What It Means To Be A Cool, Old Guy

Martin Karaffa is an associate partner at the world-famous Hofstead Insights. But Martin and I first met last millennium when he was a senior writer at Ogilvy, and then we worked together at JWT last century, where he was a senior strategist. It was a career change that took him to NYC via Tokyo, to become the global planning director. Then he was Director of International Planning at BBDO in Munich. So basically, we are both old. But Martin has embraced the “O” word. But why should describing someone as old be worse than describing someone as young?  That’s the genesis of his work in How to Be a Cool Old Guy. 

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That’s one of the things that people kind of say, “Yeah, old guys do that.”
We have a bit of a license to do that.



Hi, I’m Darren Woolley, Founder and CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultancy, and welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with an old friend, someone I’ve known since last millennium. Back then, he was a senior writer at Ogilvy and created such memorable lines as “If pain persists, aren’t you lucky” for Mattel games.

Then we worked together at JWT, where he was a senior strategist. It was a career change that took him to New York via Tokyo to become the Global Planning Director. Then he was Director of International Planning at BBDO in Munich, but today, he’s an Associate Partner at the world-famous, Hofstede Insights.

Welcome to managing marketing Martin Karaffa, welcome Marty.


Oh, fantastic to see you again, Darren. Good to be talking to you.


Well, look, we do these days catch up less regularly than when we were working together, but it’s always great enjoyment and always a conversation that I walk away with much to reflect on and think about. So, I’m looking forward to today.


And the same here.


And one of the reasons for that is you posted online the fact that you’ve been doing some research around this idea of getting old. And I know particularly, for both of us having worked in the advertising industry, getting old is not a positive thing, is it?


Well, I find it a positive thing. And in fact, the older I get, the better I get. And just being able to call on the experience and the wisdom that I’ve learned from lots of other people, I find it a real asset in what I do now, particularly in my current consultancy, which is about culture.

That is, what are the values we hold? And definitely, in the 1950s and ‘60s, they coined the phrase “youth culture.” It recognized that different generations do have different cultural values, things that they find important, things that they find good and bad.


Yeah, but I’ve found the advertising industry has got a reputation for once you make the 50 over 50 lists, it’s sort of the end of your career. Whereas, the ’30 under 30s’, of the hot rockets on the way up, it’s interesting, isn’t it? The youth culture, particularly in advertising has become the dominant culture.


Well, in many ways, I can understand it. And it ignores the fact that the vast majority of the disposable income that can be spent on marketable goods is in the hands of older consumers, specifically consumers over 50 who have a lot of discretionary income. But to me, it feels a little bit like … well, let me tell you a story.

There’s much talk about digital natives, true?


Yeah, absolutely.


Yeah, and I think back to when you and I were actually working together at JWT, you may remember that I became a naturalized Australian. So, I trotted down to the Prahran Town Hall, held up my hand, affirmed my loyalty to the now-late Queen Elizabeth II, and I became an Australian citizen.

Would an Australian politician, would anybody reasonably say “He wasn’t born here? He has other experiences from other places. That means he really can’t understand us. So therefore, maybe we shouldn’t let him vote. Maybe we shouldn’t include him in community groups?”

Well, yeah, I’m not a digital native, but I like to think I’m a fully assimilated, digital immigrant and maybe, more valuable because of the experience that I bring. And even now, I find it astonishing that people of all generations, of many generations, say Snapchat, I don’t really understand it, and I don’t use it.

Well, I don’t use Snapchat either, but does that mean I can’t understand it? Does that mean I don’t know about it? Does that mean maybe I won’t use it in the future?

I got a lot of reactions when I was speaking at in fact, a Slovenian HR Conference, and somebody asked me how we take older workers and get them to unlearn things.

And my immediate response was I’m not going to unlearn anything, frankly. Just because I have a calculator, it doesn’t mean I’m going to forget long division. And if long division works, I’m going to use it.

But I’m not going to ignore the advantages of a calculator simply because of the way it’s always been done. And older professionals and older workers really do have that advantage, I think, in being able to say, “No, we’ll pick up on anything that is useful and productive and also have the greater perspective to look at it.”


