If you are old enough to be featured on this site, you’re old enough to have once been willing to do pretty much anything to work for Nick Cohen at Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the agency he founded. Every single thing that came out of the place – whether it was a national tv spot or a regional coupon ad -- was brilliantly simple and simply brilliant.
Over the years, Nick continued to play a part in creating a whole lot more brilliant work, including one of our all-time faves – Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man.” Personally, we are thrilled to finally learn the identity of one of the people who helped to create the very first spot. That’s not to knock the many (many) people who went on to continue the campaign (we wish we were two of them), but it’s the birth of this idea that truly leaves us in awe.
These days Nick's desire to do great work is still as strong as ever. He likes to keep busy creative directing and writing for agencies like Goodby Silverstein as well as working directly with clients through the marketing consultancy he leads called Englishmen. From the intro page that’s filled with humble words, tea references and politeness, it appears to be aptly named – definitely less mad dog and quite English. And it appears we'd still do pretty much anything to get to work with Nick.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I don’t think so, but maybe unconsciously I did. My industry heroes growing up were older, seasoned icons. People like David Abbott, John Hegarty, Paul Arden, Lee Clow, Tibor Kalman, Milton Glaser. These were the masters to learn from. I think I grew up in a slightly different time. There was a lot more reverence. Star creatives were true properties. Clients moved business to agencies just to have these minds thinking about their products. Like Steve Jobs wanting the leadership of a Lee Clow. Maybe that was just my POV as a younger creative, fascinated with just being a part of a glamorous industry, full of iconic names and brilliant minds.
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
Definitely. It’s really depressing. As I got older, I started to feel self conscious, ashamed, isolated, insecure….wow...ashamed...I can’t believe I wrote that. That’s ageism right there. I didn’t want anyone to know I was getting older. It became a personal secret. I’d throw out AARP mailings in disgust. I felt exposed. I remember being asked my age by a youngster and I said “guess?”. They said 48, which was dramatically off, but I didn’t correct them. I felt terrible inside. None of this had anything to do with my love of ideas or confidence in my writing. I still felt I could do great work, even do better work in fact, as I had so much more so say and life experience to be inspired by. Fuck...did I just out myself as over 60? Oh well, too late now. Shit!
I think the main challenge of getting older is that people stop investing in you for your future, but for your past. You did this, or you did that. That’s a big problem, because the future is far more exciting. The ONLY solve for that is to keep your work as current as possible. I loved that 83-year-old artist David Hockney is doing massive room size paintings just using an i-Pad. That’s inspiring.
"I think the main challenge of getting older is that people stop investing in you for your future, but for your past."
Tell us about your own creative journey. What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
I started in the industry as a tea boy! Making tea and fetching snacks for everyone in the creative department. After a while I’d be given little projects nobody cared about. I think my early work was really awful. Very gimmicky. I was trying way too hard to do something “creative”. It took me a while to suddenly realize that making ads was less about striving for originality or cool design for the sake of it, and much more about just connecting with people more honestly and getting a genuine emotional reaction. That was the big aha! moment for me. Suddenly my work started to get noticed. It became fun. I realized that ideas you had to “sell” probably weren't that good. The ones everyone talked about always sold themselves. I think that’s the same now.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Somewhat. I think it's important to always be learning new things, mastering new tools, new platforms. That’s the job. If you were a surgeon, still using antique tools that would be crazy! As everything moves forward, I know that being on that progress train is where the fun is.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Honesty and kindness. Empathy, encouragement. Respect. I think collaboration and openness is more important than experience. The best lesson I ever learned from an over-50-year-old was to stay humble. A great example is Jeff Goody and Rich Silverstein. I remember noticing how they treat every person and every idea with complete respect, whoever shares it.
"The best lesson I ever learned from an over-50-year-old was to stay humble."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Kill yourself...just kidding! Don’t ever rest on your laurels. Always be a beginner. Be open and kind. Be yourself.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Faking my age as much as possible. Jumping on every project like it’s my big chance to do something awesome. I spent the last year working at Facebook learning so many new things. Just keep growing and remember to trim my ear hair. A big wooden box.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
It’s economics. If older people want to stay working, they need to price themselves more humbly, so they represent value and a good deal. Then do great work. I also think agencies should sell themselves on depth of experience and diversity of brainpower. Clients need to understand that leads to richer thinking and bigger success.
"It’s economics. If older people want to stay working, they need to price themselves more humbly, so they represent value and a good deal. Then do great work."
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
The best thing is that because of social media advertising has been forced to change from being intrusive to being much more engaging and interesting. Nobody likes boring and nobody has to put up with it. Thank God! My favorite thing is that tools have enabled creatives to be more in control of making things. With a laptop and a lively mind, you can pretty much make anything, even if it’s just a prototype. It’s so fun.
Who/what do you look to for inspiration?
My heart. ❤️