Advertising's a powerful tool to effect positive change - let's create the space to champion that

Do It Day advert - Times Square

At the end of last week, Nick Entwistle came under fire for promoting sexist advertising.

For those who don't know him, Nick runs One Minute Briefs (OMB), where each week a self-selecting community of creative people (many of whom do not even work in the advertising industry) has 60 seconds to come up with ideas to meet a brief set through social media. The brain, like a muscle, benefits from regular exercise and OMB provides the equivalent of a HIT workout for the right side of the brain.

It performs a similar purpose to The Drum’s own Chip Shop Awards, in that it gives creative people a client-free chance to come up with and execute ideas, just for the pure love of it. The reason why Nick is involved with the Chip Shop Awards as a partner is that we share the same commitment to enhancing creativity.

Some brilliant work comes out of these initiatives. So does some average work, as well as some frankly rubbish work too. Often the ideas are pretty close to the edge in terms of taste and political correctness.

Last week’s criticism arose because of an OMB response that definitely came under the latter category. In my opinion, it also would be rated as average at best. It was published directly onto the OMB open platform and then shared on social media.

A number of people who are standing up for gender equality in our industry have been upset by the nature of the results and some disquiet has been expressed on various platforms. They called on Nick to take action to redress the situation.

OMB immediately responded by asking members to take down the ads, drafting a new code of practice, announcing the launch of a board to monitor entries and announcing that a new platform was being developed to help avoid future problems occurring.

Critics have also asked him to make sure the work on the platform complies with ASA guidelines around gender stereotyping, a step I doubt can happen overnight.

I am totally against gender stereotyping. I am totally for gender equality and fighting for women’s rights. At The Drum we’ve demonstrated our ongoing commitment to this in many ways, including asking one of the leading organisations championing gender equality in our industry if they would like to give tickets away to the Chip Shop Awards event this week as I believe the more female creatives make themselves visible now, the more female creatives we will have in the future. And we all agree this is important to making sure that advertising will be less-and-less responsible for reinforcing gender and other types of stereotypes.

Nick made an error of judgement and he has attempted to correct it as far as I can see.

I’ve discussed this situation at some length with my senior team at The Drum, and we’ve thought about it in terms of the values we have and the beliefs we hold dear. We are in agreement that we are deeply uncomfortable about the manner in which those holding the banner for females in the industry have conducted themselves over this issue. Nick has been attacked and vilified in a way that seems way out of proportion, especially as he has responded and acted. Over the weekend he has taken ill due to the pressure he has been put under.

We debated how to and even whether to respond to calls for a boycott of the Chip Shop Awards. In the end we used our values to guide us:

We believe that marketing can change the world, so we must continue to push the boundaries to produce the best work we can. OMB and the Chip Shop Awards are a conduit for this, allowing some new talent to be unearthed. Both these schemes have demonstrated they are open to change and boycotting them deprives the industry of important creative platforms.

We believe that women should have equal rights and that gender stereotyping in published advertising is wrong. Where this is not being observed, it should be called out.

We believe that it’s good to shake things up but to never be nasty. OMB is not a big faceless corporation and Nick is an individual who has tried to do something good and fun for our industry. To attack him so personally, in a way that could end OMB, is not right.

I recently watched the video of Meghan Markle’s 2015 address to the United Nations on gender equality. She described how at 11 years old she watched a TV commercial for a P&G washing up liquid which led to two boys in her class commenting that yes, women did belong in the kitchen. She then went about doing what was in her power as an 11-year-old child, which led to P&G remaking the advert with a different script.

This reminds me of two things.

Advertising is a powerful tool for helping shape how people see the world.

Those who campaign with dignity and restraint can create significant change.

Let’s all keep this in mind when we are calling-out.

Diane Young is the chief executive of The Drum.

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