We Have Seen The Future, And It Is Old

Have you seen the advertising campaign for Dos Equis beer featuring "The Most Interesting Man in the World?" Each commercial depicts exploits from the "interesting man's" past, or he offers insight on a particular topic. For example, on the topic of "Life" he says, "It is never too early to start beefing up your obituary."

What we find especially interesting is that the unnamed character is an older man. In fact, he is played by a long-time character actor named Jonathan Goldsmith.

Goldsmith is 71 years old. And he is cool.

Welcome to a new age in American culture, where being "old" is cool. It will be cool pretty much from now on. The reason is simple: the cool people have gotten older and plan on remaining cool.

Sure, we've had cool older people before -- even before the idea of "cool" existed. Long ago, Mark Twain or Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein or Georgia O'Keeffe was cool. More recently, it has been Sean Connery or Maya Angelou or Paul Newman or Sophia Loren.



We live in an America now where one out of every three people exhaling carbon dioxide is age 50 or older. Have you looked around recently? It is hard to miss the AARP-eligible candidates. Thanks to the very large Boomer generation reaching age 50, and the impact modern medicine has had on longevity, we live in a much older country.

That means "old" is in everyone's future. Even advertising's.

Cool older people are already here, making an impact on our society and culture. There's no way you could have convinced anyone in 1986 that the Rolling Stones, then in their early 40s, would be the headline act at the 2006 Super Bowl halftime show. Come on, Keith Richards would still be kicking it in 2006? Yet there they all were, jukin' and jivin' in front of millions at age 62. Cool.

Right now, 62-year-old David Letterman is far ahead of 46-year-old Conan O'Brien in terms of TV households and viewers, even among younger adults, according to Nielsen data.

Madonna is 51 and still fighting off the paparazzi.

Bruce Springsteen, age 60, did six shows at Giant Stadium earlier this fall as part of more than 80 live shows in 2009. He's so cool his band is still hot.

But what's after "cool?" Actually, something even more desirable for those ever-growing-older Boomers: the mantle of wisdom. It comes naturally with age, usually being bestowed on those over 80. When millions of Boomers accumulate wisdom to spare, it will become a trait valued by all.

The trick, quite honestly, is how to evolve from "cool" to "wise"? Fortunately for Boomers, there is time to let our actions make the transition for us. Moving beyond cool to wise is something we will have to do.

In fact, it is easy to predict a new era of contributions from older Boomers who seek to make the world a better place. The contributions will go far beyond the short-sighted viewfinder of popular culture into things that really matter -- social contracts between the haves and the have-nots; balancing our needs with the environment; educating our youth; caring for the health of others; pushing science forward; and who knows what else.

As we accomplish these goals, Boomers will forever transform the role of older people in America. We will be seen as assets -- heroic, wise, visionary, inspirational. And perhaps that will be our greatest achievement.

We will have made it not just cool to grow older; we will have made it meaningful.

15 comments about "We Have Seen The Future, And It Is Old ".
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  1. Roger Toennis from Liquid Media LLC, November 23, 2009 at 9:35 a.m.


    Excellent thoughts on the aging population and how this affects cool. I found this post inspiring and uplifting. Thank you for that!

    The thought that we are about to transition into a time when the human race can efficiently reap a huge crop of wisdom from the people who are in the second half of life gives me some hope we might overcome the massive obstacles and break through to a golden age of peace and rationality.

    ut there is a grave concern also. As you say "the trick" is for people over 50 to make the successful transition from cool to "cool and wise". Each one of us though fights the personal demons of narcissism, selfishness and fear of death. If in our transition toward wise we give into these 3 demons we never reach wise. Instead we collapse into a ball of "selfish conservatism" that is all about denying we are closer to the end of our lives then we are the beginning.

    This is the danger of an aging population to a human society. A critical mass of "selfish conservatism" is what tends to collapse a human society because it stops investing in the future and focuses only on the preservation of the past.

    Read every history of collapsed societies in human history and you will find this common thread of selfish conservatism focused on preserving a "golden past" that never really existed. Lets hope the 1945 -1963 baby boom has more that make the transition to wise than make the transition to "selfish conservatism".


