In this episode…

Join David Hernandez, host of There’s Always a Lyric, as he sits down with David Stewart, the founder of AGEIST, a new media company and agency that champions the vitality, capabilities, and influence of the modern 50+. The two discuss marketing to different demographics, health, fitness, and more!


Episode Transcript

David Hernandez (00:44)

Well, welcome to the latest episode of There’s Always a Lyric and today my guest is David Harry Stewart. Very excited to speak because we got to share our stage a number of years ago at TEDx Asbury Park. And from that moment and hearing him speak to the demographic that I’m very much a part of the 50+ crew, he intrigued me, and he definitely gave me a feeling of wanting to learn more about how I could stay vibrant, and how my wife and I could stay vibrant, maintain a sense of fullness of life through the next part of our journey in life together. And with that, I wanted to give just a quick background on David. David is the founder and the face of AGEIST. He is a passionate champion of the modern 50+ lifestyle and a leading authority on the mindset and aspirations that drive this influential demographic. As the go-to reference on people in our age group, he frequently shares his expertise and insights with major media publications, including the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, CNN, South China Morning Post, Forbes, and Fortune. He also consults for a wide range of Fortune 500 brands and businesses, an entertaining and lively speaker. He delivered the keynote at the Global Wellness Summit in Singapore, The Monocle Quality of Life Conference, HIMSS Las Vegas, and many other large-scale venues. Before he launched AGEIST, Stewart was an award-winning photographer whose work includes multiple magazine covers, and global advertising campaigns. Welcome David Harry Stewart. And wow, that was a lot.


David Stewart (02:22)

Thanks, David. It’s great to be here.


David Hernandez (02:24)

If you can tell us a little bit about AGEIST; share the story of AGEIST and its birth, and the why of AGEIST.


David Stewart (02:31)

Yeah, absolutely. As you mentioned, I have this pretty rockin’ career as a photographer, so Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, that was sort of my gig. And I’ve worked with a lot of high-level stuff, big productions. When I was 56, I was hired by Vice Media, which I think is currently in a state of bankruptcy.


David Hernandez (02:56)

Yeah, which is hard to fathom for a $700 million behemoth but okay.


David Stewart (03:01)

Well, if you saw what I saw there, it would make total sense. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It was just Kabuki theater over there every day. But anyway, they hired me to do this big out-of-home campaign. And it was a big deal. It was like, five months and like seven figures and a bunch of cities and a lot of big out-of-home things. So, billboards. I won’t mention what the product was. The casting specs were 18 to 29. I think we did about 60 of these billboards and 59. The people that we shot didn’t actually buy the product, the parents had bought it. And I thought, weird. I went to the VICE people and the people who are running this particular campaign were really sharp. And I said, “Do you do you know about this? These people aren’t even buying the product, I don’t understand.” They said, “Oh, yeah, we know about that.” So, I was like, “Did you did you tell the client that?” and they’re like, “Oh, no, we wouldn’t do that.” And I said, “Well, I don’t understand, why did you just like suck up like six months of my life and spend a lot of money doing this thing?” And they said, “We sell to younger people because that’s what we know how to do.” It’s like, okay, that was the answer. And then I was just flabbergasted by this. And I thought to myself, how much more of this goes on out there? I was 56 at the time, I was getting older, and my friend was getting older. But we’re only speaking to the same sort of, you know, the age demographic stays the same. Even 29 is sort of like on the upper end. I thought, well, this is curious. So, I did a lot of investigation, looking at consumer spending numbers versus ad spending numbers, all this sort of stuff. And I went back to them, and I said, well, hey, guys, you know, this is this youth marketing. This is very cute, but there’s no money there. The money is all over here. And nobody’s talking to them, and when they are talking to them, they don’t do a very good job of it. And I said, why don’t we do this? And they’re like, well, we can’t do that, because you’re asking us to time travel into the future. And the guy who I was speaking to was in his early 30s, a very sharp guy. And I said, okay, that’s a really fair answer. I appreciate that. Maybe you can’t do it, but I can.


