Two Clients are Sick and Tired of Ad Agency Sexism

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Two Clients are Sick and Tired of Ad Agency Sexism

In Florida last fall, Pepsico's Bradley Jakeman declared to the crowd at the ANA Masters of Marketing that he was "… sick and tired, as a client, of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women."  Orlando gasped. But when the straight white males that dominate his agency, VaynerMedia, threw a bash in Cannes and stipulated that women send in head shots to qualify for an invitation, Jakeman, apparently, wasn't so sick and tired. A year later, sexism still perpetuates in the agencies, agency heads still make shockingly asinine comments in the press, the amount of female creative directors still stagnates at tiny fractions, and there are still no women running the holding companies. Who's sick and tired now?

Last week, at least two top brand marketers boldly turned "sick and tired" into contractual demands. Ann Simonds of General Mills and Antonio Lucio of HP have formally asked agencies that their accounts be served by 50% women and 20% people of color. "We are focused on ensuring that our marketing department has the right talent composition to capture our business opportunities," stated Mr. Lucio.

That's everything that Jakeman said, only with a mandate: Change it, or we take our business elsewhere.    

Finally, two brilliant brand marketers have recognized that diversity is a competitive advantage.  And why not?  A litany of independent research proves that diverse teams are more innovative, more attuned to the diverse needs of consumers and more adept at leveraging market opportunities. What marketer wouldn't want that from their agency? And more importantly, what marketer wouldn't require it?

Jakeman doesn't. Nor do hundreds of others.

We started Womenkind in 2008 because as women creative directors in big agencies we were fed up with the stereotypes perpetuated by the guys we reported to. Most women depicted in advertising had one of two roles: mom or babe. And if that were the case for women in the ads, what was the case for women in the agencies?

Oh, wait, what women in the agencies? Less than 3% of creative directors at that time were women.

Obviously, advertising was a tough place for women, and we were confident that if we built an agency that welcomed talented, intelligent women, brand marketers in search of more meaningful, relevant campaigns would beat the door down.

They didn't. And worse, most marketers we pitched didn't believe it mattered whether men or women created the ads. (Fortunately for us, many sophisticated ones did.) Even brands that marketed directly to women did not necessarily think it was important to have a significant presence of women driving their business. It was stunning.

Our intuition said women relate more to marketing messages in a woman's voice, and so we did some quantitative research to confirm. In double-blind testing, women could identify with 85% accuracy whether an ad was created by a man or a woman.  A tiny fraction of men surveyed even noticed a difference.

Ann Simmonds and Antonio Lucio know that the talent of women and people of color will make a difference in the success of their marketing, and the stand they are taking will have significant impact in the agencies that serve them.

But until clients like GM, American Express, Proctor & Gamble, Chase, Kellogg's, Apple -- and yes, Jakeman, Pepsi -- step up and make the same demands HP and General Mills are, the face of advertising will remain, as Cindi Gallop put it, "a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys."  And women will continue to be asked to provide proof of their beauty to get invited to a party.

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