We started this blogsite and survey to find out where all of the bright, cool women that blazed a trail in their teens and 20s ended up in their 30s and 40s. Because if there’s one thing that we knew for sure, it was that they certainly didn’t end up running the world (in the shape of running huge organisations) in the way that they might have thought, or the way that they were led to believe when at school.
We started this because we ended up as two very rare beasts – working mums at director level in media agencies. We didn’t think this was unusual, it’s what we’d always thought we’d be able to do. We never thought that we’d be a minority, but we most definitely were. We didn’t truly understand that this was only possible because we had fantastic bosses who understood that effectiveness is not dependent on presence or set hours, but let us work how and when we wanted, as long as we continued to deliver and grow business. We didn’t know how rare that was until we started this site and survey.
Those who’ve been with us for a while will know how shocked we were to discover that, despite legislation, feminism and supposed equality, women still make up a measly 13% of board positions in the advertising industry – an almost unbelievable 3% drop from the 1970s.
Of course, this will come as no surprise to any of you who’ve had the misfortune to view a TV ad aimed squarely at ‘us women’ – because let’s face it, they’re not exactly hitting us between the eyes with extraordinary insight into the way we live our lives. Not exactly capturing the essence of our hopes and dreams in those precious few seconds of airtime. Even when viewed at x8 speed with the sound muted, the women we see rapidly acting out a brand’s dream don’t seem to have much to do with our everyday life.
And the truth is, we don’t know any women that like these ads. We’re not sure who connects with them, or feels even a spark of recognition for the women characters portrayed. None of the words that they say or the things that they tell us make us scream ‘yes, that’s me, that’s exactly me and my life’ in the way that say, reading an Allison Pearson or a Marion Keyes or even, hell yes, a David Nicholls makes us feel.
We’ve sunk a long way down since the days when Fay Weldon was creating ad straplines (working in advertising, in the ’60s, with one of our mothers – believe it or not). We’ll bet you can’t find one advert today that makes you want to buy the product because you connect with the model or the messaging. Which means that we’re buying these products in spite of the ads. The very ads that are meant to make us buy them. Crazy when you think about it.
Infuriating for us, as we’ve spent our working lives with brands – striving to create strategies that do connect with women (mainly busy mums who have literally seconds to decide whether to interact or not). It’s a received wisdom that that 85% of brand decisions are made by women – so we care passionately about trying to make sure that this smart, interesting, active majority are finding things to believe and love.
But really, why is it so hard to sell us breakfast cereal or shampoo in a way that we can relate to? Why are the women so unreal, the children as unrecognisable as any we’ve encountered – and the men so unfailingly complicit in this stereotype?
The campaigns get even worse when let lose in the wild west that many regard as social media. Just because we’re online doesn’t mean that we want to play a game, sign up to a trite campaign or endure endless ads in our social streams (yes Facebook, we’re talking to you).
We love the stuff that inspires, educates and informs in any other medium – books, films, tweets, blog posts, TED talks, galleries, theatre and beyond. And we fail to understand why an ad, with a massive budget backing it, can’t do any of these things. It should, at the very least, entertain and resonate. We’re too ready to find and enjoy the good things for brands to be doing us the disservice of serving up bad stuff.
And we can’t help thinking that in all honesty, if there were more women on the boards of advertising agencies, they wouldn’t let half this stuff out of the door…