David Hernandez (05:46)

So, this is the itch that needed scratching, right?


David Stewart (05:50)

Yeah, so I just started investigating more and more for about six months, because I was trying to answer the question in my mind. Like, I know, these big companies are not dumb. They’re not run by dummies. The people who do the marketing aren’t dumb. What’s going on? Why is there this constant failure, especially in the imagery? The story, the whole messaging. Why is this going on? So, we found out a lot of reasons for that. There’s a lot of like, well, you know, Bob’s selling to younger people. So, you know, we should sell to younger people, or, you know, our director tops out at 30, 32, creative director about 35. So, these are the people they know, all of the stuff that was sort of targeted, people who are older, was also this massive fail. And it took me a lot, I just did not understand this. So, we eventually figured it out. You know, what happens is, I’m sure you’re aware, and this is why AGEIST just looks so great, why it looks different than everybody else. Because what we do is aspirational, inspirational, and attainable. But nobody else does that. They don’t even think that’s possible. Everything else out there is this sort of infantilized, medicalized, the two nice waspy people in their chinos walking on the beach with the dog like, who is that? So, we do cool. Like, essentially what we say is “cool is ageless”, and that works. It’s not that hard, but like other people can’t seem to do this. So that’s why these brands hire us. And what we do is we tell them, you know, at AGEIST, just every once in a while, we’ll do somebody in their late 40s. But generally, 50 is about the cutoff. About 40% of my audience is under 50, and a quarter of them are under 30.


David Hernandez (07:49)

That’s an interesting data point.


David Stewart (07:51)

What’s up with that? Because they want to be like us. So again, inspirational, aspirational, attainable. That was sort of the genesis, and we knew in the beginning, VICE was around, there were all these sort of digital media companies, there was the Skimm or BuzzFeed, there was like all this stuff. And you’ll notice, like that didn’t work out so well for anybody. And we had looked at the financials of these companies, and what we could tell we were like, this just doesn’t work. You’re spending 10, 20, 50 million on churn every month; is that ever gonna work out? Our initial model was B2B, and we produced a very primitive newsletter, we sent it to 50 of our friends, and our grand ambition was they would remain our friends after we sent them this thing. And they did, and now we have this pretty large global audience, and we still work for brands. We now serve our reader base.


David Hernandez (09:04)

You had this by any measure, an incredible career as a photographer. What made you choose the sort of business model in the way that you have? Because when I look at the magazine today, there’s something there for everybody, for whatever you’re interested in, basically, whether it’s from the nutrition side, technology side, gosh, fashion, which is like that’s a whole other conversation about how we’re treated meaning, and you kind of debunked that. With that whole fashion section where there’s cool stuff to be had for people our age.


David Stewart (09:43)

What we try and serve is we’re really clear on who we’re talking to. And I think that this is whenever a brand comes to me, I make him get you know, there’s sort of a come to Jesus moment. It’s like, who you’re really talking to because what happens is these brands, they look at the statistics, and they’re like, oh, gosh, a trillion dollars in consumer spending the fastest growing market, and then they get all a hot and bothered about and they want, oh, wow, I want all that. And it’s like, guys, you can’t have all of that our data people tell us it’s about 18% of the population like, 50 to 65,70, something like that, and it may be more than 70. But this sort of data sort of falls off at a certain point and so what we do is, every week, we do a profile, which is an example of like, here’s a person, here’s what they look like, and this is how they live. And these are the sort of the challenges they’ve had, and this is where they are now maybe you can learn from this. And I think we all as human beings, learn by story. Especially in our age demographic, the most important thing about a story is what it looks like because that’s the biggest difference between us and somebody who’s 25. We think a little differently and stuff. But basically, the big difference is we look different. So, what does it look like? I come out of a visual background, that’s important. But then there’s the whole sort of 360 ecosystem around this. What are the things that impacted, of course, anything to do with physicality is massive. So, we talked a lot about that. There’s also a lot of confusion with people who like me included, I’m 64, there is no way when I was like 25, thinking that this is what 64 was going to be. Like, our big mission is to expand people’s imagination, about what is going on and what could be going on. And it just puts some other things on the menu, like you don’t have to take them. But just to let you know, they’re there. If you want to do this, like, here you go,


David Hernandez (12:04)

You’ve done a number of very interesting profiles on AGEIST. Is there one that stands out in your mind just because it was so interesting, or fascinating to you how this person got from point A to not point B but point Z in their life, right?


