Posted by: David Kiley on July 5, 2007
On one hand, I’m heartened that the film winner at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival was Dove’s “Evolution” from Ogilvy, Toronto.
On the other hand, I can’t help but view the film, which shows how advertising photographers use make-up and digital manipulation of ad images to create an unrealistic image of beauty, as a one-off moment. It’s a bit like watching Al Gore give his global warming speech and then get into a Hummer H2 and drive to his next gig.
Advertisers distort whenever they can. And agencies are their enablers. The distortion of beauty and what I will call looksism permeates the ad industry beyond the ads and into the organizations. I have worked at two major ad agencies in my life. One thing I saw play out in both places was this. Account managers were more often cast, rather than hired. The vast majority of people on day-to-day account management were of a physical type, especially the women. Men, of course, can get away with a lot more in the workplace when it comes to looks.
The look for women in account management is not so much magazine model as actress. In the two places I worked, the only place I saw women who were heavy or not completely put together was in book-keeping, human resources, benefits management and the like. Behind the scenes. I’ve been in on conversations with men at ad agencies where they spoke code for “she’s not really the type I’m looking for” for contact with clients. One account management boss who I recall saying as much actually hired a woman to run an account who was not only intellectually vacant, but on most days from May to October wore tops that exposed her navel.
Ocassionally, if a woman was just too good creatively no matter how she looked, she had a job in the creative department. But there too, looksism abounds. It’s probably not a big surprise since creatives are being hired by mosty wealthy, male creatiuve director executives who are used to hanging around models on shoots.
And then there is the New York agency of a friend of mine. I won’t throw him under the bus here. But when I go to his place, 90% of the women employed there look as if they walked out of fashion catalogs. This is no accident. It’s by design. And after a few drinks, he’ll admit that attractive women applying for jobs at his place, a pretty big agency, absolutely have a leg up. “Sue me. I like to be surrounded by nice looking women,” says the agency exec. It’s Trumpism, as in Donald Trump, who has said as much in the past.
Are there exceptions to this. Of course? But I feel pretty comfortable with asserting this opinion as the rule more than the exception. It’s just the way the business is at most agencies. And it makes the Evolution ad that much more significant, but also ironic.