Geeta Rao
Jul 04, 2018

Opinion: Life after Cannes. The Lioness’ share

Creative awards and scripts will not be enough. The DNA of agencies must change to become more gender equal. But first, the 'manels' need to be

Opinion: Life after Cannes. The Lioness’ share
“Testosterone levels have dropped 17 per cent globally and there have been dramatic changes in definitions of masculinity,” said the inimitable trend forecaster Faith Popcorn as she kicked off the debate The Death of Masculinity and its impact on Creative Communication at Cannes Lions 2018. Definitions and notions of gender, gender binaries and gender inclusion were part of on going sessions, a comment on how far Cannes has come since the first Glass Lion was awarded just four years ago. The Glass Lion was instituted to award work that challenged gender stereotypes and the “predominantly male voice of marketing messages”. Yes, Don Draper exists in many pockets of the world still. That ball has been set rolling and there is no going back. Over 22 sessions focussed on gender inclusion and diversity. Creative Women Can Change the World, Women in Creative industries, Miss America in the age of #MeToo, were just some on the schedule. Most were led and sponsored by brands.
Liquor brand Diageo which has joined the Free the Bid campaign sponsored a session How to Develop more Gender Inclusive Creative. Free the Bid is a campaign to include at least one female film director’s quote in the three quote bidding process for a film. This is good news for female directors who often don’t get considered at all or get called in for the “nurture and personal care" commercials. (Remember a woman did make Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.)
“Don’t define femininity in service to masculinity,”  was a telling quote from a Cover Girl and Droga5 session, Can we Redefine Femininity with Creativity? Cover Girl is an iconic American beauty brand very deeply entrenched in the American cultural landscape so when Cover Girl starts questioning norms and definitions there will be great demands made of  its advertising partners to keep up. In many cases the demands are led by powerful women. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Lean started the dialogue that gave us the Glass Lion.
Sir Martin Sorrell made the point in his session that clients have taken back the power and now more than ever, will dictate terms of engagement. His point was made in the context of mergers but it is a relevant point when it comes to clients demanding more gender equal  scripts led by new consumer forces, bottom line pressures and dare one hope, a genuine belief in a more inclusive, equal world?
But creative awards and scripts will not be enough –The DNA of agencies must change to become more gender equal. In keeping with the mood, Ogilvy’s Tham Khai Meng  announced the agency would hire twenty women in senior creative positions by 2020. Ogilvy is one of the few agencies that has had two women as global chairpersons in succession – Charlotte Beers and Shelly Lazarus-- so I would have assumed there are already enough women in positions of creative power. But it is a very positive step and Khai will walk the talk by partnering with the 3% team who will monitor the claim and its fulfilment. The 3% movement fights the Bro culture in agencies and fights for greater representation of women in creative positions in advertising, more inclusion and more diversity.
As consumers become co-creators and joiners, brands and agencies will also be answerable for their internal policies. Nike, the brand that created some of the most empowering campaigns for women based on powerful visuals and memorable taglines, had to focus and sack six of its topmost male managers at its HQ in Oregon for sexual harassment and discrimination after women employees consistently complained or quit. Now Nike has employed a Diversity and Inclusion officer to deal specifically with these issues.
Will agencies and brands here reflect this mood? Four Glass Lions for India is a good indicator that the hunt is on to break stereotypes. While TOI–FCB’s Sindoor Khela remains my favourite for challenging very deeply entrenched beliefs that include women and transgenders, Samsung -Cheil's Seema Nagar paints an inspiring story of opportunity for girls in smaller towns of india which could work for girls in conservative patriarchal cultures anywhere in the world. This is how change enters our living rooms. I also loved the Schweppes commercial, Dress For Respect which could work anywhere in the world –women in Brazil were being groped at nightclubs and men laughed off their complaints until Schweppes created a dress with sensors to show how often an average woman was touched or groped in a night club. 
Change happens when the optics change. Inclusion works both ways. A little boy playing house- with his equally little friend and serving her tea. A boy helping his mother make the bed and clear dishes. A boy being shown that laundry is not a girl’s job. A man being taught to rustle up noodles and learning a gender lesson as well from his son. (I will do an ad gender meter rating in another column if the editor lets me). Editor's Note: Permission granted
In India, I point out ‘Manels’ across media – all male panels where men are called for ‘expert-speak’ even when there are women who could be called. Frankly no one seems to care about my pointing this out, neither men nor women. I get more responses to my food posts on social media. Even teaching institutions (including the one where I am a visiting faculty) routinely call male creative directors to speak on creativity. I gnash my teeth and bash on though the awesomely talented  Malvika Mehra stepped in and saved the day for gender inlclusion at the institute this year. Female voices of authority have to be seen and heard more loudly on panels, at awards juries, at portfolio nights and on discussions of gender equality in the industry. Didn’t a Manel decide the awards for Fifty Most Influential Women In Advertising?
But ‘manels’ represent old world thinking and consumers of the inclusive new world will demand inclusion in the broadest sense. LGBTQ representation which is still finding its feet in Indian communication is becoming a quiet force to reckon with internationally. These are confusing times as definitions and vocabularies change, making sensitisation for what is politically correct essential but the pressure on communication is real.
“Men who hold positions of power are still the old patriarchy,” warned Faith Popcorn. Yes, it took the Advertising Agencies Association of India 40 years to find a woman to be awarded a lifetime achievement award and after nine Lions, Cannes has no choice but to find its Lioness of St Mark. 
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