There Are More Women In Award-Winning Ads, But Still Not Nearly Enough

Deutsch president Kim Getty talks about the gender equality progress that’s been made over the last year in advertising, and the potential for more.

There Are More Women In Award-Winning Ads, But Still Not Nearly Enough

Last year, in Deutsch president Kim Getty’s presentation at Cannes Lions called “Men vs Women: Exploring Marketing’s Impact on Gender Bias,” she highlighted both the role of advertising in culture, as well as why and how brands can do better.


She said that out of all the ads aired during the 2016 Super Bowl, less than a third of the acting roles went to women (32%), and 17.5% were speaking roles. In the four biggest categories of ad spending in the U.S., 34% of the top ads for the top brands in those categories last year had roles for women.

Now, a year later, Getty looked at the award-winning ads at Cannes Lions and found that 62.9% of them featured women, and of those women, 55.29% were in speaking roles.

“When I look at things like the [Cannes Lions] film jury, one of the festivals’ most celebrated–full disclosure our CCO Pete Favat was the president of it this year–was a gender equal jury, with seven out of 14 jurors being women, that’s a major improvement,” says Getty. “They threw out work because of gender insensitivity. So when I see things like that it feels like as an industry we’re starting to get this and understand the importance of it. If you look at the TV work that won, the ball is moving forward.”

High profile ads from Nike, Squarespace, Volvo, and the Film Grand Prix-winning ad from Channel 4 “We’re The Superhumans,” all featured women in a variety of roles.

Despite these signs of progress, another report out of Cannes Lions, from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and agency JWT New York looked at the past decade of Cannes Lions-winning ads in the film and film craft categories, and found not only did men get about four times as much screen time as women, and speak about seven times more than women, but these stats have not measurably improved in over a decade.


In that report, JWT New York chief creative officer Brent Choi said, “What this research shows is that our industry has tent-pole moments, amazing actions or campaigns when we all rally around women, but when it comes to creating our ‘regular’ ads for our ‘regular’ clients, we forget about them.”

Getty agrees, saying that while the work at Cannes Lions represents the advertising’s most progressive, most brave, leading edge, the work being done by the industry collectively is still not there.

“The conversation is getting louder, but what we’re not seeing enough of is women being reflected as humans,” says Getty. “I still think there’s a perspective sometimes that women are a niche audience. And we’re not. Women are the slightest majority of people. We’re going to get to the real breakthrough when there’s a notion that featuring women in modern, contemporary ways isn’t just about tackling gender bias, but about representing all of us.”

But there is hope, both in the Cannes-winning work, which often leads industry trends, but also the state of culture right now. Brands desperately want to be a part of culture, and that very culture may force more to re-examine or be more vigilant in how they depict women in ads and treat women as consumers.

“Women’s voices in culture have never been louder, and I think that’s really exciting,” says Getty. “Brands just do better when they represent the authentic voice of their audience. You almost have to have blinders on to not recognize the conversation from and about women in our country right now. What’s important is that it feels authentic to the brand and the brand’s point of view.”

One statistic that stuck out most for Getty at Cannes this year was that State Street’s “Fearless Girl” got three times as many media impressions as the summer blockbuster Wonder Woman.  The film’s gone down as this amazing empowerment film–female superhero, female director–but Fearless Girl crushed it,” says Getty. “As agencies and brands, and our potential for impact, we really need to think about the world through that lens.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.