David Stewart (12:19)

You’re asking me to pick my favorite child?


David Hernandez (12:22)

Yeah, that’s impossible. Impossible.


David Stewart (12:24)

Joan MacDonald, Joan MacDonald, who’s now reasonably famous, she’s got, I don’t know a few million people on Instagram. When we found her, it was like 30,000. We did Joan, about three or four years ago, it was pre-pandemic. And so, Joan’s story is, when she was like 69 or 70, I want to say she was, like, over 200 pounds, had a bag of medications that was essentially a blob, sitting in a chair, and you’re looking at chronic disease.


David Hernandez (13:01)

I remember reading this, this is amazing. Go ahead.


David Stewart (13:05)

And her daughter was a trainer. And her daughter, and I, when I did a podcast, I had the two of them on. We profile Jamba Juice on the podcast, there’s like the two of them, I asked them, like, how did this go? Right? And her daughter, Michelle said, well, I just called up, Joan. And I said, Listen, this can go two ways. The first way is you continue doing what you’re doing, and I’m out of your life. I’m not going to watch this happen, because I know what’s going to happen is not good. Way number two, you come down and see me and we take care of this problem. And so, Joan was like, okay, I’ll choose B. So, the last time I spoke to Joan was about a year ago, and I think she’s like 133 pounds. Joan could do 10 dead hang pull-ups with a 25-pound weight. I’m a strong guy, and that’s still like, that’s not nothing. Joan is buff. And she had no background in physicality before; zero. So when, like, when people tell me like, oh, geez, you know, I’m 50 I can’t, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I say no, you just don’t want to do it. That’s different and I can respect that. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But don’t tell me you can’t do it. Because I’ve seen I mean, you know, since Joan, I don’t know what it is like dozens and dozens of people have done the same thing. Most of them are women, which is the other thing. Oh, I’ve gone through menopause. I can’t do this anymore. You know, okay. If you want to believe it, that’s a belief system and you should have a look at that first. You know, I like to point out people like that, there are people who’ve made really dramatic changes in their health. I mean, like one of these got to understand is your, we do a lot of research on this. And your behavior is predicated upon how you see yourself in the future, you will behave in a way to cause you to think you get along, you know, runway ahead of you, you’re going to cause that to happen, you’re going to invest in yourself, you’re going to take care of yourself. It’s a different mindset. If you think it’s game over in three years, it’s a very different behavior pattern. And all this sits upon guess what, your body. Do you feel one way about your body? And I don’t mean like, looking great. It’s just like, how well is your body working? And that, you know, conservatively, people say it’s like 80% behavior, I think is like 95% behavior. It’s really, and this is one of the things that we keep hammering home, people have agency, what, what they do matters, like, you know, you didn’t, you weren’t, you know, struck by obesity and high blood pressure, this is not an act of God, this is an act of you. Which is wonderful because you can just decide not to, you know, you can undo that. You can change, if you want to, I mean, if you want to, like do that I have no problem with people living their lives, they can do whatever they want to do. And like I said, our job is we just put options on the menu.


David Hernandez (16:52)

And it seems like when you start looking at it carefully, you can make minor changes that have a major, major impact. You know, you’re not asking somebody to become a world-class weightlifter, you’re just asking them to get up and move.


David Stewart (17:09)

If they want to.


David Hernandez (17:13)

If they’re looking at the idea of what you said before they want some longevity and quality of life in that longevity.