  2. J.j. Sullivan from zig, November 23, 2009 at 10:53 a.m.

    Understandably this post is focused on Boomers as it is in a Boomer section written by a Boomer-focused writer, but I would call into question that solely "the reason is simple: the cool people have gotten older and plan on remaining cool."

    There is a change in up and coming generations that would also seem to affect the perception of "cool". Many Gen Y studies are showing a palpable change in the measure of that generation's view on success, self-worth or "cool". They are not focused on the peak (the gold watch, the title, the brand) as much as the climb. They are focused on acquiring experiences. They are engaged by brands increasingly through experiences.

    When comparing generations, experience is intrinsically what separates the old from the young. Part of the increase of "old cool" is the increased desire for the young to have the many experiences of the old.

  3. Barbara Pflughaupt from BP Media Relations, LLC, November 23, 2009 at 12:30 p.m.

    This is not just about cool. As the economy continues to gyrate there is less spending power for those who are younger. Parents are paying for themselves, their kids and their parents in some cases. So.. the shift of who has the money to spend is also part of why we will see more aimed toward adults. If kids can't get jobs - and their parents cannot afford to indulge them - and grandparents are seeing their retirement dwindle - who had the $? Boomers.

  4. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, November 23, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.

    Matt, I find it a bit of an overstatement that older folks are viewed as 'cool.' 'Accepted' is probably a more apt term. America has always worshipped at the alter of 'achievement,' however you wish to define it, and the fact that more boomers are achieving later in life is great. The notoriety that Springsteen, Newman or Einstein received was due strictly to their achievements, not to their longevity.

    I fear we won't be seeing anonymous boomers as mainstream models for jeans, teeth whitening products or Budweiser anytime soon. Instead, boomer models are restricted to the ghetto of investments, Buicks and little blue pills.

  5. Rodney Brooks from ToTouch One, Inc, November 23, 2009 at 1:15 p.m.

    If one in three Americans are 50 or older, when do our "Golden Years" start to kick in? I always believed the Wise was Cool; I guess it will be up to us to make it meaningful also.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 23, 2009 at 1:42 p.m.

    Cool is also the ability to deal with crap. Crap with the mannorless and commonsenseless youth and crap from the elderly from the illnesses we are not looking forward to and the inability to accept "change is all around". Many of other age groups are not clueless, but there are enough to shred the nerves.

  7. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo, November 23, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    At 56 my wife and I are "cool"... at least in our own minds.

    Plus, we have the wisdom to realize that our happiness doesn't rely on what others measure as cool.

    In fact, we are cooler than most...
    We raised our family in Cool, California 95614, and we are launching a cool new Facebook application for the holidays!

  8. Ian Cross from Bentley University, November 23, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    Are you kidding? I know everyone over 50 still wants to be cool but just because our peers from the 60s, 70s and 80s are still around and churning out worse and worse CDs, concert performances etc. doesn't mean its cool. It's just time to get at ticket to the dog track.
    Sure it's a good strategy to use Keith Richards for the Viagra generation, but really - that's not very cool! The wise never ever try to be cool. They just are

  9. Chuck Nyren from Advertising to Baby Boomers, November 23, 2009 at 4:33 p.m.

    Good piece, Matt! I hope you're right - but my first impression of the campaign was that it's merely a throwback to David Ogilvy's Hathaway Shirt and Schweppes campaigns.

    I blogged it:

  10. Nancy Shaver from experian, November 23, 2009 at 5:47 p.m.

    Not so sure this is about "cool" or aging---suspect it's about following the money...largest population cohort who have received and are receiving the largest transfer of wealth ever (even with the recent crash).

    Suspect they're not spending the bucks on beer though:)

  11. Christopher Laurance from Distraction Marketing, November 23, 2009 at 10:05 p.m.

    The issue for Boomers isn't so much "cool" as addressing the issue of being the "biggest failure ever to exist". After all, had the Boomers followed through with their youthful passions in the 60's, Al Gore would never have done the "Inconvenient Truth" since Chevron, oil and other issues would have been solved decades ago.

