Commentary

Industry Position On Ponytails Unwavering

Editor's Note: This APPEARS to be a parody of the recent papal ruling on homosexuality in the Church, but one can never be sure with George....

The 4As published its long-awaited document on ponytails worn by aging agency executives Tuesday, saying men with "deep-seated" ponytail tendencies should not become CEOs, but those with a "transitory problem" could be if they had overcome the tendencies for three years.

The official release of the "Instruction" from the Congregation for Esthetic Education came a week after an online ad news pub posted a leaked copy on its Web site. As a result, the document's contents were already known.

Reaction has been mixed, with conservatives saying it may help reverse the "youthful-at-any-cost-no-matter-how-ridiculous" culture that has developed in many U.S. agencies. Liberal critics have complained that the restrictions will create morale problems among existing creatives and lead to an even greater talent shortage in the United States. Some observers also have raised questions about exactly what the document means by a "deep-seated ponytail tendency," since a definition isn't provided.

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The head of the education congregation defended the document as a clear reflection of 4As teaching, saying "in this field, in today's world, there is some confusion."

"Many defend the position when the ponytail condition is a normal condition for the human being, as if it were perfectly fine for a 50-year-old man in midlife crisis to have such a style," a 4As spokesperson told Donny Deutsch. He also made clear that the Instruction is intended for candidates for agency leadership and not someone who "discovers his ponytailality after having been a creative for 20 years."

The spokesman said such a person "has to try to live in the real world... maybe he will need more spiritual support than others, but I think he should be a creative in the best way possible."

Bob Liodice wrote in his ANA Weblog that the phrase could be interpreted as concerning men with a "permanent ponytail orientation." "But this cannot be correct since, as I have said, there are many excellent creatives who have ponytails and who clearly have a vocation from Bill Bernbach.

"Having worked with copywriters, producers and account executives all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call aging men with ponytails to the ad business, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive executives I have met," he wrote.

O. Burtch Drake approved the "Instruction" on Aug. 31 and ordered it published--one of the first major documents he has approved for release since being elected 4As President in 1994.

The document has been years in the works, but its existence came to light in 2002 at the height of the hair-care abuse scandal in the United States. A study commissioned by U.S. agency executives found that most abuse victims since 1950 were people who had to deal with a fat, old male guy in a ponytail on a day-to-day basis.

Experts on hair-care offenders say ponytailuals are no more likely than men with normal hair to frighten young people, but that did not stifle questions about age-inappropriate hairstyles.

The document restates 4As' teaching that deep-seated ponytail tendencies are "objectively disordered," but that executives with them should be treated with respect and shouldn't be discriminated against. "In light of such teaching... the ad industry, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the business or to local Ad Clubs those who practice ponytailality, present deep-seated midlife crisis tendencies or support the so-called 'youth culture,'" it says.

Such men can't be agency presidents because they are in a situation that "gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women," it says. But it distinguishes such men from others with ponytailality tendencies "that were only the expression of a transitory problem--for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded."

"Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before making the leap to the front office," it says.

The document is short--nine pages, including the title page and footnotes that make up the bulk of the text.

Disclaimer: George Simpson, who issued a light-hearted jab at Revenue Science in last week's column, consults with its competitor Tacoda.

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