'Creativity' All-Male Revue Puts the Ugly, Naked Truth on Display

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While reading Advertising Age online, I ran across a column on marketing to women. Always amused by the idea of half the world's population being a homogenous entity, I read on. It wasn't long before I struck gender-politics gold: "Being emotional, nurturing creatures, women love the big, gorgeous, warm ads that feel like Kodak or Hallmark."

I waited for the ironic comment. But I didn't get it. Instead: "Women's humor is often different from men's, because it is grounded in the language and customs of its own gender culture. ... Most women, who see the world as one big peer group and who are more often looking for what they have in common with other people, rather than what they have that's better than others, humor originates in a flash of recognition: "'Ohmigosh, that's just the way it is with me!"'

Ohmigosh, I thought (actually, I thought 'Are you **#@*&**KIDDING me?) I've never written a letter to the editors of Ad Age (since I can holler at them down the hall) but here goes. "So Neil French had it right, then..." my rant began.

I mention this to explain that I can identify with the letter writers who've expressed to me their frustration at seeing the 20th anniversary issue of Creativity, with its cover featuring an all-male, all-star creative lineup.

But our letter writers seemed to forget that Creativity was just the bearer of the "news," not the cause of the problem.

The cover subjects were derived from our list of the 50 most influential creative people of the last 20 years. The 50 list was created to celebrate not only agency creatives, but designers, marketers, movement-starters. The creative directors chosen were those whose work is in the books, who've won the biggest awards, who've defined eras, started or changed key agencies-changed the game.

We like to ensure our lists aren't just recitals of personal preferences, so we consulted with the creative achievers in our audience, asking: Who influenced you most? The names on our list were those that came up time and time again among those who live and breathe creativity. This wasn't my personal wish list, its compilation wasn't informed by gender or my own politics. There's only one standard this publication can live by-creativity-and we stood firm to it.

So. I expected letters. I got them. I found it dismaying that most didn't offer any names that would cause me to reconsider our choices (with all due respect to someone who has been a strong force in advertising, those who wrote to say "What about Linda Kaplan Thaler?" don't understand Creativity's mandate.)

So what would I have done differently? Maybe I would have begged the woman I did invite to the cover shoot (who couldn't make it) to show up. And maybe I would have included the name on my own list (Joyce King Thomas, who made sense for the list and to whom I might apologize for the omission).

But maybe that would have provided just enough PR gloss to make everything seem OK. And clearly it's not. That there aren't 12 or 13 or 20 high-level names that are shoo-ins for this list is the issue. And putting that issue out as it was, I'm convinced, does a bigger service to the next generation of creatives by showing them the unvarnished truth.

One of the more insightful opinions on the issue came from a blog post made one of those next-gen creatives, Lu Chekowsky. "Advertising is a power," she wrote. "And that's why I think that it's important that it's created and controlled by a group more diverse than what's pictured on the cover of Creativity. I don't have all the answers, but in the end I'm thankful to Creativity for unknowingly unveiling this elephant in the room. Maybe the more it's uncovered and talked about, the more likely it is that some change can happen."

Ms. Chekowsky makes a great point. She's only wrong about one thing-the unknowingly part. We knew. Now you know.

Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity and Adcritic.com
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