It’s interesting because as you were explaining and telling that short story, I was thinking that it’s not actually about unlearning, it’s about learning more or adding to what you already know, which is the basis of learning. You can’t learn something that you can’t relate to.

Everything we learn, we actually automatically relate to our experience past it and present. And then we add to it. But I’m just wondering because — I turned 61 this year, and I have friends my age that feel much older.

And what I notice is, is that at some point, they stopped learning and stopped being curious about the world. And that’s why they feel much older. In the work that you’ve been doing, is that one of the things that are the measure of old?


Well, as you know, Julian Harcourt who runs a consultancy, database consultancy for older consumers in London called Greyafro, and Jaymes Cloninger who runs the geo-cultural agency Motivf in Washington and I, came together to talk about how to be a cool old guy. And it’s a study we’re conducting, we are planning to launch that sometime in March of next year.

We did some preliminary research on that, and other generations who say what’s cool and what’s uncool about being an old guy. And we said, “guys …” simply because we are guys, number one. And number two, guys sometimes need a little extra help looking at themselves in the mirror.

So, what makes somebody of your age and my age cool? And you’ve hit it on the head, absolutely. If you use your experience as an excuse not to stay curious, that’s very, very uncool. And that’s what people say.

It doesn’t matter if you feel more comfortable using or enjoying the anchor that certain cultural symbols that you’re familiar with, provide for you. But to say that you can’t look at other things and appreciate them, the work of other generations, other cultures, national cultures, other ethnic cultures from your own — then you’re certainly pretty uncool.

And that was the case. We interviewed for the preliminary “how to be the cool guy” study — we interviewed a Gen Z influencer and he said that he really admires, for example, Pharrell Williams who’s been in the business for a long time, but the engagement that Pharrell Williams has with the generations of musicians following him is extraordinary.

And thinking about Iggy Pop, for example, peaked on the chart in 2016 his highest-ever charting number. And one of the things that, when you look at his biography, the number of collaborations that he’s done over the years is extraordinary.

And that’s one of the things that again, that’s actually not unusual for professionals of maybe your age or my age. We are approximately the same age, by the way.


In the nearest decade.


If we were both Generation Jones is what they call it, which is late baby boomers.


Late baby boomers.


We’re all about keeping up with the Joneses, came of age in the era of Reaganomics, and things like that. But we can talk about that a little more if you like.


Of course, of course. It’s interesting though that the examples you used then were from the music industry. And the other example is film and entertainment generally, where there are a lot of cool guys still doing things in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies.

And it’s because they’re constantly pushing those boundaries. They’re constantly creating new things and playing new roles and still being cool about it.


Yeah, you can’t push the boundaries until you’ve reached them. And to me, that’s one of the things that certainly in advertising, what we quaintly remember is calling advertising back in our day, Darren. Especially in advertising, we have to do that.

And my experience shows that there are extraordinary achievements made by professionals of any age, given the right opportunities for it.

And I think it’s interesting that you mentioned music, film, and television because I’m going to quote you back at you on this one, Darren, because you may remember you worked on an entertainment client at one stage when we were working together.

And getting back to music, some of the research that this client did say that by the time you reach the age of 23, you will have bought the majority of music that you have ever bought.

So, it’s a bit like the newlyweds and the pennies and the jar under the bed. If you subtracted one piece of music from your purchased collection every time you bought a new one after the age of 23, you’d never end up … you would actually end up not significantly decreasing the number.

We have to ask the question, what role does music play as you come of age? Music will mean something different to you and me, to the people who are coming of age in their teens, in their twenties. And that’s not necessarily an ageist thing to say. It’s simply a fact of acknowledging that values are formed at certain stages of life and in response to certain outside experiences.


Well, because there was a much wider study, which looked at a range of things like I think it was around your mid-twenties. If you hadn’t tried sushi, you were equally not likely to do it. You were less likely to do it if you hadn’t had a tattoo by your late twenties.

And it’s a behaviour that’s seen in all mammals, this transitionary stage between childhood and adulthood is where mammals experiment, particularly humans, but all mammals. And then there’s a natural predilection to start pruning off things that are seen as “risky” and becoming more conservative.

