Creative Mark Moll Reminds the Industry that Ideas Know No Age
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Member Mark Moll has been in the advertising industry for over 20 years, which is long enough to notice a lot of its positive and negative trends. One particular subject perhaps became even more apparent with each year Mark got under his belt, and that's the deep-seeded role that ageism plays in the behind-the-scenes of advertising. Mark's latest project "Ideas Know No Age" aims to put the emphasis back on the ideas that drive the industry, not the chronological ages of their creators.
It's ideas that first lead the 51-year-old creative director into this industry and what continues to keep him invested in it. "What I like most about what we do is ideas that stop people and ask them to engage. Sure it has to connect emotionally, but now I think people just want to see interesting things in the world they can participate in. That’s what gets me going as a human being first and a creative second. Good ideas just make life more fun."
In our interview below, Mark tells us why sharing his own age was an important element of this project, whether he thinks lists of the "30 Under 30" and "Young Guns" can exist without being detrimental to the way older creatives are perceived, and what experienced creatives should do to become even more indispensable: "Whatever age you are, you should be curious about everything in the world we use to communicate. This is your livelihood so please stay in the know... Also, ideas aren’t about the tech, but they can help us amplify or distribute them. Everything still needs an idea first and that’s what anyone at any age should stress through their work."
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Mark Moll and how did he get here?
I’ve been in the business over 20 years. Have seen it evolve from the days of print, radio, and broadcast to one where everything in the world is fair game to use in our communications. Digital sure, but I honestly think experiential is the most exciting. What I like most about what we do is ideas that stop people and ask them to engage. Sure it has to connect emotionally, but now I think people just want to see interesting things in the world they can participate in. That’s what gets me going as a human being first and a creative second. Good ideas just make life more fun. That’s what’s cool about what we do and why I like doing it.
What lead you to create “Ideas Know No Age”, and what is its primary message?
Good question - The first is obvious - my age. I’m 51 and will be 52 in July. I have no problem saying how old I am. Maybe it’s because I look like I’m 44. Ha. Also maybe it’s because age is something no one talks about. I’m proud of it. I also can’t do anything about it. No one can.
The primary message is that age doesn’t matter one bit in the creation of ideas. They say advertising is a young person’s business and that they know about the latest tech and that makes them more in tune. Blah Blah Blah. Advertising is for the curious no matter what age you are. My idea was to use great accomplishments that are great on their own regardless of how old the person was when they did it. The age of the person just makes them stand out more.
Ideas Know No Age does a great job of addressing troubling industry trends with a campaign that focuses on great work. Was that a tough balance for you, to address this negativity with positivity?
Thanks for those kind words. Maybe I was just trying to state a fact. Not purposely using positivity, just showing how misguided focusing on age is. A friend of mine just told me that a designer at Apple is 81. That’s great. And the ideas I highlight show that age is a non-factor. And just to state this for no other reason than this thought just came to me - this is not an anti-young campaign. Everyone highlights those feats. "They founded a billion-dollar company at the age of 9", etc. This approach is just proving that older people don’t stop thinking just because they hit the age when someone might hand them an “Over the Hill” balloon for their birthday.
Can you share some of the other challenges and breakthroughs that came with this project?
Well I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it was gonna be an Old Guns type of ad competition that was only open to people 50 plus and they had to solve something just using a billboard, but I didn’t know how to pull that off. That evolved into something cleaner with just a simple message. Breakthroughs? Well a lot of people I didn’t know reached out and said thanks. One called it brave. That was kind, but I was just being honest, not brave. Ted Royer was nice enough to share it. Nice guy, meant a lot.
One person had an interesting comment - he said everyone will have to deal with ageism sooner or later. Which is very true. This isn’t just reserved for older creatives, everyone else will join in soon enough.
Do you think that with the “age of information,” there’s a perception that the value of an individual’s wisdom and experience has been diminished? Or is it more just financially motivated to hire the younger creative with a lower day rate?