David Stewart (17:19)

Yeah, and not everybody wants that. And I’m okay with that. But if you do, I can show you how to do that. And so much of it is just being purposeful and understanding that behaviors have results. You know, they have consequences, they have results. And defending that, you can’t fully control what happens. You can sort of direct that, but you can 100% control; nobody is shoving a Twinkie in your mouth. The Twinkie gets in your mouth, you did that. My martial arts teacher at World Martial Arts in New York told me I could do things I didn’t think I could do. You know my friend now Geneva, who’s from West Africa, who ran Geneva Dance and Drum, for five years, I suffered through learning how to do, I’m used to like the skinny white guy who’s like, Black Chicks from Fort Greene. And I learned how to do African dance. Learning these things that seem incomprehensible, completely incomprehensible. And they’re like, no, no, like, you can do this here. Let me let me just show you. You know, I guess in a sort of, a more of a business kind of way, Jonathan Chung, who’s my friend is the head of Global Design at Levi’s is, a very smart guy, he’s running, trying to save the GAP. I don’t know if that can be done. But anybody can do it, you can do it.


David Hernandez (19:08)

They were people in your life, not necessarily, like a business mentor or whatever. They’re almost like friends and coaches all at the same time, in their own way. And to end that, I want to ask you about yourself and all that. Yes, you’ve got a lot going on. How do you find balance? Where do you find that? That teeter-totter?


David Stewart (19:31)

I think balance is enormously overrated. It’s massively overrated. Like, like, if you want to get shit done, and you will make an impact. That’s not balanced. Like you just got to, you got to do it. And it requires a lot. It requires a lot. I think when I was a photographer, people I dated they’re like, oh, why don’t you go like, why aren’t you taking off, you know, the weekend or something or when you’re doing this, it’s like, no, it’s like a way of life. It was like, all-encompassing and it’s not a job. Jobs are much easier. With a job, you show up, you do a thing for a period of time, there’s compensation coming, there’s a regularity of predictability to things. And I’ve never had a job, so I don’t function in that way. That’s the other thing, if anybody’s thinking about starting a business, this is not for the faint of heart, it requires a certain sort of ability to accept delusion. I sort of look at it as you’re driving down the road at night, and your headlights only see so far. So, you can’t see to that point after that point, I mean, who knows? One of the other things I’ve noticed with, you know, working with a lot of these different companies and sort of like it, this idea of foundational values. And one of the things that I learned when I was photography is, as a photographer, you’re nothing unless you have a sense of authorship. So, if your stuff looks like everybody else’s stuff, which I have to say 99.9% of photographers out there now are just afraid of offending someone and not having any sense of authorship and just being as bland as possible. That wasn’t the way when I started in like the 80s. That just wouldn’t work. You had to be like, what was your vision? What was your sense of authorship and so that sort of led me to this idea of foundational values. And whenever we work with someone, or even here at AGEIST, like, this is not a democracy. I’m not doing focus groups, like, okay, you don’t like it. Fine. I appreciate that. Thank you. I like it. And that’s how I do it. And I think that the huge mistake that people make is, they get outside of that. And they say, and I can’t tell you how many of these things I’ve seen fail, where you get, like, a couple of very smart, can be men or women, and they say, oh, this opportunity over here, oh, we’re gonna go do that. But it’s outside of their experience and their values, and they’re just sort of seeing this, they’re looking at math. And it doesn’t work. And it’s essential that whatever you’re doing is aligned with this sense of foundational values, and the thing that differentiates you, and whatever you’re doing is your vision, your sense of authorship, and your values. I’m gonna tell you a stat you’re gonna love. Do you know what my open rate is? 68%.


David Hernandez (23:28)

That doesn’t even sound real.


David Stewart (23:34)

Who’s got an open rate like that?


David Hernandez (23:39)

No one, zero. That’s amazing. It comes back to the purity of the why. Which is your why and that’s the foundational piece that set the whole thing in motion to begin with. That’s the driver.