But that’s quite an old-fashioned model, isn’t it? This idea is that just because you’re getting older, you’re becoming more conservative. I think it applied to my grandparents’ era, but I’m not sure it even applied to my parents or my era.


Well, there’s so much we could talk about there, and I’m glad I mentioned that to you because it is an interesting point that you raise.

That you do tend to pair off things as you get older, or I would accept at face value that it is natural as you have more experiences to be able to judge what you find valuable and what you don’t. So, I accept the results of that study, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more conservative.

I mean, what is conservative? Resistant to change. And there are cultures, and there are groups, no matter what the generation is, who is more open and accepting of change and have a greater appetite for change. And conservatism is an ugly word in many ways because it’s couched in political terms.

But when you say “No, I’m going to be more discerning about what I do …” and oftentimes with greater age and with greater progression in one’s career, one has the resources and means to do it. Then you definitely do it.

George Bush Senior went skydiving for the first time at the age of 90. And he’s conservative with a capital C, I think you’ll agree.


Yeah, absolutely.


But then also, when you look at those statistics, things like adventure travel tends to skew towards older demographics. And when we start to understand it, understand the things that define the generations because of the experiences that they’ve had, then we start looking at things.

But one of the things one shouldn’t do is simply say you get older and you get more conservative because that’s exactly what the industry we’re talking about has done. That’s an assumption, and it’s not true at all.

In fact, from our preliminary study, which was qualitative, lots of people of other generations seem to think that our generation is less-conservative and less inhibited. And earlier on in our discussion, you mentioned the phrase that as you get older, you end up not giving a toss — though, I think “toss” was not the word that we used.

And that’s an adventure, that’s not conservatism. I’m going to do what I want to do. And that goes back to the period in which we came of age. Our predecessors in the baby boom who were the early boomers raised in ultra-security, which they rebelled against, said, “No, let’s do it now. If it feels good, do it, don’t hesitate. Don’t be inhibited.”

And disinhibition, at least in the public view (us old guys) is kind of a coolness. They will say things. As part of the preliminary research, we did a little bit of guided meditation. So, for people who were not old guys got them to close their eyes, did all the relaxation, and said, “Okay, now that you’re relaxed, keep your eyes closed. Picture a door in front of you. And behind the door is a world of cool old guys.”

And one of the things that everybody liked about travelling into that world was the lack of inhibition. And they all said, “I opened the door, and it was noisy. Everybody was talking. Everybody was playing.” A lot of it was scribbled, but that didn’t matter.

There were a lot of sports and the usual talking dribble about sports to hear the words between two people. And it was interesting because that’s admirable. It’s something that, again, not making generalizations about generations because there’s a huge variation in generations. It’s kind of our superpower as cool old guys.


It’s interesting, though, that a lot of advertising for an older audience or an older demographic reflects the stereotype; that it’s the grey hair, it’s playing golf or going on the world discovery tour or all these very sedate and quite boring activities.

Well, from my perspective, I see it as quite boring, the types of things that I see what I would call old people doing, and I feel like I’m 20 years away from even contemplating any of those behaviours. Why are those stereotypes so prevalent, particularly around advertising and marketing?


Well, partly because, and let me be quite blunt — personal experience; my boomer co-culturalist (people in our generation), we’ve been pretty ageist. Abbie Hoffman, in the 1960s, said, “Never trust anybody over 30.” And it’s an extraordinary thing.

We live through the cult of youth; in many ways, we’re more ageist than some of our younger colleagues, who often find people of our generation cool. Simply because there are cool people in every generation. And I think that’s part of it.

There is the issue of simple animal things like do you become more sexually attractive, alluring? Do you attract more ideas that you’ll be optimistic about when you’re younger? That’s unrealistic nowadays, even if we acknowledge that at the end of life, there are other issues and things you have to address apart from the usual imagery that drives discretionary purchases at other generations.

So, I recall that there was a … let me go back. There is a move against using demographics as targeting. Many activists, some of whom you and I know and whose opinions we respect and value, say it’s harmful; harmful stereotypes get in the way.

