In 2011 attended the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. The holy grail of advertising creativity. It was my first visit to Cannes, but not my first to advertising awards shows. I’ve been in and around the ad industry for years. In the end, I think, awards shows are awards shows. They may get bigger and more expensive and express a global venue – but little changes.
Hip. Casual chic was everywhere in the same timeless way advertising hip has been demonstrated for years – jeans and tee shirts with funky shoes. Of course, as it was Cannes and so the optional khaki shorts and sandals appeared. Youth, the iconic marker of hip, was also abundantly apparent and, as usual, encouraged by the excessive flow of alcohol. Hip translated smoothly from people to images and ideas. But, this too was not new. Youthful hip is a perennially postmodern phenomenon bred within and well articulated by advertising.
White. For as global as our world has become the advertising images were inherently western, even if the agencies were from Singapore or San Paolo. In print small logos, resting quietly in the lower right corner, with minimal copy along side small headlines and dominant visuals predominated – just as they have for years. There were winners from Brazil and India, and China snagged its first gold lion, but most were from global multi-national agencies who have moved into emerging markets anxious to help spread global capitalism. Despite the diversity of winners almost everyone was a polished hip western, “white.” For a global marketplace it was discouraging to see such homogenous blending of constructed shades of white.
Men. They were everywhere, just like in the agency world where they make-up virtually 80 percent of all creative departments. The judging panels continued to play out the 80/20 game – perpetuating a style and a way of working that is defined by masculinity and not by the people who make the lion’s share of consumption choices – women. The surprise, though it should not have been, was the “New Directors Showcase,” with 17 new directors – all men, if my memory serves me correctly. Here too history repeated itself with hyper-masculine imagery of boyhood remembered, violence, and sex, with a few rare exceptions. Of the 17 directors only five featured female characters and of that four were sophomoric and sexualized representations. The greatest differentiating factor was the dazzling technological executions.
This seems a story with a predetermined ending. Which takes me back to where I began. Hip. White. Men. Advertising seems to be speaking to hip white men – who award hip, white men – who hire hip, white men – who…
And we wonder why advertising, and media I might add, have a certain gendered point of view? I don’t.