Published in Jan-Feb 2022
In 1968, Leo Burnett released an ad campaign for their client Philip Morris. It was for their brand Virginia Slims, and the tagline read: “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” The ad became one of the most iconic of that era. Targeting specifically women, its success was due to the fact that it was rooted in the culture of the moment – the late sixties – if you happened to live in America. It was a proclamation of sorts – a confident woman smoking, just because she could. It was meant to be symbolic of the progress women had made. Later, predictably, the campaign came in for much criticism. Apart from issues around the negative effects associated with smoking, it was seen as patronising to women, and truth be told, the copy was pretty cringe-worthy. In fact, in the context of the current woke culture, ascribing the word ‘baby’ to a woman would lead to irrevocable cancelling. Nevertheless, the tagline stuck in minds and anyone who grew up in the late sixties or early seventies will remember it – especially if they worked in advertising. It is also worth pointing out that the ad was written by a man – make of it what you will. Moving forward to 2022 and to this issue, we look specifically at what women in advertising in Pakistan want. In this context, the key observation would be that advertising in this country has been, from the get-go, a profession welcoming of women – albeit almost exclusively in the creative departments. It has long been seen (at least by the less conservative sections of society) as a line of occupation suitable for women – pending marriage. In fact, those earlier decades – fifties, sixties and seventies – saw many women joining creative departments, either on the copy or design side, thriving and creating an environment conducive to attracting more women. Does this still hold true in 2022? The answer, despite changing generations and expectations, is yes. Advertising remains a profession capable of rewarding and validating women. It is seen as a profession that provides as good a level playing field as can be expected in Pakistan, at least from the entry- to mid-executive levels of the profession. The problems begin with the move up the ladder, especially outside the creative departments. In fact, getting to CCO or ECD level is not the issue. The issue is when it comes to managing the agency or managing clients – barring a few notable exceptions. It is here that the barriers harden and become very tough to climb over. The world of business is built around norms that accommodate the male experience. It starts with men preferring to deal with men – basically what Faraz Maqsood Hamidi refers to in this issue as homophily (the tendency for people to seek out, or be attracted to, those who are similar to themselves). A tendency that inevitably runs to what is known as “the old boys’ network.” Forget getting together for a game of golf or squash. What about attending a brainstorming dinner, where, apart from the woman, every other colleague is a man? The men are not comfortable because they have to hold back on the jokes and the overall ‘we the boys’ feel-good factor. As for the woman, chances are she had to either deal with ‘permission’ issues at home or reorganise the entire household’s evening schedule – or both. And from thereon – be it about going to a business meeting or travelling on business – a raft of underlying issues bubble to the top. Women, because of family limitations, cannot manage a business or clients as effectively as men. They don’t have what it takes. They don’t talk the same language as men (no, they don’t). They are unable to put in the hours. They are perpetually caught between work and home. They are more likely to fail. None of this holds true. They are either entrenched prejudices that have to be overcome or adjustments that have to be made. The fact is that women – in leadership positions or not, do it differently. And what is the problem with doing stuff differently? Ten years ago, we trudged off to the bank to deposit and withdraw cash; today, we do it online from wherever we happen to be. Until 18 months ago, working from home was a non-starter notion; today, it is embraced as an effective hybrid solution by global blue-chip companies. Different is good. It enables change and adds value to what we seek to achieve – and if people in advertising don’t share an appreciation of the value of different, then whom? So yes, agencies must rise to the challenge of choosing ‘different’. Some have already started doing so, but not nearly enough. At the end of the day, the weight will have to be carried by the women in advertising; they have to call out the lip service, the tokenism and the inertia, and then create the ‘different’. Then, and only then, will the rest see how good different really is – for everyone.