and his cohorts “a bunch of old has-beens”.

breakups
I get it dude, breakups are hard

An insulting and unwarranted broad generalisation about an entire generation – an accurate description of what Farrell overheard that also doubles as a perfect summary of his article. Nowadays, creatives of all ages find themselves in regular struggles with management wankers, spreadsheet enthusiasts and snake oil salesmen when it comes to producing good work, regardless of medium, and these people are definitely not all products of my generation. If you’re going to argue that ageism is a serious problem, it would be nice if you then didn’t try to fight ignorance with more ignorance.

Cheers for the book recommendation though.

Advertising Digital
Steven Clark

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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