Adam Hunt will tell you he has been young & stupid his entire life. He has no plans to change, although he gave up smoking weed years ago.
Adam has lived and worked in Sydney, Singapore, Amsterdam, London, New York and currently lives in a remote fishing village on the wild coast of Taiwan where he’s attempting to build a bar out of a boat and learn Mandarin. And freelance. His work is in the permanent collection of MOMA, he’s been published by Random House, and his Gold Lions were doorstops in his bar, until someone stole them. Adam’s work has been banned, he’s survived a brain tumor, and he likes to jump off volcanos in a hang glider. He’s broken the same leg twice.
The first ad he wrote after a decade out of advertising has the word “fuck” in the voiceover & has had over 70 million views. The second made history by helping to get Voluntary Euthanasia Laws up in Australia – which Adam wrote while his mother was dying & asking for help to end her suffering.
He loves writing ideas that matter. And art direction, design, photography and making stuff with his hands. And we love the words Adam shares that put it all – advertising, life (note: those are two separate things) -- into perspective.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
Not really – I was a late starter by industry standards. My 20’s were mainly concerned with growing my hair, smoking weed & flying hang gliders. I didn’t start seriously kicking around agencies until I was about 27.
By my 30’s I was having so much fun I thought it would go on forever. Young people are stupid like that.
By my 40’s I felt that the industry had run out of fun - the data dickheads & bean counters who knew the cost of everything (but the value of nothing) had all but shut down the compelling circus of creativity I loved. I was a young & stupid CD at the time.
"...the data dickheads & bean counters who knew the cost of everything (but the value of nothing) had all but shut down the compelling circus of creativity I loved."
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.
I’ve never faced ageism, but bring it on – I’ve faced far worse.
I’ve walked away from the Industry twice - once for 2 years when I was 33 after surviving a brain tumor – which is a 6 beer story for another time.
The second break for 10 years happened at the age of 44 - the industry drove me to drink so opening a few bars seemed like a good idea.
But now I’m back for another ride - because I’ve never stopped loving ideas. Headhunters probably won’t call me but maybe someone reading this will. The first ad I wrote after my 10 year break had over 70 million views. I think I can still do this. The next ad I wrote made history – helping to get Voluntary Euthanasia Laws up in Australia. While I was writing that ad my mother was dying a slow horrible death - and asked me for help to end her suffering. That puts concerns about ageism into perspective.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
My path has always been my own. I remember waking up from a 1 week coma after my first hang gliding accident in 1984. Everyone I knew was saying things like: “You’ll never do that crazy fucking stupid thing ever again will you”? Everyone except my beautiful brother Simon, who gave me an art book in which he inscribed:
“Dear Brother – a good life involves risk”, which is the mantra of the young & stupid. I still fly.
As for the reality of the ad industry – it has almost none, and that’s the problem. Advertising talks largely to itself in a language that bears little relation to how real people actually speak. It’s obsessed with the technology to shove an idea in someone’s face, but with little thought of how an idea must engage once it’s there. All the data in the world won’t save a shit idea.You saw 3500 ads yesterday - how many do you remember?
"All the data in the world won’t save a shit idea. You saw 3500 ads yesterday - how many do you remember?"
What are your thoughts on where you are now, as you look back on your creative journey?
I’d rather look forward.
Right now I live in a remote rustic fishing village on the wild north coast of Taiwan called Yehliu, where my wife was born. We’re attempting to do a bar here, which I want to build out of an old boat. I’m having an enduring love affair with ideas – and whether that’s building something out of what I found on the beach, writing & art directing an ad, working on a branding concept, designing a bar, shooting some stills, watching my wife paint ghosts on the roof, or trying to learn Mandarin - it’s all part of my continuing & evolving creative journey. It’s been an interesting ride so far but I think my best work’s in front of me.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Life experience. You won’t find it on Youtube.
I owe everything to great mentors. They encouraged me, criticized me, inspired me and yelled at me when I deserved it. Mostly. They gave me their wisdom and time. Time is the most expensive thing we have.
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
If you love working in ad agencies keep going hard. Otherwise, you’ve spent years coming up with ideas that make your clients & agencies rich - so come up with an idea for yourself.
Also, invest in some Kevlar body armour.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
Lots of duct tape. That stuff can hold anything together.
What’s one thing the industry could do to make you think they are taking combating ageism seriously?
It’d be nice to get a few creative projects (link to Adam's site here). I find it insane that an entire industry thinks that because I’m over 50, with over 25 years of experience in 6 different countries that somehow I’ve reached my use-by date. How did a creative industry lose all respect for people who create?
"I find it insane that an entire industry thinks that because I’m over 50, with over 25 years of experience in 6 different countries, that somehow I’ve reached my use-by date."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
The pendulum has swung so far in favour of cost over value that I don’t see much change unless there’s a financial incentive for the industry to do so. It takes experience to create & execute ideas, but that process has been completely devalued. From what my friends tell me it’s probably easier to get pedophilia out of the Catholic Church than ageism out of Advertising. Perhaps we need a great campaign. A good idea can sell stuff, but a great idea can change how people think.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
A 10 year hiatus, which let me enjoy the years I would have wasted in meetings.
I tried some new things, with both success & failure.
I’ve raised awareness about Suicide.
I’ve helped get Voluntary Euthanasia Laws passed, because when someone you love dies a bad death, their pain lives on.
I’ve also learned how to mix the perfect Espresso Martini.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Frank Zappa, when he said "Without music, life's just a series of dates by which bills must be paid."