Cannes Lions

Marketers push their gender-equality efforts out onto the Cannes stage

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Girl's Lounge sign outside Martinez in Cannes.
Girl's Lounge sign outside Martinez in Cannes. Credit: Jack Neff

Just a few weeks ago, the Cannes schedule looked sparse on gender-equity panels, which seemed odd given the subject's prominence in cultural and industry conversation this year. That changed in a hurry as plans not ready to be announced a few weeks ago solidified, and some came together in a way that appeared to be thrown together to fill (what became) obvious gaps.

Whatever the reasons, marketers, agencies and media players are practically jumping up and down waving their hands in the air to bring attention to efforts around bringing gender equity to the ad industry, its ads and the media they support.

Procter & Gamble Co. made perhaps the biggest splash on that front, devoting a Wednesday presentation to showcase new partnerships with Katie Couric Media to produce video content around female empowerment, and Queen Latifah to help find and develop the women who will help the company meet its new goal of having a woman director involved in all three-company bids on ad production.

They were part of a Q&A with Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard that also included Madonna Badger, principal of Badger & Winters and the force behind both P&G's #WeSeeEqual campagin and the #WomenNotObjects movement that changed Cannes judging guidelines two years ago.

In a rare flourish of showmanship for a P&G marketing presentation, it closed with a performance by Milk, a star of the 2017 Women's March and performer of the soundtrack for its Winter Olympics #LoveOverBias ad from Wieden & Kennedy. That was enough to get P&G—or at least Milk—a standing ovation from a Cannes crowd.

Pritchard said on stage that a speech by Kouric more than 20 years ago started him on the path of making gender equity a key issue for him in marketing.

P&G not alone here

Unilever, which competes both in the marketplace and on the gender-equity front, is entering year three of its Unstereotype movement to eliminate stereotypical gender roles from its advertising. That led to an Unstereotype Alliance with the United Nations and a similarly broad coalition of marketers and agencies that also includes AT&T, P&G, WPP, J&J, HP and just about every other letter in the industry alphabet.

On Tuesday, Unilever talked about one of its latest Unstereotype projects: backing Simon Fuller's Now United gender-balanced and global girl-boy band. Almost simultaneously, the Girl's Lounge at the Martinez had to turn people away from the overflow crowd at a panel on gender equity for #SeeHer, the Association of National Advertisers' effort to improve the portrayal of women in advertising and entertainment. The panel included top marketers from HP, AT&T, eBay, JPMorgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Mastercard.

U.K. gets its #SeeHer

It's not just brands piling into gender equity. Whole countries are in on it. Kantar and Facebook joined with WPP, Unilever and others in Cannes to announce an #EmpowerMe initiative for the U.K. with goals similar to #SeeHer in the U.S. to encourage better representation of women in ads. That will include an Empowering Women exhibition in November in London and an Empowerment Index to measure progress. Details of the index are still in the works, says Kanter U.K. Country Leader Bart Michels, but it sounds similar to the Gender Equality Measure (GEM) from ABX that #SeeHer has used to measure progress in the U.S.

The U.S. will beat the U.K. to the gender-equity exhibition punch, thanks to another Cannes announcement: a Sept. 28 #SheIsEqual Summit set for New York. It's backed by P&G, Cannes Lions-owner Ascential and Global Citizen to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly and talk about creative successes and broader action on gender equality.

Glass half empty (half full)

Research from the Unstereotype Alliance finds 80 percent of women in South Africa, 53 percent in India and 85 percent in Brazil feel unfairly represented in society.

And in a glass-largely-empty kind of way, Pritchard from the stage on Wednesday noted GEM data that 29 percent of all ads still portray women negatively or inappropriately—short of P&G's own goal of 0 percent. In a glass-fuller way, he noted in an interview afterward that the latest number is a big improvement on the 51 percent of ads #SeeHer found were negative or inappropriate in their portrayal of women only two years ago.

Stephen Quinn, who leads the #SeeHer effort for the ANA's Alliance for Family Entertainment, is encouraged by the move from only 49 percent of U.S. ads portraying women positively to 71 percent in only two years.

"Most of that improvement has really come in the past six months," Quinn says, noting that the 71 percent data came from the current quarter.

"The biggest gains have come from the elimination of the negatives," he says, which he attributes to advertisers becoming aware of problems in their ads that they weren't aware of.

"It's really hard to make significant improvement in this area if you're not looking at the data," Quinn says. A growing number of ANA members are using GEM scores to evaluate their ads, and about a third of marketers involved in the effort are also using the gender-equity measures in their media-buying decisions. He believes, because of the longer time-horizon for entertainment, it will be another six to 12 months before there's significant favorable movement in scores entertainment programming. Changes in Hollywood in the wake of the #MeToo movement won't hurt either, he says.

Music: The next frontier

While advertiser gender-equity focus has largely been on TV, this year's Cannes marks some shift to music, such as Unilever's move to support a gender-balanced band with Simon Fuller.

Latifah noted in her appearance on the P&G panel that she argued years ago against male rappers getting more marketing support than females.

Asked in an interview later if advertisers like P&G could play a role in addressing that imbalance, she said yes. "I definitely think advertisers can play a role in evening things out. ... The whole music industry has changed " she said, moving toward independent labels and artists scraping by on low budgets like she did when she was 18. "But I don't think it has changed in that there are too many radio stations who are owned by too few people who program those stations to play too few records."

Adding pressure on those gatekeepers is one way advertisers can play a role, she says, including pushing back against over-sexualized music made by women "of a certain body type."

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