Advertising needs young people. The need to sell on behalf of brands with understanding and authenticity is paramount, and ad history is littered with examples of brands assuming they can reach young audiences and getting it badly wrong. Beyond that, advertising is an industry that requires regular injections of young blood to stay vital, relevant and representative of a changing society.
Despite widespread acknowledgement of those truths, too often the UK ad industry lets itself down by failing to provide young people with a route into the industry. Grey’s Head of Marketing Sarah Jenkins explains:
“The reality is that for an eighteen-year-old kid on a sink estate in Hull, advertising doesn’t have the allure that it would have done 20 years ago. If you say advertising to a group of school kids now, they talk about ad blockers and annoying ads, digital banners and stuff – advertising is not, in young kids’ minds, what it was 20 years ago, and we need to recognise that.
“I think there’s a lack of awareness of how glorious our industry is, for many young people. It’s an incredibly opaque world as well. We’ve got probably 500 or 1000 different job titles in our industry, and there’s no way a young kid could possibly navigate that and work out that they could a) play a role, b) be brilliant and c) that they don’t need a degree to get there.”
It’s a problem that is endemic to other creative sectors as well, but is compounded by the fact that few other industries rely so heavily on authentic communication of brand messages. Additionally, since the UK’s advertising sector is overwhelmingly based in London the challenges around rent and transport costs simply price a large proportion of young people out of the market.
There are schemes in place at some brands and agencies designed to mitigate those issues. Livity, for instance, is a Brixton-based agency that is attempting to lead by example through its Digify programme, while MediaCom are consistently singled out for its sterling work around making the industry more accessible through affordable apprenticeships. Saatchi, too, has made huge strides in making internships a plausible route into the industry, with Jenkins saying “that meant doing some really hard remodelling of their salaries”.
Alex Goat is Livity’s chief executive. She believes that involving young people in advertising shouldn’t just be a box-ticking exercise, it also makes good business sense: “We do a lot in the entertainment industry as well, and they are always looking and needing people who represent the audience that they’re talking to. The music industry has probably done it longer – [employing] young people who actually represent their core demographic, and I think they they realised that a long time before the advertising agencies did.”
Consequently, Livity offers under-25s a free coworking space in Brixton to alleviate some of the issues around providing young people with a route into advertising.
It’s a sentiment echoed by The Brixton Finishing School’s founder Ally Owen, a veteran of the advertising and publishing businesses who stepped off the usual career ladder to help young people find a path into the industry. She argues that the industry’s lack of provision for young people has implications for representation more widely:
“Every hire needs to be the right kind of high because otherwise the profit margins are compromised. It’s not embracing the fact that advertising is the one industry for everybody, and doesn’t represent everybody in any way. The quality of work suffers. Every brand, its customers are the key stakeholders. If you’re not involving the majority of the customers in the actual brand itself it’s like you’re disenfranchising a whole range of people because they don’t fit this safe idea of what an employee looks like.”
While the industry is in the process of reinventing the paths into advertising to make it more accessible, providing the means by which young people can sustain themselves while in training is vital. In doing so, the wider industry can potentially help treat some of the more endemic issues around trust and representation.