By Ed Thompson

I got laid up with a migraine headache the other day. I’ve dealt with them for most of my adult life. For me, migraines don’t come on gradually like the changing of the seasons. They are a radical, immediate, and painful invasion of my cranium. Every neuron fires at once while all the blood vessels that intertwine my brain constrict and restrict the flow of oxygen through this huge melon they call my head.

I cry like a little girl.

Not much I can do for them really. Over the counter medications are as useless as using a pinwheel to power a wind turbine and prescription drugs are an odyssey in futility. About the only thing I can do is go to bed and use my body’s natural healing powers to sleep it off. Hopefully, when I wake, it remains as nothing more than a dull ache until fading away like my beloved Chicago Cubs in September.

Just last week, I put on my first pair of bifocals. Vanity was finally defeated by the inability to read. Since putting on my first pair of brown, horn rimmed glasses at the age of 8, I finally had to succumb to inevitability. I take some small solace that my flex plan covered the cost. The irony of a pair of stylish Brooks Brothers® frames being covered by a pre-tax medical plan is not lost on me. Welcome to your 40’s, Ed. How do you like the show so far?

If it sounds like I’m bitching, I beg your forgiveness. I’m at a crossroads. Not the kind of lonely crossroads outside Middle-Of-Nowhere, Mississippi where I trade my immortal soul to the Devil in exchange for the ability to write a commercial that will win a coveted Radio Mercury or even a RAP award. No. My crossroads is more like the intersection of two interstate highways where vehicles move at more than 70 miles per hour and don’t yield to merging traffic.

The road I travel is the Baby Boomer Highway. I am one of the last born of the oft-chronicled progeny of the Greatest Generation. I was born near the end of a two-decade period time between 1946 and 1965 when the most selfish, self-centered, self-serving generation of children were delivered onto this planet; a generation so self-absorbed that they had to invent stuff to be stressed out about. Our parents and grandparents had the Great Depression and World War II. We have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

If you’ve attended any seminars put on by Wizard Of Ads author, Roy Williams or any graduate of his Wizard Academy, you’ve learned about the book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by Neil Howe and William Strauss. If not, the short synopsis of the book is that history can be marked by the passing of four distinct generations; fixed sequentially in forty years cycles and they have repeated several times since the Americas were first colonized back in 1594. It’s fascinating reading if you read it like a textbook instead of a novel. This book should be required reading for anyone in our field. It should occupy a space right next to the Wizard Of Ads and the Calvin And Hobbes Treasury. It’s available right now at for $11.53. Shipping not included.

The road I travel is Baby Boomer Highway and I want off. The road I want on is the Hip Hop Highway. That’s the road where travel the generation that’s up and coming. Although no one I know of has specifically called them the “Hip Hop Generation.” I’ve heard Generation X, Generation Y, or even the Forgotten Generation. Whatever their name, they have one paramount refrain which had better be adopted by those of us who do what we do. That refrain is, “Don’t bullshit me.”

“Don’t bullshit me.” Learn it. Love it. Live it. Plastic banana, good time rock and roller FM types crash and burn with these next generation folks. No more “friendly, knowledgeable staff,” no more “lowest prices in town,” and no more “most” this or “best” that. The truth is, we have to tell the truth. Correction. We have to get our clients to tell the truth. We have to educate our clients that if they wish to continue their success, they must change their advertising approach to this new generation of consumers.

Why? Because this new generation is wired. Not John Belushi wired. Wired as in, instant communication wired. They have cell phones, they have email, they have text messaging, they have web spaces. In other words, if Client A promises fast, friendly service to Customer Y and Client A fails to deliver on said promise, Customer Y will get on their phones, text, email or post their bad experience to all of their friends, and all of their friends will do the same. As a result, Client A’s promise of fast, friendly service in their ads falls on many dozens of deaf ears in just a very short amount of time.

How do we relate then, to the new generation? Be real. They know they’re listening to a commercial. Break the fourth wall, ala Ferris Bueller once in a while. Let them know that you know that they’re in on the joke. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Know what I mean? Make fun of our medium with parodies of some of the dumb phrases and clichés which we’ve used over the years. Even talk to their emotions about their situation in which they need a product from Client A.

The task ahead of us now is to stay relevant. I figure I have another 20 to 30 years before I retire. If I want to continue working in this business for those 20 to 30 years, I had better be looking beyond the curve and keep my skills sharp. And after looking at the new Adobe Audition 2.0, the days of the digital audio workstation which looks and feels like multi-track tape are done.

Where’s my sharpening stone? I have work to do.

On my reading list this month:

The Debater’s Treasury by William Pettinger ©1891 Penn Publishing

The Media In America; A History by William David Sloan & James D. Stuartt ©1996 Vision Press

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