No advertisement for equality

Despite women controlling much consumer spending, they write very few of the ads.
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The Independent Online
Once upon a time there was an ambitious young advertising copywriter, let's call her Lynda. Eager to move to a bigger and better agency, she contacts a headhunter who approaches a creative director at one of the top 10 advertising agencies. "You'll know Lynda's work, I'm sure - she's won a number of industry awards and her portfolio is great," the headhunter enthuses. "Mmm," says the creative director before he cuts to the chase: "And how big are her tits?"

This sorry tale is apocryphal. Yet even in 1997 it has a ring of truth. Why? Because while women account for more than half of those entering the advertising business each year, they make up just 7 per cent of the agency creatives who actually write the ads. And it has a demonstrable effect on the advertising we see. "Advertising to women is incredibly difficult," Simon Green, creative partner at London agency BDDH, wrote in these pages just two weeks ago. "I personally find it difficult to talk to them as an audience. Ninety per cent of people writing ad campaigns are guys, so there's little understanding of how women think and how the industry should talk to them."

Actually, the figure is 93 per cent, but let's not nit-pick. The point is that few women are writing ads, few women want to write ads and many women feel a lot of the ads they see are at best dull and dated, at worst patronising and condescending. It can be no coincidence that women creatives report that while they receive numerous calls from creative wannabes still at college, having visited the agency, many young women fail to follow through.

If you ask anyone in the industry to name women creatives few get beyond 10. Top of the tree sits Barbara Nokes, creative director of Grey London. There's also Alex Taylor, head of copy writing at Saatchi and Saatchi. And fast rising up through the ranks is BBH's art director, Tiger Savage, soon to be deputy creative director at Leagas Delaney. Then there's a half a dozen or so more including Kiki Kendrick, Charity Charity, Pat Docherty and Vic Fallon. No, you don't need a silly name (or an androgynous one) to get on. But it helps. "You've got to be remembered," Savage explains. A talent for self-publicity is a prerequisite. "It's not just about coming up with ideas, it's about selling them, too. You must have a conviction it's right - that's not so much a gender thing, it's about personality." She may be right. But then, she adds, being a minority in this testosterone- rich work environment can be a positive boon. "I'm given more opportunities because I'm a minority. And I love it. I'd hate to be just another guy."

The macho culture of advertising devalues commercials for women. In the bad old days, advertising for many household products relied on an adland formula charmingly referred to as "Two `c's in a `k'." (Clue: `k' stands for kitchen and if you don't know what the `c' stands for, it rhymes with `hunt'). Today, things have changed. There's greater awareness of what's likely to offend, and greater public willingness to complain. Trouble is, it's not yet had much impact on the way ads are made.

According to Camilla Sparkes, of the headhunters Kendall Tarrant: "All the girls I talk to in the industry are disappointed by the lack of men taking them seriously," she says. "Those women creatives who have done particularly well have done so in mixed partnerships. This has something to do with the fact that most management is still male-dominated. I think there's an element of protecting their territory."

It's also to do with the nature of the job. To get to the top of a creative department takes long hours and a lot of time away from home. A successful creative needs to fight his or her corner, and to have a thick skin when work months in the makingis turned down. And without doubt having kids puts a break on your career. "You tend to earn your stripes before you have children and then come back to the same agency to pay them back for letting you have the time off," confides Rosie Arnold, an art director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Gender also affects the work female creatives are given. Campaigns for many major car and beer brands (accounts which traditionally garner the most ad industry awards) are created by men. "The majority of car clients are male. And male clients feel

happier with male creatives. Unless they're developing a nice little runaround car, that is. Then they're happy for a women to do the ad. It's so simplistic you just wouldn't believe it," says Bev Fortnum, head of art at the advertising agency Gotham. The industry's few women creatives are regularly directed towards haircare, cosmetics and fragrance ads. But even then, lack of numbers dictates most of these campaigns end up created by men. "The end result is these products are not taken as seriously - which is unforgivable given the size of the cosmetics or fashion industries and the fact that women dictate at least 60 per cent of consumer spending power."

To what extent gender has an effect on the quality of advertising is a moot point. Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney (whose creative department enjoys a reputation as one of the industry's most macho) says the business may be "remarkably conservative" and "reactionary", but insists: "As far as we're concerned it's about one thing and one thing only: can a creative write good ads."

A good creative, you see, should be able to create an ad for any audience - old or young, black or white, male or female. "Not so. Our tastes are totally different," says Kiki Kendrick, an art director at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, pointing to recent research which showed 90 per cent of people prefer design, art or literature created by their own sex.

If the industry isn't going to do it, perhaps it's time for the clients to take a handn

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