Can the Festival of Creativity move us into a new era of activism?

Can the Festival of Creativity move us into a new era of activism?

As an industry it's time to kick into a more activist phase, argues Creativebrief's managing director.

Saying that diversity will be a talking point at Cannes in 2017 is understatement personified. But the question is whether it will only be talked about, or whether this year something will actually change.

Diversity as a topic has (rightly) simmered on the tip of the industry’s tongue for a number of years now. Gender in particular; and it’s here that I’ll focus attention for the purpose of this article.

For me, Always’ seminal #LikeAGirl in 2014 brought the debate to the foreground, giving it the oxygen it needed to move from subdued dialogue to a more public platform in the mainstream.

Since then endless articles, events, panels, campaigns and hashtags have ensued, abating consciences and ensuring some small, valuable steps have been taken forward. But progress of late has slowed, and as an industry it’s time to kick into a more activist phase.

The mood now is one of weariness with the seemingly perpetual discourse. Yes, slowly, slowly we’re seeing some changes in the work: more responsible casting or more challenging depictions of classically held gender roles. And at glacial pace we’re seeing some improvements in the gender balance of the industry’s workforce on a variety of levels.

But we’re also seeing some seriously fucking concerning markers pass us by without any notable change whatsoever (and remarkably with very little ambient noise).

The most worrying of these was a recent career and salary survey which showed that the pay gap between male and female marketers had actually widened from 20.8% to 22.4% over the last 12 months. That’s right – widened!

This was despite an apparent determination amongst the industry’s leaders for reform. Well, if that’s what we manage to achieve when we’ve supposedly got the bit between our teeth, then we should be very uneasy indeed.

Frankly, it’s a damning indictment on all of us and a failure to be ashamed of.

But could Cannes 2017 provide a welcome platform to kick-start a change in attitude and direction? One just a little bit more indignant, and one just a little bit less prepared to compromise. 

It would be fitting if so, as the festival has played its part in driving dialogue historically. 2015 saw the introduction of the Glass Lion for work that specifically addressed issues of gender inequality or prejudice. In the same year #ThisGirlCan, #LikeAGirl and #TouchThePickle (among others) amassed awards, which put further wind in the sails of the diversity debate.

So the festival and its juries deserve credit, no question. But the test for Cannes Lions in 2017 will be whether it can become the catalyst that mobilises a real movement from the unending platitudes.

Expect to see genuine efforts to make this happen in the south of France this week, with Campaign taking a leading role.

Watch for a visible and actionable campaign in conjunction with Mother, entitled "Stop talking about equality and make it happen". Part of the #CampaignforEquality also sees them partnering with GoDaddy in launching a competition aimed at highlighting the woeful lack of diversity in the advertising and technology sectors.

Airbnb also announced plans to openly interview and recruit for diverse creative teams beachside this year, and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO have launched a new programme to hire for half-time creative roles designed to tackle gender imbalance in the agency that results from trying to juggle work and family life.

In addition, Creative Equals have thrown down the gauntlet to Cannes Lions itself to go ‘50/50’ in terms of speakers on stage in 2018 and to #SharetheSpotlight.

Plus, expect to see pressure applied to brands this week to increasingly insist on diverse agency teams; an agenda we are driving hard at Creativebrief to provide clear commercial benefit for agencies in becoming more balanced and diverse.

Overall the change in tone is encouraging, but it must go further. At its best Cannes will play a galvanising role in driving us all to take this on to the next level. And galvanised we must be.

As we move into a new phase we should steel ourselves for the inevitable discomfort that comes from breaking down barriers and entrenched behaviours in any walk of life. Expect to see a shift away from lauding those businesses and leaders raising awareness of the issues, towards admonishing those failing to act.

But that’s a necessary pivot for our industry as we strive to cross the divide between alacrity and attainment.

Charlie Carpenter is managing director at Creativebrief

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