Where Are All the Women In This Biz?

Guy Humor's Great, but It Only Goes So Far

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Millie Olson Millie Olson
Recently the head of another small West Coast agency asked me if I knew of a couple of "interactive women" he could hire. He was hoping to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, as he also had a product they'd created for women, and thought this new team could figure out how to sell it.

For women, I wondered. Is it pink or something? Actually, it is, he said. And, well, that's the name of the product, too. I wished him success.

But the truth is if I could find that team, I'd hire them first. And it might not be so easy.

When we started Amazon 11 years ago, I feared we'd be yesterday's news, fighting a battle from an earlier decade. We were a couple of tall creative women calling themselves Amazons (not knowing that a small online book company had launched a few months earlier with the same name). And we were doing it in San Francisco, where so many creative guys (and I do mean guys) had famously left the nest to launch successful shops of their own. (There are many sons of Hal Riney, but no daughters.) We weren't just about marketing to women, but marketing by women did set us apart, from the moment we walked into a room.

So here we are, well into the 21st century, and in some ways things haven't changed since the 70s. Most creative departments are still boys' clubs. My husband was Chiat Day's first San Francisco creative director. He worked at other good agencies, including a couple with his name on the door. Every one of them was a boys' club. They had hoops and pool tables and messed around in the office doing stuff like lighting their farts. Huh? What was it about junior high that was just too great to leave behind?

Anyhow, American advertising is still guy advertising, still the voice of a 28-year-old guy who thinks poop is hilarious. Don't get me wrong, I love that hit-you-straight-between-the-eyes, pull-no-punches advertising; it's what lured me into this business and taught me copywriting. I love guy humor, especially its ultimate flowering in every Super Bowl. But didn't the mix of violence and ugliness reach some kind of apex this past January? When someone got slugged in the face over a beer and even pharma ads showed a guy being mugged? (I won't whine about the ax murderer; I loved it.)

But surely there's room for another voice? My business partner Lynda Pearson says it like this: we try to make advertising that is beautiful, funny or wise, or if we're lucky, all three. Are we doing it? Is it a different voice? (Check it out at amazonadv.com, and let me know.) Are there other voices out there straining to be heard, ready to change the look and feel of 21st century advertising?
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