The week-long celebration of creative excellence in advertising doles out awards — called “Lions — in categories like product design, most mobile-friendly, or best outdoor ads.
This year, though, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In, her nonprofit dedicated to empowering women, are launching a brand new award: The Glass Lion.
The trophy aims to recognise ads that explores ideas of gender and specifically address issues of gender inequality or prejudice.
At last year’s festival, Sandberg held a panel to talk about those same topics, and at its conclusion she pitched Cannes’ organisers on the idea of a new Lion.
Instead of falling back on tired, sexist stereotypes — whether overtly, with scantily-clad women pushing viewers to buy cars or beer, or in more subtle ways, like only putting women, not men, in ads for cleaning products — advertisers need to make their work more inclusive. Sandberg believes that if advertisers don’t speak to all genders in ways that empower and resonate with them, it’s bad for all parties involved.
“Marketing that depicts women and men as equals — instead of reinforcing cliches — isn’t just good for society, it’s also good for business,” Sandberg told Business Insider via email.
In recent years, the ads ecosystem has admittedly improved. Even the once-unabashedly sexist company GoDaddy has pledged to change its tone, and we’re starting to see a crescendo of campaigns that spark conversation and celebrate equality, including the viral Like A Girl campaign or GoldiBlox’s empowering videos. The hope is that by formally acknowleding agencies that are doing good work at the largest ad festival in the world, more will be inspired to craft their upcoming campaigns to be more gender-inclusive.
“Advertising not only reflects culture, it has the power to shape it — so it’s exciting to see agencies and brands creating content that shatters gender stereotypes,” Sandberg says.
A jury of nine will decide which ad agency will win the Glass Lion.
One juror, Laura Jordan Bambach, creative partner at the ad agency Mr President, says that she feels like we could be on the cusp of a turning point in advertising.
“Having been part of the intersection of feminism, communication and technology for over twenty years, there has been a long period of willful ignorance around issues of equality — now the debate is finally being heard,” Jordan Bambach told Business Insider via email.
Which isn’t to say that we’re quite there yet. Although the advertising world might be making slow-and-steady strides towards representing gender equality, ads are still rife with other damaging cliches.
“Some of the most painfully pervasive stereotypes are those around age,” Jordan Bambach says. “In agencies where the average age of the creative department may be in the 20s or early 30s, there is a shocking lack of understanding around anyone post 40. God forbid 55. Or 70. And there’s an unwillingness to explore further because older people aren’t valued in society. They’re seen as boring, difficult or not worth a conversation. As the population ages, I wonder what this means for us and our power to connect creatively.”
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