June 20, 2016

Creative Equals | Creating advertising more women (and men) buy

As a woman working in advertising, you’d think that an event about equality for women in advertising would be just my kind of thing, right? Right, but the problem is that it should be everyone’s ‘kind of thing’. Luckily, the audience at Creative Equals’ first event was fairly diverse. And just as well, as the main message from all speakers was that addressing the gender inequality in advertising is going to take a bit of teamwork.

So, what’s the problem exactly? We’ve got more female creative directors than ever before, and we’re currently riding a wave of ‘Fempowerment’ advertising. You only have to look at the overwhelmingly positive reactions to spots such as Like A Girl by Always. We’ve certainly made progress, and our last speaker of the evening, Eloise Smith, ECD at MullenLowe Profero, insisted that now is actually a great time to be a woman in advertising.

But it wasn’t always like this. Having more female creative directors doesn’t mean equality if those directors have swallowed the misogynistic advertising culture of the past, and are simply regurgitating it now. And the numbers are still painfully unequal, with only 11.5% of CDs being female.

Rachel Pashley, global brand planning partner at JWT, even called out some ‘Fempowerment’ advertising as detrimental to the feminist cause. Rachel explained that some of these ads actually bring you down as a woman just so they can swoop in and rescue you. And when these pro-women ads that actually are empowering, we don’t want them to become part of a trend, with a shelf-life like all the others.

Rachel also highlighted how businesses and advertisers need to wake up to ‘female capital’; she wasn’t the only speaker to mention how women are responsible for 80% of spending. So isn’t it in the industry’s best interests not to alienate us as consumers?

Simon Richings, creative partner at AnalogFolk, brought an entirely new perspective to the debate. He would of course, being a man. Describing how women are not the only ones to suffer stereotyping, Simon highlighted two damaging male stereotypes in contemporary advertising: ‘Stupid Dads’ and ‘Hot Guys’. It’s only when Simon put a name to these portrayals of men that I began to recognise how common they were. I was dismayed to see the (thankfully banned) Huggies ‘Dad Test’ ad Simon shared. The spot went as far as to suggest that dads are so stupid, they can’t even look after their own babies. Then, of course, the mother has to help them, and thus the stereotype hurts both genders. On the other end, we have the ‘Hot Guy’: a god-like, and unrealistic, man who appears in adverts unrelated to beauty products. There’s no doubt that these stereotypes, and the pressures placed on the shoulders of men by advertisers, entertainers, and the media, contribute to the biggest killer of men under 45: suicide.

It’s clear, then, that inequality and stereotyping are more than just women’s problems. But Hayley Mills, International Strategy Manager at OMD, claimed the problem is even more far-reaching. Hayley spoke about diversity of race, age and physical ability as well as gender. And as Laura pointed out earlier in the evening, the recent attack in a gay club in Florida demonstrates what happens when stereotypes of any kind aren’t destroyed.

Hayley insisted that just as there’s ‘female capital’, there’s ‘diverse capital’ that isn’t being tapped into; so many disabled people are ignored by businesses who don’t make their products accessible. The best way to convince businesses to change in this regard is to show them the rewards. Like that if fashion brands included Black and Asian people in their advertising, they would be attracting an audience who spend 44% more on clothes.

Being more inclusive of everyone not only benefits the brands, it benefits the ad agencies who work for them. Laura, also co-founder of The Great British Diversity Experiment, explained that diversity agency-side enables the ‘authentic self’ to come through – a self that is free from masks, and comfortable enough to be fully creative. Of course this means diversity in terms of race and gender, but equally it includes things like passions, and anything that makes us unique. When we build creative teams from two (or more) truly authentic people, their distinct experiences, outlook and ideas can spark off each other. This produces far better work than if the minds that had created it were the same.

Both Laura and Simon agreed that the solution for us as advertisers in reaching diverse audiences and side-stepping stereotypes, is empathy. Laura claimed empathy is even more important than the holy grail of adland: ideas. You can see where she’s coming from. Empathy allows you to see to beauty in diversity, and highlight it in your ideas. Simon referenced possibly my favourite TV ad of the year so far – Lynx’s ‘Find Your Magic’ spot – as a positive example that celebrates the diversity of things that can make a man attractive.

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Laura’s advice to creatives starting out is to tackle briefs that are different from what you are familiar with, ones that show you can understand people different than yourself. Yes, she agreed that the big changes need to happen at the top, but we always have a choice who at the top we’re working for, and giving our creativity to.

The reality is, ads such as ‘Like A Girl’ are very niche, so what can we do to change ordinary advertising? Eloise thinks we should consider the three L’s: Lusting, Leading and Laughing. We need to show female desire more in advertising. Only 5% of women think that advertising understands what they find sexy, so Simon’s ‘Hot Guy’ stereotype is not only damaging to men, it’s off the mark when it comes to attracting women too! When it comes to portraying leadership, advertising hasn’t caught up to entertainment. You only need to look at Game of Thrones, where all the most badass leaders are female. We need to allow women to be the lead in ads, and not just when we’re selling tampons and surface wipes. We need to show women laughing. It’s sadly unrepresentative of our senses of humour that men’s brands are funny, but women’s are serious. Women value humour highly, so whether you’re trying to get us to go on a date with you, or buy your product, you need to make us laugh. All this is really about advertising demonstrating that it knows women, not stereotypes of women. Speaking from personal experience, as a woman of mixed race, Hayley described how incredibly isolating it is when you don’t see yourself reflected in any media or advertising. And Rachel believed that we don’t need a brand to save us, only to see us as we really are.

One brand which does this very well is Nike Women. AKQA are the agency behind the award-winning work for the sports brand, and ECD Masaya Nakade is the man behind the agency. Masaya talked us through how they aim to understand their target audience, and express this to them. Nike knows we perspire just like men do, so they don’t airbrush the sweat off their models. And I love the copy in one of their most famous print ads featuring long distance runner Lauren Fleshman. It begins,


“Don’t give me small pink versions of a man’s running shoes. I am not a small pink version of a man.”

In Masaya’s opinion, we shouldn’t approach a brief asking ourselves “how can we make women buy this product?” Instead, we should think about how we can make this product something that women would want to buy.


We’re in a very optimistic position. Creative Equals’ event was not an opportunity to berate and blame the advertising industry or the brands they work for, or to despair at the lack of progress. It was the coming together of a diverse range of speakers, all with something practical and inspired to say about what we can do, and celebrating what we have already achieved. Rachel, who created the Female Tribes initiative to help JWT understand and reach women, discovered through her research that 76% of women around the world felt that it’s never been a better time to be a woman. We are at a cultural tipping point, with 86% of women thinking that femininity is a strength, and not a weakness. It’s a means of power and influence that should be embraced rather than ignored in favour of being ‘like a man’.

Many people within the industry believe that “advertising can change the world”, so let’s use this power to change it for the better.

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Written by: @LaurenMesservy

Published by: admin in Opinion Pieces

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