Is Barbara Lippert old enough?

My world rocked recently when it was revealed that Barbara Lippert was leaving Adweek for Goodby, Silverstein where she has been made "curator of pop culture."  

Yes, of course, I would have preferred that she be called a Chief Culture Officer.  But it’s enough that the appointment was made.  

As readers of my blog will know, I was a fan of Lippert’s weekly Adweek column on advertising. It was superb.  

Stuart Elliott’s announcement of the event was marred slightly by two of the reader comments that followed it. 

I know I’m going to get slammed by this opinion and I mean no disrespect; but even the most au courant 55 year-old is in no position to be the trend spotter for an ad agency. While I think the overwhelming weight that’s placed on reaching 18-34 is a huge error, it represents the current state of the business; and no 55-year-old is going to have her hand on that pulse. It may be bad form to bring the fictional Mad Men into this, but last season, we saw Don (who is 20 years younger) make several faux pas because of his lack of feel for a younger zeitgeist.

If Goodby, Silverstein wants this kind of input, they need to impanel a diverse group of twenty-somethings, who bring a variety of veiws to their attention.
[ signed, Curly Countering pomposity, dated January 28, 2011 ]

The second comment:

I second the view about the incongruity of a 55 year old trendspotter. I don’t care how hip you are, you just aren’t on the cutting edge of much except Botox and Rogaine. […]
[ signed, copywolf, dated January 29, 2011 ]

Assumptions, assumptions!  

Assumption 1: that Lippert was hired as a trend spotter.  

Jeff Goodby doesn’t say anything about trend spotting.  In fact, Lippert has been hired as an expert on pop culture.  God spare us, Goodby and Silverstein, if she fulfills her duties by spotting trends.  Culture is only about 20% trends. Agencies and corporations that spend their time spotting these trends lock themselves into an endless game of catch up.  Lippert is responsible for the whole of the water front of our culture, and here her age becomes an advantage.  

Assumption 2: that you have to be one to know one.  (Specifically, only someone who is 18-34 can report on this demographic group.)

This notion was dispatched during the political correctness debates.  When members of excluded groups insisted that only they could report on these groups, the world had to remind them that the argument would cost them the right to report on any other group.  They stopped.   

Assumption 3: that it’s ok to trade in stereotypes about Botox and Rogaine.  

If you were generalizing about gender, race or ethnicity in this way, the world would have put you in a small room with John Galliano, the fashion world’s ranking anti-semite.  

The real question:

Is Barbara Lippert old enough to be a curator of pop culture?  Has she lived, studied and observed enough to make good on the responsibility with which she’s been charged?Studying ads and the ad business for 20 years is actually an excellent perspective from which to study our culture.  And she is, to judge her by her column, a real talent.  My plan: wait and see.

References

Elliott, Stuart. 2011. “Longtime Ad Critic to Curate Pop Culture.” New York Times. http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/longtime-ad-critic-to-curate-pop-culture/

19 thoughts on “Is Barbara Lippert old enough?”

  1. The comments also assume that 20 somethings have the worldview and experience to spot a trend or new movement in pop culture as it’s happening. One benefit of age is that one’s perspective grows and your pattern recognition skills get more honed. While 20 somethings might have their ear to the ground on new trends, do they miss pop culture references that might be important to other generations because they’re busy living through things for the first or second time?

    I might argue that a Gen Xer might be the best bet to curate pop culture. We have, after all, been obsessed with it since Laverne & Shirley picked up and moved to California.

    In all seriousness, that criticism also assumes that she won’t use her experience to understand where her blindspots might be and lean on teens/20somethings/30somethings, etc where an additional perspective is needed.

    1. Martin, nice point, yes, Gen X studies popular culture without that boomer ambivalence. (To be sure there was distance and irony, but not that boomer “don’t ask me to take this seriously). Thanks, Grant

  2. Love this post Grant. Feeling old in the Agency world at just over 40 experience is often dismissed. Because someone uses social technologies does that make them the best person to evaluate the cultural changes because of it? I don’t think so.
    Kids these days. What are you going to do with them? :)

    1. Leigh, well said, plus those under 40 are headed for over 40, so they too have an interest here. Grant

  3. Thanks for your kindness, Grant. Ageism is alive and well! I hesitated to give Stuart my true age, knowing I’d get slammed with adverse reactions and adult diaper jokes. (For the record, I’ve never had Botox. Way too Real Housewives.) But I guess the response would have been withering for anyone over 45, and I felt I owed it to my fellow fifty-somethings to be honest. And truth to tell, all of my years of observing and writing about the culture have come in handy with my new job, especially when moderating panels made up of incredibly arrogant digital creatives! I’m not out spotting new bands for the agency– rather, I’m bringing many of the tenets you mention in your book to amplify the power of the work. Often, reversing a hoary belief is a powerful and innovative—so I appreciate what you’ve done here!

    1. Barbara, wow, I’m honored by your visit. And a mention of the book! By Barbara Lippert! I’m kvelling. If ever I can persuade you to write a guest post, I’d be very pleased. Thanks again. Grant

  4. grant, love your distinction between trends and culture,
    and appreciate your calling out of assumptions. we
    all make them, all the time. ms. lippert is no amateur,
    neither is jeff goodby.

    in a culture thatpanders to the 18 to 30-something,
    male demographic, we should not be surprised that they
    would rise in disbelief that a female old enough to be
    their mother might have something to say that is informed
    by both history and experience, AND, that anticipates where
    their needs, wants and desires come from. imagine!

  5. Grant – this debate hits just close enough to get me riled. ouch. Thanks for containing the influence of trands on culture; it may be the slowest moving domain for change. And takes generations. At 20, could I spot trends or substantial cultural shifts? my perspective or long view was shaped more by my childhood than by my sense of time. And by my daily experience. Imagine the shifts that Moses could see? huge. Is spotting change over time when you’re 20 a bit like spotting change in Shanghai for your first time? You can feel the place, see what’s new but don’t know how it got there or what came before. Still, I wouldn’t discount that first experience; it’s a bit like first love, yes? fresh, anticipating, thrilling, non-cynical.

    I love seeing futurists, trendspotters and cultural commentators of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, locations, disciplines. We see different things. These fellows are right – at 20, you see by doing, it’s in the flow. At 55 you see by comparing and by relearning.

    These reaction in the comments makes me very sad that we have a long way to go before people are fair with either women or generations. So busy defending ourselves, we are blinded to others’ POV. Some things change soooo slowly, don’t they? And these comments have the added energy of anger or war. Entrenched arguments. In the longest view, I know we are progressing, becoming more tolerant of differences but we have a ways to go.

    Thrilling to see Barbara Lippert here too, the beauty of interactive webs. Will be looking for her guest post. The world becomes one huge conversation. Thanks for the thoughts, always brilliant. cindy @urbanverse

  6. Culture, even pop culture isn’t just 20 somethings. Boomers’ pop culture
    will be increasing relevant to the ad world.

    One would also assume that managing people would be part of her job, not
    something a panel of 20 somethings should be entrusted with.

    1. Ryan, thanks, on the other hand, 20 somethings can be much better at management than some boomers I know, there is something like a generation gift for diplomacy, I think. Best, Grant

  7. Barbara Lippert said on the Today show that she saw the VW commercial with the Jamaican accents as being racist. Her son, who just graduated from college, thought it was funny and it reminded him of Cool Running. She’s out of touch with the 18-34 group. She’s the square peg in a round hole.

Comments are closed.