I hadn’t put those two together, but you may be right. But everyone has their own experience and knowledge and that’s what people ultimately want on a project. Interesting individual perspectives make us who we are. The lower rate is an argument I’ve heard and even had a conversation about this with someone my age. My counter to that is where is it written down that just because we have experience do we automatically get paid more. That’s false thinking. We should be paid on what people think we are worth and what’s in the budget. And we should be open to negotiating that. I look at every opportunity first and the pay second. Not the other way around. Why older creatives or anyone older in this business think they are entitled to a certain salary might be part of this perception problem. Older creatives demand more compensation and that’s not right either. There has to be a balance.
At what age did you first start noticing ageism in the ad industry, either firsthand or toward others?
I haven’t really noticed anything directly. Seriously. It has just always been part of the ad industry in thought and lore. I have heard from a friend who is much older than me and still works a lot that there is an unspoken element to their conversations with recruiters. Actually, now that I think about it, I do get a little worried when recruiters ask for my birthday to book a flight to go visit an agency. So maybe it’s there and I didn’t realize it. Ageism is a society thing and as more and more people enter the second stage of life and stay active, it will remain a topic.
Do you see a lot of ageism in ads themselves? Or do you feel that it is more of a behind-the-scenes problem?
I think it’s more of a behind-the-scenes problem. Maybe more of a focus on the shiny penny around young creatives and the hot new campaign they just completed. But that’s BS too because anyone feels the heat when they do something cool that people like. It’s been interesting to see the reaction to “Ideas Know No Age.” Someone actually asked me if I was gonna say my age when I did it. That was the whole point. The other thing I should mention is a lot of older people have risen the ranks and have their names on the door or the big title. So maybe there’s a perception that if you’re not that then you must not be good or haven’t done great work. Both of which are completely false. Everyone finds their place in this business.
What advice can you offer to older creatives who are constantly battling this lazy notion that if you’re older, your ideas won’t be as fresh?
Prove them wrong. Stop listening. And prove them wrong again. Whatever age you are, you should be curious about everything in the world we use to communicate. This is your livelihood so please stay in the know. And learn how to be fast on the computer and be able to share ideas within hours. Things zip along and everyone has to keep up. Also, ideas aren’t about the tech, but they can help us amplify or distribute them. Everything still needs an idea first and that’s what anyone at any age should stress through their work.
Ageism takes up a much smaller space in public discourse compared to other -isms. Why do you think that is? And what’s been the response to this project thus far?
No reason really, maybe it’s just that we needed to tackle the other ones first. They should all have equal weight or their day in the sun, but that’s more about what happens in the universe as things come into focus. Both online and in life events. It’s important, but maybe it’s more up to the individual to be strong and make their own case. I mean, AARP is an advocate for older folks, maybe they will tackle ageism on a big scale one day. The response has been unexpectedly awesome. I had hoped it would strike a chord, but it went much deeper than that. Maybe it was because I put myself out there and called out my own age. Being from a person and not an organization could have made it more relatable. Just spitballing here.
Do you think there’s a way for honors like the “30 Under 30” and “Young Guns” to exist without being detrimental to the way older creatives are perceived?
I wish there was, but their very nature makes that hard. But it’s not just in our industry. Pro athletes experience ageism. Of course Hollywood deals with it. And so on. To me, the only way to even it out is to have places that celebrate it. 50 over 50 lists. Old Guns. Etc.
What do you do when Not Working?
Hang out with my family. Watch Red Sox games. Run. Play with my cats. Watch the latest show and try to catch up on one I missed. Golf. Watch Red Sox games.
Who are some other “Old Guns” on WNW whose work you admire and why?
I don’t know anyone’s age so I don’t know if they are old guns, but I know a lot of creatives and admire anyone who can keep a career in this insane business going.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I appreciate the opportunity to shed a little light on the subject of ageism. Hopefully, this campaign will open some eyes and help older creatives be perceived differently. To be honest, if it helped one person not be ashamed of how old they are then it was successful.