So, let’s throw out demographic targeting. That being the case, there are some things that you would say, yeah, well, it does seem to follow age, but it doesn’t just follow age. If you make demographic targeting only and stop at that, then that’s a real problem.

Take golf, for example; there is no doubt that golf is expensive, and older generations tend to have more money. Younger generations also golf on public courses. They will have a putter or slicer and a driver and do it in a field somewhere.

The numbers are not that great simply because the image of golf is an older person’s game. And secondly, it’s just that they don’t do it. It’s not one of those things. Time, having the time resources as well as the money resources, a really good golf course is frighteningly expensive.

So, you’re going to have to because marketing is about playing the odds; there’s no question about that. And one of the things that are going to tip the odds is knowing how old people are.

That said, that’s marketing, playing the odds. The other side is where we get back to the industry — the other side is committing the ecological fallacy. Because Germans tend to like beer, this guy’s German; therefore, he will like beer. That, as a matter of social justice, is impossible.

Maybe some professions require a certain physical strength that you naturally lose throughout your life. That’s why we have to work harder to make sure that those older citizens — and that means older professionals who are stakeholders in an agency … you go the extra mile to make sure that they’re accommodated and that you’re not making judgements about age in hiring decisions, for example.

And as well, I mean, if you are in a meeting and there’s a lot of chatter, and somebody uses a hearing aid, you have to make sure that that person who uses the hearing aid, whatever their age, is going to be accommodated. Those kinds of things.


It’s interesting because it goes beyond just ageism, doesn’t it? It’s the whole issue that we’ve become more and more aware that the shorthand stereotypes or a shortcut to classify people have become less and less relevant as we understand how human beings don’t neatly fit into pigeonholes as much as perhaps, we once believed.

And one of the interesting things I noticed about the Hofstede Insights Group is that you do a lot of cross-cultural work across different races and countries. This aging, is it consistent across the various sort of commercial markets? Or is there some that are quite different in their attitudes towards the older generation?


Well, let me just go back to the first comment you made about stereotyping and pigeonholing, which is no longer accurate, if it ever was.

A friend of mine is Bradley Sherman, who once worked in researched for the AARP and has recently written a book called The Super Age. And he talks about this period between 50 and 80 or 90, which is not like the life that people lived between 50 and 90 before. And among the things that affect your subjective experience and objective quality of life are social class and access to healthcare.

So, age is important, but it is intersectional. And for marketing, because we have consumers who are increasingly affected by intersectional values and influences, a marketer must consider that. But then, looking at what’s the culture of the generations.

And yes, the answer is yes, enthusiastically; there are groups, and again, we don’t commit the ecological fallacy at all at Hofstede Insights. One of the noticeable things is that experiences create values.

So, let’s say something like discounting behaviour. There is a dimension of cultural difference, which Hofstede calls long-term orientation. Minkov calls it flexible identity, and there are many other things. And it’s about our attitudes to change. And contrary to popular belief, everybody has to accept change. That’s just part of the human condition, which is accepting change.

Some say — and Hofstede calls them short-term orientation, and I’ll hasten to add that’s not something where we should create a value judgment. Short-term is not necessarily better than long-term all the time.

Short-term orientation and where you tend to act in the moment, you need more sensations in the products that you buy to give you the impression, and oftentimes, it’s a correct impression that something is happening, that you’re getting value for money, that there’s some effect being had.

Long-term-oriented cultures tend to say I will do a little incrementally every day, and I must do that. If you’re not changing that past and future as a continuum — it’s not if we’re got to have a change, it’s got to be big, and it’s got to hurt. So, the disrupticrats versus the incrementalists is a cultural difference worldwide.

And that’s certainly the case in our generations. The generation in which you and I grew up, was used to having products that had an immediate effect. They felt good. And that also goes for discounting.

We statistically — not you, not me as individuals (I hasten to add), but statistically, we’re more likely to react to a discount. We’ll be brought into the market by a discount simply because we say, “Oh, that’s a limited-time opportunity. I’m not averse to doing something impulsive because it feels good or I can see the amount I’m saving.”

Younger generations, again, not talking about any individual, playing the odds, tend to be much more scrimp and splurge. Scrimp on the necessity and splurge on the luxuries, which is where boomers like us, snigger about avocado toast, but that avocado toast was planned for and budgeted for and everything in most cases.

