Mourning bells on Madison Avenue.


Boiling Springs, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1117.5, Wednesday April 23, 2014 — The mourning bells are ringing on Madison Avenue because I died today.


As members of the original Pepsi generation, advertisers promised Boomers we were never going age. We weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30.  Our uniform was going to be Levis, mop tops, and sandals!  We were forever young and the most coveted demographic of all time.

Given the degree of indoctrination we endured, I don’t know if this was a shared Boomer experience, but I felt a little strange when I woke up the morning of my thirtieth birthday and nothing changed. I didn’t look or feel any less trustworthy. Same thing when I reached a few other magic milestones that society commemorates with sacrificial candles.

This morning yet another of my life’s supposedly defining markers slipped by. Yup, another birthday.

This time something is different. I really am dead.

Dead, you say?  Like a doornail?  How could that be?

It’s actually a metaphor. As someone who worked in the marketing and PR world for many years, it’s like this: I know that I might as well be dead. 

Here’s the logic.

In some circles, being in a coveted consumer demographic is high status. Everybody wants to talk to YOU. They know that ME is the most important word in the English (advertising) language. 

Oh yes, you’d better be talkin’ to me!

If that’s the case, it’s over for moi. I’m not in anybody’s coveted demographic anymore. 

I’m tuned in, but Madison Ave. dropped me out.  Studies say that most of my brand preferences have been locked in – like NRA paranoia – for decades.  They think I’ve stopped thinking, because I can’t.


It’s ironic.  By the time you reach a certain age, overnight the ad industry writes you off – you’re  a non-entity completely unworthy of ad service. In short, you don’t count in the ratings.

Nielsen, I know you don’t love me anymore.  It’s okay. You can have your box back.

As boomers, mainstream advertising no longer covets our eyeballs and ears. Our music has faded from the soundtracks of hit TV shows, and from the commercials that pay for them.  

Our generation’s stars have been reduced to playing grumpy and eccentric grandparents on the new TV shows.  Even the E-D ads target younger men.  To know that all you have to do is look at the age of the women who play the wives.

In the modern American consumer economy, when nobody wants to sell you anything, what’s left for you? You might as well be dead.  As far as the sales department is concerned, you are.

Big deal.  Life’s interesting.  I can personally attest that the mirror lies like a dog.  My hair isn’t gray, it’s only color-challenged. I mean, I’m glad to still have some.  But hey, I hear the Fountain of Youth is somewhere over the horizon, but that’s not why I’m walkin’.  (Or is it?)

“They” think the bell is tolling for me. They are soooo wrong!

Being retired is like perpetual vacation from school.  There’s a lot of time to fill, and there are a million things to do. If you didn’t notice, our generation has accomplished a lot and we still have talent. Most of us aren’t willing to go quietly into the great good night either.

Guess what Mad Men?  There are better roles in daily life than playing manipulated consumers whose primary benefit to society is buying stuff.  Boomers are born activists.  Remember the 60’s.  I know.  If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there.

Buckle your seat belt.  As more of us retire with too much time on our hands, it could get interesting, so let’s get ready to rock and roll.

Enough rant.  There’s something more important to say on this, my first birthday without my mother.

“Thanks for the birthday mom. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become uninteresting to advertisers.  I’ll always love you for that alone.”

8 thoughts on “Mourning bells on Madison Avenue.

  1. Happy birthday to you. I wish you ever-loving memories of your mother, and easy but interesting trails.

    As to being dead, I’m pretty sure we’re not yet. We regularly are on the receiving end of ads about hearing aids, annuity products, charitable estate bequests, and walk-in bathtubs. I figure we have 30-40 more years to hear about that. And YES that’s a long time for us retirees to still make our mark.

  2. Happy Birthday, young man. You are looking good.

    Last night I attended session 2 of 3 of what is called Mini-Medical School offered by the College of Medicine at the U of IA. They offer these several times a year to highlight the work being done to advance the research and understanding of new trends in treatment. Most of the crowd of 300 is made up of folks just like you and me…retired and interesting people.

    We have a lot to learn and a lot to teach. Our experiences are rich. We have insight and wisdom. We are not interested in being some ad agency unit being sold a bill of goods. Life is much richer that that, and we know it. I am glad to be written off and left alone.

    Have a great day. Push on.

  3. Jim: Well, here you are: doing exactly what you want to be doing, still accomplishing great things, and still with hair the color of which just doesn’t matter. I’d say you and all of the Boomers have rendered Madison Avenue rather inconsequential to a very large group (demographic, if you will) of people who count, who matter, and who still consume. And Madison Avenue doesn’t quite get it that we do. Seems a bit backward, eh? And if AARP would take a break from selling health and car insurance, perhaps they could help us out.

    I would like to wish you a great birthday and a happy and healthy year ahead. And, just remember, your mom would be so proud. It is a milestone in life when you start marking all the “firsts” after a parent dies. How nice it is that you’re in a place to reflect on all of this.

    I’m reading your posts from the bottom up. Any comments on spending the night with the full moon?

    Take good care. Enjoy yourself. Return safely. Virnell

    • At some point I’ll do some “cowboy” camping, that is to say that I’ll be sleeping under the stars. That is when I’ll bay about the moon.

  4. Sisu: Great post! Now I know why people stopped talking to me when I turned 60 a few years ago! It’s incredible (and a little depressing, but not surprising I guess given the power of advertising) how that “Madison Avenue attitude” filters out into the larger culture. If you’re above a certain age, you’re just taken for granted—if not considered dead already. It’s nice to see that “our demographic” is well-represented among thru-hikers on the AT. Mad Men take note ! (…or maybe not!)

    Happy Birthday, Sisu, and may you have many more ahead.

Leave a Reply