Were these ads written by a man or a woman?

And does it make any difference? Maureen Freely on the new controversy in advertising

Ask anyone in the industry, and they'll tell you that it makes no difference what the sex of the creative team behind an advert is. What matters is what we, the potential buyers, think of it. Does it bore us or make us laugh? Does it speak to our experience or is it unspeakably patronising? The world of advertising is especially keen to know our responses if we happen to be women. We are still the gender most likely to turn up at point of sale, apparently, and that is why 80 per cent of advertising is targetted at us. If it's mostly men doing the targetting, it's partly because the industry itself is 80 per cent male. Women make up less than ten per cent of most creative departments.

Advertisers insist, moreover, that the best ideas are rarely gender-specific. Ollie Caporn, co-author of Peugeot's latest Thelma and Louise-style caper, says it's a mistake to aim at a single sex audience. "The trick is to write something that's funny to human beings."

Work in advertising is almost always done in pairs, and David MacFarlane, Marketing Director at SCA Molnlycke, thinks that there is a lot to be said for the male/female variety - even when the product is for women only. The last team to do a Bodyform advert for them was mixed-sex. He thinks it helped to have two different points of view, pointing out that "men have to be totally objective when they're working in feminine hygiene" and that combines well with the more subjective input from the Woman Who Knows From Experience. Which is not to say that men haven't been known to fake it. He recalls a male-authored press ad from a few years back that women they tested said had clearly been written by a woman. From that day on, he says, the poor fellow became known around the office as Doris. It's amusing anecdotes like this that undercut the industry's androgynous front, and show that girls and boys aren't exactly interchangeable at the office.

The culture of advertising is still as resolutely male as that in politics or newspapers. But there are signs that the old boy network in all three cultures is fraying at the edges. That, at least, is my explanation for the uproar last week at the news that an all woman team at the Gotham Group had won the account for Instead, a revolutionary new menstrual cap developed by the US company Ultrafem that will offer an alternative to tampons and towels. The press thought it smacked of political correctness, while many in the industry thought it was bad business to give gender more importance that the product to hand. But Ali Large, Gotham's managing director, says they plan to steer clear of the usual "ghastly copy cliches about freedom" and do something direct, one woman speaking to another.

Gotham may be on to something. Despite the fact that the industry regards the Bodyform ad as a sanpro classic, a Real Life straw poll told a different story. Everyone knew the tune, so the ad at least guarantees brand recognition. Yet Fiona, 29, felt that the very catchiness of the song was in itself irritating. "It's just patronising. You feel awful when you've got your period, not like leaping around. Who are they trying to kid?" "It's great when you're pissed and you can sing along," offered Georgia, 25. "But I've never worn sanitary towels and I never will." "I don't think any of those ads work," agreed Amanda, 28. "Most women have already decided on which product they use and aren't going to change. Bodyform is the most mindless, though. It's very uncool, very Valley Girl. It's completely wrong for British women ..." The last thing you want to watch when you've got your period are a collection of lithe, beautiful, long-legged, tanned women, pointed out Deborah, 26. "It just makes me want to throw large objects at the telly."

Amongst older women, the embarrassment factor came into play. "At least lads can laugh along with the Bodyform ad without squirming," said Katie, 35. "On the other hand laughable is exactly what that ad is. It's the old joke about the extraordinary things having your period does to you. It's my time of the month! I must go rollerblading in very tight, wh ite shorts or run along the shore waving a scarf around! I often get ads mixed up anyway. For instance for ages I thought the Peugeot Thelma and Louise ad was for tampons because it involved two women looking vaguely `liberated'..." Somewhere alongthe line, it seems, there is a gap between the reaction of the buying public and the views of advertisers - even when some of the advertisers are women themselves. Both the male and female ad execs I spoke to acknowledge that successful campaigns are ones that reflect the wishes, lies, dreams amd rhythms of everyday life, and it therefore follows that anyone with one foot in the real world is more likely to get it right. In theory, this means that women, with complicated domestic lives, are far more likely to hit the right note than were "50-plus men with stay-at-home wives and daughters who are perpetually at university". This was one of the reasons why the women I spoke to felt the mores in advertising will be massively feminised in the next century. According to Lillie Goodrich, this has already happened in the US, and the catalysts have been the clients, who woke up to female purchasing power in the earlyNin eties, and started worrying that all-male teams might not be able to tap into it. According to women in advertising, this is how women do make a difference in their business - by remaining partly outsiders, and never forgetting how to communicate with the complete outsiders everyone wants as customers. This is the same logic thathas made newspapers hire and promote more women to edit and write expanded features sections directed at the female market. Many say it's the reason why so many women voted so many other women into Parliament in the election. A female input goes deeper than the mere production of effective ads, however. Something bigger is going on, which people like Lillie Goodrich think will suit "the women who juggle their lives" far better than lads and traditional men. What's reallynote worthy about the Ultrafem case, she says, is not that it has chosen an all-women advertising team, but that it is a "virtual company" with only 15 people in-house, that "outsources everything". The aim is to "nurture and protect the entrepreneurial spiri t; and to be lean and flexible and able to respond quickly. There is no hierarchy, and their collaborative, communicative organisational style makes it a very compfortable place for women to work." She says it is the sort of workplace which will clean up in the 21st century. If she's right, the change will benefit men outside the traditional elite just as much as women. According to Jane Buxton, (whose book Ending the Mother War, Starting the Workp lace Revolution will come out from Macmillan next spring) the cutting-edge thinking in business today is all about "plurality": in other words, "any policy that allows different types of people to work at their best and allows teams to be more energetic and creative". To put it another way, women are becoming more valuable to business. This means that in future we will have more bargaining power. During this century, says Jane Buxton, we've had to adapt to business far more than business had bothered to adapt to us. B ut now there's a general feeling that the time has come to consolidate and get business to accommodate us. The successful women in advertising feel they are already making a difference - as are approachable female MPs and empathic female journalists. What remains to be seen is what happens when these amazing insider/outsiders move up to the very top and lose those essential connections with the everyday world. There is no doubt that we need them there. The top is where policies get decided. But how much difference will they make - or want to make - after they've settled in? Will they have spent so much time pretending that they have become their masks? These are the riddles that will make the workplace revolution a show worth watching. Especially the ads.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

    £30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game