We Cannes Do It

Last night, at one of the (many) cocktail parties along the Croisette, I met someone who kept peddling the phrase “the struggle is real.” While I considered what thread has tied together this Cannes experience for me – this idea resonated. I have been, more than once, reminded that the struggle is real for women inside (and outside) the advertising industry.

Of course, my new friend was referring to the struggle to keep up the week long rosé-fest with your wits about you and legs under you. Regardless, this remark stuck in my head.

The common theme of the woman’s journey – both in the challenges and in the wins – has emerged throughout the week. My first session was The New Visual Language: How Brands Can Use Images to Close the Gender Gap with Jessica Bennett, contributing editor for "Lean In" and Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images.

As Jessica put it: “Pictures are the language of our generation…Images, have become a social currency.”

Getty, as one of the world’s leading creators and distributors of imagery and video, has incredible reach – and with that, great responsibility for the images we see daily, on a global scale. I was happy to see they are taking on this important challenge with the Lean In Collection - a picture library designed to provide a powerful image of women of all ages and people around them.

The current stock image landscape is fraught with female stereotypes, little girls in pink tutus and pink bows. And, one of my favorite themes that Jessica showcased: “women laughing alone with salad.” (The joys of eating a carb free lunch!)

This powerful team is trying to change the perception of women, by changing the image(s) of women.

This resounded on a personal level for me. My grandmother recently passed away, and as I sifted through photos to share and commemorate her life with my mother and aunts, we searched with a purpose – to “find pictures of her doing.” Doing anything – riding a horse, playing with her children, being active in some way. She obviously grew up in a different time, and expectations for her were different than for my mothers’ generation, and surely for my own.

But what I found interesting was how important it was for her daughters to show her “doing.” To show she wasn’t only a wife, a mother, a churchgoer – but that she was a more complex individual, with a personality who did things.

This set the tone for the rest of my week.

That same day I saw Sarah Jessica Parker speak with Joanna Cole, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, about the launch of "Sex and the City." At that time, it was bold and different; it allowed a very different voice to be heard from women, one that was real for many. They decided to air the show on Sunday nights in the summer – when “women were getting back from their weekends in the Hamptons.” This resonated with Joanna, one of those women – who for the first time saw women on TV living the type of life her and her friends were living.

It was a game changer.

Even Jared Leto had a voice in the conversation on women. In his chat with Benjamin Palmer, cofounder/chairman of The Barbarian Group, an audience member asked Jared – since he just “was” a woman in the "Dallas Buyers Club", if he had an opinion on women’s rights.

Just as in his Oscar acceptance, he praised his single mother, and while he didn’t claim the right to speak on women’s behalf – he said: “I’ve worn the heels, I’ve put on the tights, so I feel your pain ladies… I’m all for women being in positions where they can actually participate and have real authority to change the world we live in.” (Thanks Jordan, just another reason to make Angela Chase, "My So-Called Life" swoon.)

Then, there was Michael Roth’s annual IPG Women’s Breakfast, where the struggles and wins mentioned earlier were again brought to life.

It opened with a panel of female Cannes Lion judges talking about the experience of being “at the (judging) table.” Following was Jenna Young, ECD at Weber Shandwick, who talked about Mattel and the campaign that placed Barbie as the cover of the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated. Like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, being a swimsuit model launched Barbie’s career into so much more than just a pretty face. Her stance was the campaign slogan, #Unapologetic.

 But there were two conversations that particularly struck me at this breakfast (i.e. made me cry over my croissant). The first was from Vasudha Narayanan, regional creative director at Lowe in India, who shared with us the story of creating the Tanishq commercial celebrating remarriage.

The commercial itself is powerful, but the story behind it, and what this message meant to women in India who were ashamed about their second marriages, was truly inspirational. This made me remember that while I haven’t yet faced a visible barrier to success due to being a women, that is not the case everywhere. I am lucky to be where I am with the opportunities I have. All the changes we make to perception and understanding, small and large, help to change the conversation on a world stage.

The closing presentation at the IPG Breakfast was by Val Demings, first female chief of the Orlando Police Department. She moved up the ranks, and took charge – but with a strategy not of trying to be masculine, but embracing her feminine qualities. In a predominately male organization, she proved the value of being able to break up a fight not with her hands, but with her head. And she moved mountains this way – driving down crimes at rates that had never been seen. She is a powerhouse.

For my second year in Cannes, it has been great connecting with more and more friends and peers in the field. There is such an abundance of smart, creative and exceptional women in this industry. I am excited about the future of women in advertising, of girls everywhere, and my own.



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