David Stewart (23:54)

That’s the driver. That’s the through line. Right? That’s the, you know, I’ve heard it described as like, the, like, if you took the American government, the Constitution is as foundational values, and then all these other laws and everything that’s on the books, and all this other stuff, is sort of the organizational values, but you need to have that foundation that’s locked in stone that will not move. And then you can apply that vision that focuses on other things, but you need to have that.


David Hernandez (24:24)

That is 100% true. And that’s the only thing that eventually rings true to people because people can sense that and feel that through the output of the product that’s delivered to them. And conversely to the other side, when you’re just doing it out of opportunity, and not really because you believe in it because you’re really not connected to it. That whole section right now to me is foundational to anybody that wants to start any kind I don’t care what the business is. I don’t care if it’s a service business, or if it’s a product business, what have you, everything you just said is, is, that’s, that’s where the rubber meets the road, essentially.


David Stewart (25:09)

If you’re gonna get a job, it’s got to be aligned, like your values, whatever’s going on in the job in the company, it has to be aligned, otherwise, you’re a miserable person.


David Hernandez (25:21)

100%, then it’s really, it’s a job that’s drudgery.


David Stewart (25:29)

Horrible. Why would you? Your life is short, do you want to do that? You have options.


David Hernandez (25:31)

That’s a great dovetail back to our conversation about AGEIST’s mission and about life and what we do with that life, with that runway that’s in front of us, specifically for our age group. I’m going to go on a limb and just say, I think you’ll see a lot of optimism for that. For this part of our lives. Continuing optimism.


David Stewart (25:54)

Well yeah, and I think, you know, my original degree was mechanical engineering.


David Hernandez (26:02)

Well, stop, wait, how many lives have you had?


David Stewart (26:09)

A few. But, you know, because of that training, I have the ability to read sort of science at a low level, I’m not at the, you know, people we’re taught are like Nobel Prize level. That’s not me. But I can understand what they’re talking about. And the reasons for optimism are, we are going to be living much, much longer. If you can keep yourself healthy, and not do some stupid and die, you’re going to be around for a very, very long time, more so than I think anybody is imagining. And what this does is that it increases the optionality we have, and you increase the amount of time that you make the runway longer. If you’re 60. And you’ve got say, a 15-year runway, that’s one thing. If you’re 60, and you’ve got a 50- or 60-year runway, it’s a very different thing, we’re gonna be living a lot longer than we may have expected to you know, a lot of the reasons that we’re skeptical of this is because you and I were both promised flying cars. We don’t have flying cars. This is not flying car territory. So, you know, I’m seeing what’s happening with genetic reprogramming with you know, there’s like four or five other really super impactful things that are happening in terms of lifespan health span. And I think things look very promising that way, and it’s gonna be quite disorienting. I think that we’re going to see, you know, we’ve got like two or three generational workforces, we’re only going to go to five. What happens to capital distribution? What happens to retirement? What happens to healthcare today? A whole lot of things out there that didn’t get addressed. Sort of a wonderful time to be our age.


David Hernandez (28:20)

I have one more question. You’re a busy guy. You know the title, There’s Always a Lyric, and that’s the conceit here. My final question is if there was a song title or a song lyric, that best captures you or your life story, what would it be?


David Stewart (28:36)

Okay, so I’m gonna be politically incorrect here. You’re going to a lot of hate mail for this. Kanye West, Stronger.


David Hernandez (28:43)

Wow, that’s a good one.


David Stewart (28:36)

The dude is nuts, batshit crazy, but he’s good at what he does.


David Hernandez (28:54)

You know, it’s trust the art, not the artist.


David Stewart (28:58)

Exactly, don’t trust him. Get the meds, Kanye, get the meds.


David Hernandez (29:04)

Seriously. That is perfect for you. That captures the mission. It’s you and it’s the mission because they’re both the same thing. I just want to say, thank you. Thank you for making the time to do this. And, you know, I can’t wait to get my next newsletter. I just got the most recent one and I read through it. And what I wish for you, I just wish much-continued health, vitality, and strength, and we’ll hopefully meet again and talk again. Thanks again for joining us.


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