Rebels, misfits and innovators: 50Over50 – Duncan Bird

While the digital, marketing and advertising industry remains in thrall to the cult of youth, tirelessly celebrating 30 Under 30, accelerating generational shifts over the last three decades mean this focus is becoming dangerously short sighted.

Never mind that this shuns the consumers who are the true influencers when it comes to household spending –  78% of over 50s command the purse-strings in their households, with the age group accounting for half of all consumer spending in the UK – in the digital economy it means the industry in danger of losing out on the knowledge and experience of those who have built the digital industry from the ground up.

50 Over 50 is a series of interviews, shortly to become a podcast, with our most influential and inspiring industry leaders aged 50 and over. 

We think it’s time to recognise and celebrate the true talent in our industry, the creatives, technologists, founders and leaders that are really driving our industry and shaping society.

Duncan Bird is Executive Creative Director at US digital agency GLOW, working with clients including HBO, Spotify, Sony, and Hulu. In a 30-year creative career, he’s worked at agencies including BBH London and Anomaly, and was VP Marketing at Sony Music Entertainment. He was named one of “The Top Ten People in Advertising” by The Independent and appeared on Campaign magazine’s Marketing A List.

What one thing are you proudest of in your career?

I’ve worked in music, entertainment, manufacturing and advertising—it’s impossible to highlight just one thing. So instead here’s the most ridiculous thing in my career – Hoover free flights  aka the Fyre Festival of the vacuum cleaner industry. The “most disastrous promotion ever”, so bad it has its own Wikipedia page. We tried to warn the public with the advertising idea “Hoover free flights – it’s unbelievable”. It was unbelievable and like the Fyre Festival utterly ridiculous.

What creative heights are you now capable of that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve at the early or mid-point of your career?

I’m much more open minded and less judgemental.  I’ve learned to look way beyond any one industry for inspiration which definitely liberates my mind. You can find inspiration in anything as long as you know where to look.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role today?

Working with clients hungry to be daring gets me excited. People who want to create things that punters actually want to see, hear, experience and yes share. Working on shows like Veep and Curb is pretty, pretty good.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

Shit happens, things go wrong, they always do so just keep on keeping on. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Take a deep breath and remember it’s a common sense business where sense isn’t very common.

What advice would you give your 25-year old self?

It’s NSFW so this will have to suffice; I’d attempt to tell myself to not confuse movement with progress. But as I’m saying this my 25 year old self would keep interrupting me!

I’d calmly say use your mouth and ears in the proportion you were given them, 2 ears 1 mouth! And finally I’d laugh and say what’s with the purple suit? Unbelievable!

What is the biggest mistake companies – brands or the industry – are making in their attitude to age today?

It is dangerous to generalize as “the industry” varies tremendously, especially “the industry” that I first joined. The smarter elements of the industry have a good blend of more seasoned leaders and younger less experienced people.

Having a mix is invaluable in all of my experience.  Too often I think that experience can be seen as intimidating as opposed to a great asset. But this is deeper than any single industry and worthy of a Seth Godin-esque book or an entire Ted talk on this topic.

It really boils down to fear. I recall David Abbott telling me with a wry smile that the copy he’d just written in a 10 minute flurry had actually taken him 30 years to write. But at the time I didn’t immediately understand, probably because I was 23 and I wasn’t really listening.

What are you most excited about in your industry over the next 10 years?

This feels like a trick trick question. New tech doesn’t make our job easier, if anything it makes it harder.  The average person is exposed to 5,000 ads a day, up from 2,000 just 30 years ago. Some ‘experts’ say the exposure can be as high as 10,000 daily.

For any intelligent creative person who gives a shit it’s exciting to rise above and cut through this sea of boring, mediocre, predictable nonsense. To quote my old boss Sir John Hegarty, “technology creates opportunity, but it’s creativity that creates value – tomorrow will be more creative than today.”

What is your biggest regret about the industry today?

Way too much marketing and advertising gives me more of an inner groan than an an inner smile. There’s not nearly enough pride or passion around originality and big ideas.

It feels like there’s a general dumbing down of ideas which unfortunately reflects a dumbing down stemming in part from the likes of reality TV, after all it’s so persuasive (and pervasive) that it helped to elect a president! People are spewing out what’s easy rather than what’s actually interesting.