by Becky Connor
July 1st, 2016

From our EMEA colleagues, reporting from the ground at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. This post first appeared here on the Weber Shandwick EMEA blog.

Just 15 minutes into looking at the shortlisted work and a quick glance at this week’s agenda and it’s clear: gender remains a hot topic this year at Cannes.

The schedule is packed with events and meet-ups celebrating creative women, who remain in the minority within the traditional creative industries, particularly advertising. And there’s a noticeable quantity of work geared towards tackling global gender issues such as sexual and domestic abuse, early child enforced marriage and the subject of identity.

I attended “Sex, Lies and Advertising”, a presentation from Madonna Badger, Chief Creative Officer at Badger & Winters, an ad agency that specialises in building brand love with women. She received two standing ovations for her speech calling on the advertising industry to stop depicting women as sex objects.

The former Calvin Klein creative director, who acknowledged that she had “been objectifying women for a long time,” said ads that deny female humanity end up hurting brands, not to mention people. Badger began her talk with the story of the 2011 house fire that killed her parents and three children. She said it made her more empathetic and focused on “the legacy I want to leave in the name of my three girls.”

Her sensational personal story definitely left me with tingles; the tragedy and adversity she has had to overcome has left her determined to challenge the objectification of women in advertising, leading to the powerful #WomenNotObjects campaign.

According to Badger, 91% of women feel as though advertisers don’t understand them. As a creative, I find this figure astounding, not to mention worrying. When so much time, effort and investment goes into research, analysis and gathering insights, how can output be so…off?

Perhaps it’s because female creatives in the mainstream advertising industry are still a rare breed, and what’s needed to truly land the killer insight that speaks to women is a big dollop of empathy?

Badger’s presentation ended in a rallying cry for creatives to use the power we have in influencing the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of our audience to do positive things.

A look through the Glass Lions entries shows there is certainly a lot of that kind of work starting to break through and earn recognition. (Gender-focused cases that caught my eye on Day 1 included Unacceptable Acceptance Letters, #ShareTheLoad, Legally Bride and Let Girls Be Girls.)

I’m looking forward to exploring the gender agenda at Cannes in more depth this week, through taking a deep dive into the winning work, and through events such as IPG’s Women’s Breakfast, this year titled: “A conversation with extraordinary women”.

Speaking of which, I have found myself in the company of nothing but extraordinary women since being here. The public relations industry has rather healthier stats on gender diversity than advertising, but nevertheless it’s struck me how little I feel held back by being a woman in the creative industry. That’s probably because I’ve found myself surrounded by inspiring women leaders of our business, who are blazing a trail that I am inspired to follow.

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