As I shuffled up to the bar on a global ad-tech company’s yacht, I looked around me and noticed through lightly blurred eyes that I was once again outnumbered by suits and facial hair. For an event and industry that feels progressive because of the things we are exposed to (there were multiple presentations about AI and Virtual Reality at Cannes this year) – the noticeable gender gap in attendees was a surprise to me. In actual fact though, equality and gender representation was a prominent topic throughout the festival; it sat at the heart of many inspirational talks, award winning pieces of work, as well as a couple of scandals throughout the week.
One of the most inspiring things about the talks at Cannes is that it shakes you out of the day to day realities of your job and reminds you that the advertising industry is not just about TVCs and CTRs; it’s actually a huge platform that impacts the world we live in. It influences not only what we choose to buy, but also how we think, behave and view the world around us. It changes hearts and minds. That means that as an industry we have a huge responsibility when it comes to conversations around things like gender that exist at the centre of society.
Madonna Badger is someone that feels the weight of that responsibility wholeheartedly. CEO of New York based creative agency, Badger & Winters, her Cannes 2016 talk titled ‘Women Not Objects’ explained that empathy is really the key to connection with consumers. However, she pointed out that many brands are failing to connect with a huge chunk of their potential customers; women. She described how she was involved in a pitch for a global beauty brand and was asked to respond on a brief for red lipstick. As was common practice, she held a focus group and one of the questions she asked was ‘Would you wear red lipstick when you ask for a raise?’. She, alongside her creative team believed the answer would be ‘yes’. Red lipstick = confidence, right? Conversely and to her disbelief, women said they wouldn’t wear it, citing reasons such as ‘it’s a bit much’ or ‘it would be using my femininity to get what I want’. Spurred on by this revelation, Madonna Badger has since carried out a much larger-scale analysis of brand creative that portray women in an objectifying manner and has revealed them to be damaging for key metrics such as purchase intent and brand love. This finding also explains, to some degree, the rise of social media bloggers and influencers as brand platforms who are ultimately real women, talking to other real women. This YouTube video demonstrates her point and plight perfectly.
Badger & Winters only works with brands that are interested in creating enduring and emotional connections with women because with the platform they have, it’s their responsibility to do so.
Alongside #womennotobjects, there were probably another twenty-five talks and panels dedicated to the topic of gender throughout the week. Interestingly though, there was only one that discussed it with a male lens. The shift in the role of women in our society over the past few decades inevitably brings a shift for men- something that the talk hosted by 72andsunny termed ‘The New Masculinity’. In as little as three generations, the old model of masculinity has crumbled; men, just like women, want to be successful in their careers but also be a great parent, with strong emotional connections to their kids and partners. The panel criticised advertising that still uses the old model of masculinity; being a man’s man, manning up, boys don’t cry etc, etc and praised instances in both advertising and the media where it’s being challenged. One great example of this is this video of Irish football fans at the recent Euros in France, which they played during the talk.
Footy fans singing Westlife, cleaning up and assisting elderly people in the street- nothing to do with advertising per se, but absolutely on point with regards to the new masculinity and bloody hilarious too.
By the way- if this is a topic that interests you, you should check out the Netflix documentary ‘The Mask You Live In’ which addresses modern masculinity head on.
With the gender debate popping up regularly at talks throughout the week, it was no surprise that a significant amount of the award winning work at Cannes this year also paid heed to the topic.
This piece of work submitted by creative agency DAVID for MACMA, a breast cancer awareness charity from Argentina was a fantastic example. Tapping into the pretty extraordinary fact that images of female breasts are banned from all major social media platforms, they found an ingenious way to show people how to check for breast cancer. By swapping out female boobs for ‘man boobs’(or, moobs) and watching it go viral across Facebook and YouTube, it was two fingers up to gender discrimination and a seriously successful way of increasing breast cancer awareness.
A little closer to home, ANZ bank had a great week at Cannes and brought 6 awards back to Aussie shores for their work supporting diversity and equality. If you haven’t seen this video addressing the pay gap already; watch it now.
But amongst all the inspiration and recognition for equality, there was sadly some scandal at the festival this year which detracted from it.
This ad from Almap BBDO in Brazil was awarded a bronze lion in the OOH category:
However, after heavy criticism and pressure from social media, the trade press and gender equality campaigner Cindy Gallop, the sexist and quite frankly downright disturbing entry was later disqualified. Though, quite shockingly, the agency still took home ‘creative agency of the year’.
Hot on the heels of that scandal, came this party invite from VaynerMedia asking for ‘attractive females and models only’ with proof via photos attached to RSVPs. Again, this was called out by Gallop for not being the way to throw a party in 2016:
Fair play Cindy.
When I first learned that I’d be heading to Cannes this year as OMD’s roving reporter, I knew that I would see some of the greatest creative work in the world, taste some of the best rosé and meet some of the most inspirational people in our industry. It didn’t disappoint. However, what I didn’t expect was to come away with a fresh perspective on the industry; an understanding of the impact that advertising can have on society at large. The conversation around equality something that is important to me as a young, female media professional and I know that there is still some way to go before we can fully drop the scandals and change the ratio. However, I’m optimistic about the future; when gender is being discussed so prominently on a world stage like Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, it feels like we are getting somewhere.