    The Boomers have proven, they don't have the heart to produce results about their passions and have passed these passions, along with a good deal of pessimism onto the Millenials.

    Even saying all that, the Boomers have the bucks, no doubt and will continue to own over 70% of all assets in the US.

    So, the future isn't old, but the older Americans will still use some influence and economic power to attempt to live longer healthier happier lives.

  12. Ramaswamy Ramasubbu from bitswoven technologies pvt ltd, November 23, 2009 at 11:41 p.m.

    Don't quite know where the article is from, but the last sentence is a dead giveaway. It's written by someone who's getting old and trying to justify the fact that he/she is no longer the center of attention.

    To put a more cynical spin to normal activity of growing old(er), which target segment of the population will buy cosmetic surgery to "look cool" or "feel young"? You guessed it, the Old or better yet the "Pre-Dead".

    Americans (at least those in the media) have a tendency to mark simple events as though no one anywhere else has ever experienced that. It's annoying and exceeding self-centered. I don't quite know what's more ironic -- actually getting old or pretending that you are still young. Ironically, the penta/octa-generians from The Who still sing "... hope I die before I get old...".

    What's the point in writing this drivel? I don't know. Just blowing off steam with the cognizance that I barely have any hair left and the forces of gravity prevent me from pushing my belly inwards.

    Oh well.....

    I need a hobby and a brand new sports car!

  13. Roger Dubin from Idea Plus Marketing, November 29, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.

    Hey Matt,
    Great and insightful post. I was scrolling down to copy for future reference when I came upon some of the vitriolic commentary and had to smile. Wow! You know something is really good when it inspires such lively debate.
    It will be interesting to see who wins out but one thing is for sure. Those who resent the older generation for all the horrible things they did and didn't do will someday, if they are lucky, also be reaching their 50s and smiling to themselves about how the world has evolved and how different it turned out from what we expected in our youth.
    It reminds me of saying I have taped (magnets don't work on my fridge) on my refrigerator:
    "I wish I could be teenager again because then I would truly know everything"
    Have a good one!

  14. Patricia Philbin from Architect of Communication, December 1, 2009 at 4:34 a.m.

    When I turned 40, I was already starting to get free samples of 'wrinkle-erasing firming anti-age creme' when I bought something at the department stores. I thought, OMG, is this for me??

    I was working in Silicon Valley and everyone around me was just out of school. I liked it! It was fun to be around energetic people who weren't burnt out on life or stuck in their ways. The work ethic was different than what I grew up with, but we got things done. Maybe a little differently than I would have done it, but I learned to be more flexible and open in my management style. That was also positive.

    Today I'm 51 and it's fun to grow old in France. I have a step-daughter who is 26 and she's traditional enough to expect me to be wise and 'mom-like'. But she also wants me to play wii with her and her boyfriend. We have a great time. Older women are still viewed as attractive here so I am not seen as an object of pity or disgust. I eat well and exercise and feel good about myself, and it shows. I feel happy with my place in the circle of life.

    Work-wise, when I go to meetings at ad agencies, it's deja vu to my former days. I had a meeting with people from Sephora's agency and I was the oldest person in the room. Everyone had a lot of good ideas. I don't play the wise old owl, I think before I speak and I pay attention to the timing. I was quiet for a while before I spoke up and added my own thoughts. My ideas were welcomed and we all moved towards a mutual consensus on what to do.

    I had my birthday in October and a friend wrote this in my card....


    “She watched the women who sat around her. She saw spiteful, aging parrots, too heavily made-up, who gazed at the younger ones out of lidless eyes. And young women of brittle elegance, whose knowing looks took in everything but the incomprehensible fascination of simple existence. Only here and there, burning to perishability in the busy emptiness like a lighted candle in the middle of window decorations, was a face that had some magic. Usually an aging one, that confronted age without terror, and on which time lay, not like rust, but like the patina on a noble vessel, intensifying its beauty.”

    Erich Maria Remarque

  15. Brent Bouchez from Five0, December 4, 2009 at 1:06 p.m.


    I have only two words for you on this subject:

    pink socks

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