And that’s something that is a difference between the generations. So, you’re old enough to remember … I know my mother was a great devotee of Kmart shopping. And you may remember that you might have even worked on the account back in the day, the red light special. Do you remember that?


Yes. I worked on the Myer bagging basement, and there was a definite formula that would say it was all about “Hurry and get it now, ladies.” And it was always, “Ladies, hurry and get it now; the red light’s flashing; it’s just on today.” It was all about that immediacy and the reward of getting something for half price.


Yeah, and that’s something that is not unique to our generation. That value, that sense of satisfaction is disproportionately felt by people in our generation, whereas, you know, for a younger generation, and again, generalizing here, not the same for everybody; is much more like if there are a red light special and things like that.

Now, I would rather save for the exact thing that I want. And that’s interesting because that reflects countries around the world. Here in Germany, where I live now, about 40% of cars are bought on finance, on a deal. In the UK, which is much more the culture, again, where my colleague, Huib Wursten, calls them contest cultures, the English-speaking cultures.

Take the UK, for example; 75% are bought on finance. So, do I have it now? Do I save up for it? And Asian cultures tend to save up for it once as well. And there’s much less generational variation in places like Germany and Japan on that particular difference than in our kinds of cultures.

The far Western Europe cultures, like the Netherlands, the UK, North America, and Australia. It goes down to something as well like if you are a bit skinned, will you buy something now, or will you save up for what you want?

And so, things like, for example, premium brands, if you suddenly become skinned, there are places with the short-term mentality who say, “Well, I’m just going to cut down the package size, but I’m still going to get my premium brand.” And that’s something that we can see.

Whereas, if you have a long-term orientation, you say, “No, I’m going to sacrifice the premium brand for things like generics, pasta, paper towels, things like that, but still have the big splurge on the fancy car in which that enables.

So, it’s no accident that places like Aldi that they scrimp on the basics. Places like Lidl, many of which have an origin in someplace like Germany. So, the perception of price is something that differs throughout generations.

And there is a real correlation between cultural differences among nationalities and ethnic groups. I don’t want to go into the ethnic groups’ side because that can be easily misunderstood, but there are differences, especially along that line. And they’re not working that fine.


I’m married to a Chinese woman. I live with those ethnic differences on a day-to-day basis, much to my joy, because it’s the differences that make life interesting, aren’t they? Isn’t it, Martin?


Well, as you know, I’m married to a Japanese man, and I have to say that all of these tools that I use professionally, I will walk into the kitchen, and I can see at least three of those cultural dimension differences at work.

And it’s important when we talk about money, for example, as I just said, you could imagine what somebody who is a short-term indulgent and long-term restrained planner, what we have — it goes to criticism. For example, if you’re in a long-term culture, and both China and Japan are long-term cultures, there tends to be much criticism of each other. I can see you nodding your head there on the screen.


No, no, absolutely, yeah. There, there’s a different approach to values, for instance.


Because you’re always obliged to be constantly improving by a little bit.


Yeah. In fact, some of the day-to-day interactions I’ve been putting down to just my inner child because I often feel that my wife shows maturity way beyond her years when she’s admonishing me for some of my, let’s say, more impulsive decisions.


Yes, yes. There is that. And getting back to the generations, if the generations are less impulsive, you can imagine that many of the criticisms made of the older generations by the younger generations are tinged with that; “What are you doing?”

I remember listening to Bill Maher talk about Greta Thunberg, and he talks about the okay boomer phenomenon and being criticized by younger people. And he does a very long spiel about acknowledging that boomers have been irresponsible in the way that we’ve treated the planet.

And then he immediately says, “Yeah, but you know what are you doing? When I see you …” and he used those two dreaded words, “avocado toast” — “What are you Gen Z doing about all this? I don’t see you lifting a finger.”

And I thought to myself when I heard it, “What planet are you on, Bill Maher?” The number of vegans amongst Generation Z is vastly more than amongst boomers. Because people in generation Z and millennials buy fewer cars, they tend to do more cycling. Partly because they have the fitness to do it, but how many fewer are getting driver’s licenses on those ethical grounds?

