Ads belong on Mars, women belong on Venus

Marina Teba

8 March 2021

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In 2018, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women were, on average, 26% less likely than men to be employed. Unfortunately, the marketing and advertising sector does not escape this gender gap, especially not when it comes to the creative function, where only 1% of female professionals in the sector become creative general managers.  And this figure becomes even more shocking if we take into account that around 60% of Advertising and Public Relations graduates are women. 

When I joined my first agency as a trainee, these figures became evident. There were only five women in a creative department of over thirty people – quite a bleak picture. 

Inequality in the advertising industry goes back a long way. Our sector and our profession have always been predominantly male driven, and as such so have its gears, its jargon and its customs. This is clear, for example, when it comes to work-life balance. Staying at the agency until ungodly hours, working weekends, and pulling out last-minute pitches  that disrupt all plans is the norm.

This vision is often incompatible with caretaking (of both children and the elderly) and with coordinating household chores: responsibilities that are still mostly beared by women. Although this trend is slowly changing, it is still present in our culture and makes it much more difficult for women to keep to the pace of your typical advertising agency, especially when it comes to starting a family, which makes many of them give up positions of responsibility or reduce their working hours when they have children, or even leave their jobs for good.

In this context, the famous glass ceiling is far from disappearing. In Spain, 22.6% of women end up leaving the labour market to take care of their families and household chores, compared to a meagre 2.5% of men. Among them, many women of the creative advertising industry. 

However, the impossibility of a work-life balance is not the only form of exclusion suffered by female advertisers. Often, some of the customs within organisations are male-dominated: football leagues exclusively for men, dinners with “the boys” or boat trips where women are apparently superfluous. As a result, many of my female colleagues also suffer from an undeserved imposter syndrome. 

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For this reality to change, and for advertising to be more inclusive, we need to turn the industry upside down and implement profound transformations at all levels of the sector and of organisations themselves. Having more women in creative departments and normalising their jobs comes first, and would already imply that we are taking a giant step towards family reconciliation, which would also benefit men. 

Even fictional figures such as Peggy Olson (Mad Men), or more recently Beth Harmon (The Queen’s Gambit), are necessary for women to understand they can thrive in environments that are as hostile as they are virile. Collectives such as Más mujeres creativas or Adhertising have been working for years to give visibility to the work of women in advertising, and to provide new generations with role models that demonstrate it is possible for women to succeed in typically male dominated industries. 

A higher female presence in creative teams would also allow us to develop more inclusive and diverse messages. Eventually, this would lead us to become better professionals and ensure our work is not conveying a masculine point of view that could end up playing a dirty trick on us. 

Little (and not so little) gestures, such as fighting for the concept in a graph to be inclusive, for banners for “girly toys” to stop being pink (and for little girls on commercials to play with cars and building blocks and not only with dolls), for female body hair to be shown on a spot (surprise: we all have body hair), or for a pre-roll to include a trans woman, are what make the difference. 

It is crucial that we work to make the above examples become the norm, not the exception, but first we need to change the industry from the inside. This is something we are very clear about in Good Rebels, and it follows a very simple reasoning: the more, and the more diverse, the better. If everyone is given an opportunity our chances to shine will multiply. 

As visibility is the first step to normalisation, we want to review and highlight the brilliant actions of some women in the industry, and – why not – include some of our own campaigns. 

  • REBECCA SWIFT, Global Head of Creative Insights, Getty Images, Unilever

In a study developed by Dove, the brand found out that 70% of women did not feel represented in the media. Moreover, the research revealed 90% of stock images were taken by male photographers. Rebecca Swift was the only woman with a senior role in an image bank, and decided to use her power to challenge the status quo. 

That’s how the #Showus campaign was born: a collaboration between Dove, Getty Images and Girlgaze that included 5,000 stock pictures taken by female photographers and portraying women who did not comply with ‘traditional’ beauty standards. Thanks to Swift, the most important image bank became representative of real, diverse women. 

  • LAURA VISCO, Creative director, 72andSunny Amsterdam

If we had been told a decade ago that Axe would be one of the brands fighting toxic masculinity, we probably would have never believed it.  The deodorant that used to claim a single use was enough to increase a customer’s sex appeal and attract heart-stopping women, is now promoting a message that makes all men feel comfortable . No matter who you are, your masculinity is valid, it’s okay for guys to do whatever they want, you just have to find your magic and know how to use it.

In this case, applying a female look to a typically masculine product has led the brand to a new concept, fleeing from an old-fashioned  positioning that was already damaging their reputation. 

  • LIZZIE WILSON, Associate Creative Director, McCann New York

Lizzie Wilson is one of the creators of Fearless Girl, the statue of the girl who stood up to the New York Stock Exchange. State Street Global Advisors (an institutional asset investment fund), commissioned the project to McCann New York, to highlight the importance of female leadership for International Women’s Day 2017.  This woman triumphed  at every advertising festival, and the world’s media echoed her audacity.

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The VIPS girls team: going viral for Christmas

In December 2020, restaurant chain VIPS challenged us to develop a campaign for the launch of their Christmas pancakes. The team was mostly made of women, and Markel Otsoa de Etxaguen, the only man involved, was happy for us to refer to the team as female. 

How bold, you might think, to put our little social media campaign next to “Fearless girl” or “Find your magic”. But to achieve something big you have to start small. And the fact that they listen to us is not trivial. 

At Good Rebels, the creative department is made up of six men and eight women. Driving change from within means hiring talent and, above all, recognising that talent is diverse. Moreover, for this campaign we counted with the participation of iconic TV star Dakota Tárraga, and getting such a controversial character to embody Christmas spirit is no easy task.

Juan Fran Vaquero led a group of young creatives with a unique idea and value proposition, such as Maria José Zapata (who also painted the wonderful header for this article), Roxana Sajedi, Belén de Areba and myself, the author of this article. In the end, the client was willing to listen to us, and we ended up going viral for Christmas. And that’s plenty of reasons to be proud of ourselves.

Female teams who aren’t afraid to Rebel

And this is not just about VIPS, it’s about the dynamics that are present in many of our accounts on a daily basis. The IKEA team (in which there is also a high representation of women in the account management function), led by Irina Alegre and Irene García, created the most shared social media campaign in the brand’s history, starring actress Yolanda Ramos (surprise: another woman). 

We also cannot fail to mention most of our campaigns for Domino’s Pizza, which emphasise and promote diversity in all its forms, nor can we forget Evelyn Griffin and María Lorca, whose unique talent and perspective ensure the inclusivity of our campaigns and proposals.

One only has to look at the advertising campaigns made by women in the last decade to realise that’s where the true social messages are at. Campaigns made by female creative directors convey honest, non-conformist narratives that portray the world as it should be, rather than depicting the world we are used to. 

In order for the industry to change, having female referents and women in top management roles is not enough. We need everyone to understand that feminine perspectives are universal. We need to stop defining success in typically- masculine terms.  Less cunning and rationality,  more cooperation and empathy. In a diverse, equal agency, we will all become better professionals. 

Peggy Olson once told Don Draper “You never say thank you”.

Is gratitude an exclusively female feature? No it’s not. Theres still time to change it.