Advertising Sexism Diversity & Inclusion

Giordano Hong Kong's ‘Cook’ campaign is why there should be more women in leadership positions

By Kate Tancred, Co-founder and chief executive officer

The Smalls


Opinion article

June 4, 2018 | 6 min read

Hong Kong brand Giordano found itself in hot water in May after it published an ad campaign on Facebook that would have made even the most sexist of Mad Men execs blush.


Giordano is not the first brand to attract a backlash across on social media for its sexist and out-of-touch content.

The 'Team Family Series' ad showed a family posing together, with the mum wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Cook’. The dad’s shirt read 'Work'.

Unsurprisingly, the brand was forced to remove the ad after attracting howls of protest by outraged social media users, who branded the campaign ‘disgraceful’, ‘sexist’ and ‘unforgivable’, among other less-than-flattering adjectives.

It is hard to disagree.

But while we can all shake our heads and wonder to ourselves how a brand’s marketing team ever thought it was acceptable to push out a piece of content like that in the first place, we all know it’s only a matter of time until another brand makes the same mistake.

Unfortunately, Giordano is not the first brand to attract a backlash across on social media for its sexist and out-of-touch content - and it certainly won’t be the last.

Google the words ‘sexist ad’ and the results make uncomfortable reading. You don’t have to go as far back as the 1950s to see that the ad industry still has a major problem with the way it portrays gender roles.

The global statistics coming out of adland at the moment are a bitter pill to swallow. Currently only 3% of ads feature women in leadership or professional roles (source: Unilever), while women are 48% more likely to be featured in the kitchen. Women are also given four times less screen time and are seven times less likely to speak than men (source: JWT and the Geena Davis Institute). And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

So it’s hardly surprising that 85% of women say they are offended by lazy gender stereotypes in advertising (source: JWT and Geena Davis Institute). Such a lack of representation is bad for business, especially when you consider that 70-80% of consumer purchases are driven by women.

Brilliant campaigns such as 'This Girl Can' and 'Like A Girl' are rightly feted as great examples of creative that challenges these lazy stereotypes. But the fact they are singled out only highlights just how widespread the problem really is.

Of course, the industry has been making some steps to address these issues. Only recently, the World Federation of Advertisers - a founding member of the #Unstereotype Alliance, created by UN Women with the support of global brands such as Unilever, P&G, Mars and Diageo - launched its ‘Guide to Progressive Gender Portrayals in Advertising’. The diversity guide is designed to help brands ensure their ad content reflects a more progressive portrayal of both sexes.

In the UK, the ASA has also launched a major crackdown on stereotypes in advertising, while ad tech vendors like Unruly have created a tool to help advertisers see if their ads are sexist or not.

But what we need is a more coordinated global effort to tackle sexist ads. Why are not more advertising associations around the world following the UK ASA’s example? In Hong Kong, where Giordano is based, there are no laws against sexist or gender-specific advertising. So is it any surprise that commercials showing immaculately-dressed women in high heels taking food out of the oven are commonplace? And that recent research shows that a third of entertainment magazine pages in Hong Kong show slimming ads directed at women?

But then, can we really be surprised or shocked by how women are depicted in advertising when you consider just how dominant men are across adland? Recent stats show that as much as 93% of ads are directed by men (Campaign), while in the UK alone - where the ASA is cracking down - just 12% of creative directors are female (Creative Equals).

There’s a huge pool of female talent across the filmmaking industry, but the status quo is not currently bringing those women to the fore.

Surely, the best way for brands to stay relevant to the next generation of women is to aim for equal representation of brilliant male and female talent in the filmmaking industry.

For that reason, we have partnered with Free the Bid to ensure there is at least one female filmmaker in every pitch round presented to our clients. We’ve also made our festival theme this year ‘Fighting for 50/50 in Filmmaking’.

It is a small step, but we believe it is the right start.

If nothing else (and there are plenty of other good reasons!), upping the amount of female talent in production will certainly ensure brands have more authentic and genuine conversations with women through advertising.

Kate Tancred is the co-founder and chief executive officer at The Smalls.

Advertising Sexism Diversity & Inclusion

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