We need a monument of hope in the age of the Shard

This is a piece I wrote for Mediatel in 2011.  At the time I was working at The Daily Telegraph and we were promoting a roadshow of media buying agencies that The Telegraph was undertaking.  The Shard was a recent addition to the London skyline and gave me a striking metaphor to begin with.

The Shard towers over London, a lean, tapering, thrust to the sky. It’s magnificent but it’s not kind. The contrast with the Gherkin couldn’t be starker. The Gherkin, built in 2003, before the financial crisis, is plump and jolly – a monument to a time of plenty. The Shard tells the story of the new world but there’s optimism missing in its sharp narrative.

In these dark days the future is uncertain and we need a monument to inspire hope. After the ’87 crash, New York adopted a statue of a raging bull to represent financial hope but I propose that London, not least ad-land, needs a statue of slightly balding man in his late fifties. He doesn’t need to look aggressive or triumphant or even saintly, he could just look a bit, well, like someone’s dad.

He is your hope. The country is feeling the pinch of the financial crisis and things are set to get worse. But we are not all feeling the pinch equally, we are not all in it together as the government tell us. There is a wealth gap opening up in the country and it’s not between north and south or the franchised and the underclass; it’s between the generations. Your baby boomer parents have all the money and for them, the party isn’t over.

This is a story of luck. The baby boomers were born in a post-war world. They were expected to be the generation that fought the Russians but they ended up riding a wave of good fortune and they sucked up all the wealth. Nobody could imagine the extent to which the babies of the fifties would have it so good.

“Average Baby Boomer” is the title I’m giving my proposed statue, or “Brian”, to give him a name. He bought his first house for a ninth of the price his average son paid this year for his average property. His son is in negative equity, having only just got rid of his student debt but “Brian” has made a mint from property. His present mortgage has practically gone but he is one of the baby boomers who bought a second home recently because his son’s generation couldn’t get the credit to benefit from falling house prices. He and his wife are busy furnishing it.

Brian was once a bright lad who got himself a good job as an accountant, at a time when there was more social mobility. Bristol University research shows that, on average, accountants of Brian’s generation were born to parents who had average incomes. Those taking up accountancy jobs in later generations had parents whose incomes were 40% higher than the national average.

Social mobility is part of the baby boomer success story.

Brian has climbed the tree as the years have gone by and he’s at a level in his company that means his wage has increased by over 25% in ten years. For those lower down the tree, like his son, wages have barely kept pace with inflation.

When he retires he has a final salary pension, the level of which was worked out by someone expecting Brian to live no longer than seven years after retirement but, he’ll keep going until his late eighties, spending most of that time active and spending. No such luck for the rest of us, a PWC survey found recently that 94% of major employers intend either to reduce or axe current defined benefit provision.

I mentioned that Brian’s an accountant but he’s also the bank manager of the fastest growing bank in the UK, the bank of mum and dad. According to research from Sainsbury’s Life Insurance, parents in the UK have forked out a staggering £34 billion in loans and financial gifts in the last year alone. This includes those who received a total of £8.4 billion for mortgage or rental deposits or payments, £3.5 billion for home improvements and £2.2 billion to pay off debts.

Deloitte says household incomes are at their lowest since 1955 and Mervyn King says we face the biggest downturn either since the thirties or perhaps it will be the worst yet. None of us have experienced anything like this but it is Brian’s money that will make our world keep turning.

He represents hope. His statue might not be as attractive looking as the figure of someone in the 25-44 age groups but he is cast in gold. He is the opportunity now for advertisers brave enough to think beyond their traditional targets. For many advertisers who target 25-44s, a significant amount of their existing customers are 45+ anyway but they are often left un-targeted. Times have changed. When the young could get credit, it was easier to ignore this large, rich group of people but that was in Gherkin time, not the age of the Shard.

As part of the Telegraph Works programme we’re visiting advertising agencies on a roadshow, bringing an exhibition showing just how the Telegraph works. As part of the day advertising director, Nick Hewat is doing a couple of talks in which he discusses Brian along with characters representing younger generations. It’s compelling stuff and if that roadshow comes to your agency do go along. He makes a thought provoking case and, you never know, if he convinces you, you might just join my campaign for ad-land’s new monument to hope.

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