The Boomers’ Legacy

In his book Balsamic Dreams: A Short But Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, Joe Queenan cites April 21, 1971, as one of 10 days that rocked the world for boomers. That, of course, would be the day that Carole King released her album Tapestry.

The emergence of Tapestry, Queenan writes, was as ignominious and cataclysmic an event as the Battle of Hastings or the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.


Because when King lamented that so many people couldn’t seem to stay in one place anymore, she was in effect telling an entire generation that, hey, it’s OK to be nostalgic, even if you’re only 18. You’ve seen fire. You’ve seen rain. Relax. Go with the flow. Let’s put that four-dead-in-O-hi-O thing behind us.

Thus, Queenan argues, the boomers went from being a generation of bomb throwers and firebrands hellbent on changing the world to a generation more concerned with SAT scores and porcini mushrooms than world hunger or the impending collapse of the Arctic icecap.

In 2006, the first of the baby boomers will turn 60. There will be TV specials. Documentaries. Entire issues of news magazines dedicated to the boomers and their impact on society. But what about advertising?

After reading an essay in Newsweek by Albert Brooks in which the actor lambastes Madison Avenue and Bob Dylan for sinking so low as to use “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in a TV spot for Kaiser Permanente, I threw the question out on my blog: What impact, for better or worse, have baby boomer creatives had on advertising?

I’ve never been on a battlefield. But if reader comments were bullets, I’d be dead by now. Stretched out in that Jerry Garcia-themed coffin that one very pissed-off kid suggested all us boomers consider purchasing as quickly as possible.

The post hit an intergenerational nerve, one that advertising people don’t like to talk about much. The good news is, I think we all learned a few things from it. And they are:

That a goatee and pierced tongue don’t make you any more creative today than a Woodstock ticket or a Velvet Underground album once did.

That boomers won’t hand over the keys to the kingdom to Gen X any more than the Greatest Generation was willing to hand them over to us.

That if Michael Jordan and Madonna can reinvent themselves as they get older, it’s hard to know why so many of us advertising boomers can’t.

That there’s not a lick of difference between the highly paid veteran ballplayer currently hitting .150 and the highly paid veteran ad executive currently hitting, well, not much better.

That even if every boomer in the business were to woof down a Jonestown cocktail tomorrow morning, chances are that 99.99 percent of all advertising would still be dog dung.

That if you want to be Sarah McLachlan and save the world from starvation, genocide and landmines, well, you might want to quit advertising and go work for Sarah McLachlan.

That boomers should worry more about what we’re putting on the screen than what we’re putting in our 401(k)s.

That anyone who thinks Dan Wieden sold out by doing a Nike spot with a Beatles song, thereby giving permission to countless hacks to take the conceptually easy way out by dropping a culturally iconic tune onto a nice piece of film, is either a) a moron or b) sadly mistaken.

Yeah, I think we all learned something, young and, er, not so young alike. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my proctologist appointment.