And that’s where the maybe cultural blinders of our generation can affect how we perceive other generations is why we’re the okay boomers so often.


And Karen, but that’s only if you’re a female-


We could get into-


All sorts of trouble there.


And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it either, but not in this discussion, I think.


It was interesting that you raised Bill Maher. I think one of his big criticisms on one of his shows; was saying Greta, he looked at the number of Instagram followers she had compared to Kylie Jenner and said that clearly, young people prefer private jets and opulence than they do to saving the planet.

But you must remember that Bill Maher is a comedian and a social commentator, and he will always look for the ridiculousness in how he presents something. I’m not sure he’s ever set himself up to be a spoken authority on the underlying science of cultural and generational differences.

But that’s why it’s fascinating talking with you, Marty, because there’s so much going on in my head now; I’m not sure which way to go.


Well, one of the things that I might pick up on is jokes because we hear a lot of people of our generation saying, “Oh, you can’t joke about anything anymore.” And that’s right. That is the case.

Just as a cultural exercise, I’ve done a bit of a study of those comedians. So, for example, the Kyle Jenner point, I would hazard to say that Gen Z is not averse to a private plane ride; who isn’t? But they’re going to save it as a special experience. It’s that scrimp and saves.

In your day-to-day life, you’re scrimping on the things that destroy the planet, so there are one or two times when you say this is an indulgence, where you do get on a plane and go to Thailand and have an eco-friendly trekking expedition or whatever. And that’s a fundamental difference in attitudes.

But also, what we were talking about earlier is having no filter and being uninhibited. That’s one of the things that people say, “Yeah, old guys do that.” We have a bit of a license to do that. But at the same time, you don’t want to abuse that license.

There is such a thing as being a responsible grownup, and have men of our generation neglected the obligation to be a responsible grownup? Sometimes we have. Sometimes not being a responsible grownup is healthy, and we’re setting a good example.

So, those kinds of questions are the things that, again, I hate to use the word intersectionality because I’m sure I will be picked up on my use of the word intersectionality. But there are so many social influences in play right now.

I recall John Cleese, for example, having a one-man war on waking. Well, he’s not one man; there are many others. But I saw him about three or four years ago here in Munich because he likes touring the German-speaking world. He’s speaking German — on his “last chance to see me before I die” tour cheerfully titled.

And I noticed that he’s planning to go to Southern Germany again next month. So, I was disappointed; I only got him on the second last chance to see him before he died. But he then started telling ethnic jokes, some of which were funny, admitting stereotypes.

And I noticed a movement in Australia that Gen Z Indian and Chinese heritage comics are extraordinarily useful and say extraordinary things about their ethnicities, which is fine. There are cultural differences among us all, and laughing about them can help make them easier to understand.


At JWT, there was the self-titled wogs club, which they’d owned. And I think the ‘Wogs out of work’ emboldened them and that whole … but this was an ethnic group within our workplace, a group of young men wearing it as a badge of pride. When earlier in my life, anyone used that term, it was such a phrase of derision.

So, I think that’s where these comedians bring a voice to that racial or cultural group within society and show a perspective with permission in many ways because they’re members of that group.


Yes, and look, that’s the important thing. You can easily tell when a joke goes beyond. It’s not like it’s difficult to tell. And if you are belittling, humiliating, or dismissing an ethnic group, you’re definitely … you’re out of line, and you always have been.

And to say one of the great things that our colleagues did was they said, “Yeah, we’re different.” And a lot of the people were creative, for example, but weren’t in the classic, “I have to glad-hand my elitist client.” People aren’t going to say that.

There are enormous social class differences in that agencies. Maybe the discipline of planning arose out of it. Anyway, Darren, I interrupted you.


No, no, Martin, I’ve just realized that we’ve been talking for a while. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of time. I do have to, first of all, thank you. But also, say, you are a cool old guy, and I want to celebrate you for becoming that person. So, thank you.


Let me assure you, there are many things to become yet.


Well, you’ve got to live that life now. I do have a question for you, though, because there’s always someone that inspires someone. So, who is the cool old person that inspires you?

Luis Robinson

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