This year, for fans of ad tech and programmatic, who’d be honored (and, more importantly, pay) to be nominated, the festival added the “Creative Data Lion.” It joins Cyber, Digital Craft, Innovation, Integrated, Mobile, Media, Promo & Activation, and Titanium Lions, to name a few.
But despite all these added categories, the confab, which wraps this weekend — and has blown up to steroidal proportions in the last decade with the influx of major brands and Facebook-sized tech companies — has been slammed this year by the same age-old industry problem: sexism and misogyny.
Though I’ve been to Cannes many, many times, this year I was sidelined, watching the social media feeds from New York. And boy, did that get dispiriting quickly.
Despite so much advocacy for change in the industry, there’s a huge disconnect when it comes to diversity for women and people of color. This will not abide in an age of social media.
Last year, Cindy Gallop, female activist, former president of BBH New York, and founder of If We Ran the World and MakeLoveNotPorn.com, introduced the “Glass Lion, ” to reward breakthrough work that “shatters gender bias and prejudice in ads.”
This year, the news from the festival started out encouragingly enough, with an announcement from Aline Santos, executive vice president of global marketing for Unilever, of a new marketing move. Called “Unstereotype,” it’s a pledge to improve the depictions of women in ads, across more than 400 Unilever global brands.
A recent research project funded by Unilever revealed that just 3% of women are shown in professional, managerial jobs; 1% are shown as being funny, and 2% intelligent. (I've got to say, that sounds low to me.)
You’d think, if Unilever were to give its agencies marching orders about developing respectful, unstereotypical creative depicting three-dimensional women, that it would first make sure that the agencies have the talent to deliver on it. Enlightened ads don’t come from a vacuum; they are the result of enlightened hiring and management practices and proper mentoring. But nothing about agency culture seems to be keeping up with Unilever’s new directives.
As the events at the festival progressed, Gallop was almost forced to become a human switchboard, the only one who could receive, interpret and tweet out the news from Gender Tone Deaf Central.
First, she revealed that a book on creativity placed in every attendee’s welcoming bag only included interviews with ad men.
After that, she tweeted about a cringeworthy invitation to a private party sponsored by VaynerMedia and Thrillist that spelled out that it was for “attractive women and models only.” (The men had no such constraints.)
Though VaynerMedia CEO and Internet guru Gary Vaynerchuk took to Twitter to condemn the invitation immediately (and was applauded for that action), he blamed it on iGetIn, a “third-party vendor” — when actually the company had used this vendor many times. And though he said he was “mortified,” he later told Campaign US that he did not see the email “as a representation of sexism in the ad industry but a typical approach for a party at a club.”
Then there were the degrading ad winners.
To back up, the Cannes Lions showcase the tippy-top, say 2%, of ad creativity worldwide. So how an ad from Almap BBDO, an agency in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for Bayer Aspirin, that jokes about a man recording sex with a woman without her consent, made it into the competition, never mind won a Bronze, is mind-boggling.
The ad is simple and amateurish-looking. It shows two boxes of the packaged aspirin in different strengths, red (regular) and green (extra-strong) under a line of text saying “Don’t worry babe, I’m not filming this.” That’s in red ink. The word.mov (meaning he really did film it) appears next to it, in green. (Meaning the guy needs the stronger aspirin when the girlfriend finds out the truth.)
By the way, the issue of sex without consent is a hot-button one right now in Brazil. Gallop provides this context: "Police in Brazil are hunting for at least 30 men who allegedly gang raped a 16-year-old girl and filmed the incident, posting the footage on social media." Excedrin headache number 4 billion: when your head explodes with outrage over an ad for Bayer.
Another ad at Cannes, awarded a Gold for Outdoor, also came from a retrograde and broey place. For Inter-flora, from Australia, the ad shows a lovely bouquet of flowers stashed in the garbage in a roadway. Next to it, two lines of tiny type read: “Our job is to make the finest bridal bouquets. Your job is not to sleep with a bridesmaid.”
Never mind all the breakthroughs in digital effectiveness or tracking consumers. How hard can it be to get gender sensitivity training?
We have to stop the lies, the regressive, reactionary behavior, and the network-wide cover-ups. The jury that awarded the Bayer work was headed by the chief creative office of J. Walter Thompson, Brazil. You’ll recall that JWT’s attorneys moved to dismiss the discrimination suit against its former CEO Gustavo Martinez, on the grounds that it was “frivolous.”
Martinez was recorded on video making a joke about being “raped, and not in a good way,” at a JWT corporate meeting in Miami. The JWT lawyers claim that other employees who were present were not offended, and that Erin Johnson was just trying to make a “media splash” by filing the suit.
The news of these outrageous cases of sexism and misogyny at Cannes have blown up on Twitter, and been written about by major media. It makes women feel uncomfortable in their own skin. And it makes advertising, and this award festival, look like a laughing stock.
Back in the “Mad Men” days, Ogilvy & Mather founder David Ogilvy famously said, “The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife.”
We need to update that: Men and women are not idiots. We need each other to be partners.
Where does this appalling lack of respect come from? Somewhat from “Mad Men” days, but more from Internet, tech and slut-shaming culture; the everyday violence, and abundance, of online porn; and the clear comfort that creative departments seem to take with the staffing of young, bro-ey white men.These dudes are not empty suits, so much as empty T-shirts. Let’s start to fill the emptiness with compassion lessons.
Not paying proper attention to 50% of the population is cheating. As Gallop has said, “This is not a way to win the future.”