Male Marketers Marketing to Women: Cannes Is Now Rewarding Creativity That Challenges Gender Bias

Cannes award copy

In June of this year, Cannes Lions will introduce a new Lion – the Glass Lion: The Lion for Change – which honors work that challenges gender bias and shatters stereotypical images of men and women which remain rooted in marketing messages.

A jury headed by Cindy Gallop, Founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld / MakeLoveNotPorn, will assess work entered into the new category. Gallop stated, “I couldn’t be more thrilled about the introduction of the Glass Lion, which demonstrates Cannes Lions’ commitment to ensuring that both our industry and the work we create not only more accurately reflects the world around us, but actively changes it for the better,” said Gallop. “I am honoured to be Jury President, and look forward, together with the jury, to celebrating work that will set the gold standard for creative and sociocultural change.”


WHY? Because for more than 100 years, awards have generated recognition, assumption of merit and have been used to measure the value of one’s creative contributions in the advertising industry. However, as the prestigious Cannes Lions Awards are considered the benchmark for creative excellence, rewarding the best work and brightest thinking in advertising, this could be the beginning of a very important shift among all awards. A shift towards not only recognizing that gender bias exists, but also rewarding marketers who choose to take a step towards making cultural changes.

All advertising industry awards have long been criticized (by women) as being controlled by men. And, for good reason. Since the beginning of advertising, the work has been predominantly created and judged by men. Let’s take a quick look at Ad Age’s Advertising Century: Top 100 People. The list, whose criteria was to include those who “shaped the course of advertising history,” reveals that only eight of the one hundred people were women. That’s over the course of one-hundred years – 92 men, 8 women.

So, entries that have been developed by men and awards bestowed by men for more than 100 years, have resulted in an unwarranted bias, even if unconsciously. Especially if you consider the recent findings from Gloria Moss, Professor of Marketing and Management, Buckinghamshire New University and author of “Why Men Like Straight Lines and Women Like Polka Dots.”

Ms. Moss conducted several groundbreaking experiments over more than a decade to test whether the perception of visual design is relativist or universal law by comparing men and women’s reactions to designs created by men and women. She tested people’s preferences for designs across a range of design disciplines from graphic, product and web designs to greeting cards, furniture and everyday objects.

THE RESULTS? Pretty scary if you are attempting to reach the female consumer solely via Mars.

“In every case, there was a statistically significant tendency for men and women, and boys and girls to prefer designs created by those of their own gender. Dr. Rod Gunn, who conducted one of the experiments on web design preferences, described the results as ‘completely watertight. The chances of them occurring by chance are less than one in a thousand.'”

Also specific to the website experiment, the results showed women resisting all aspects of the male aesthetic (preferring the shapes, pictures, language, typography, colors and layout in the female-produced websites) while the men tolerated the shapes used in both sets of websites and actually preferred the pictures in the websites designed by women. The results were true at a 1% confidence level. ~from “Why Men Like Straight Lines and Women Like PolkaDots.”

So, what does this have to do with the Glass Lion award? Everything. The awards that ad agencies thrive on and creative directors crave have been virtually controlled by male preferences including their intrinsic likes and dislikes, unconscious bolstering of stereotypes or even a willingness to turn a blinds eye to denigrating women. That is changing.

THE CANNES LION, likely considered the most prestigious of all awards has drawn a line. Launched with the active support of, the Glass Lion will reward those who strive to “do the right thing.” Author of Lean In and COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg said, “You can’t be what you can’t see – and how we market to women is critically important. If our messages to women – and men – portray equality, we will help create a more equal world.”

Hopefully, the criteria and expectations will ultimately bleed into other categories and awards as well. I think Amir Kassaei, Chief Creative Officer DDB Worldwide, said it best in a recent issue of Lemon 20/20:

“But why create yet another category, separated off in a glass house? Shouldn’t we be looking at all of the work entered in every category through this lens?”

It will get there. Will you?

THE BONUS? You will more effectively appeal to the highly sought after and lucrative-to-the-bottomline female customer.


Stephanie Holland is President and Executive Creative Director for Holland + Holland Advertising,Birmingham, AL. Working in an industry that is dominated by men, she is one of only 3% of the female creative directors in the country. Stephanie works mostly with male advertisers, helping them successfully market to women. Subscribe to She-conomy by Email

One Response to “Male Marketers Marketing to Women: Cannes Is Now Rewarding Creativity That Challenges Gender Bias”

  1. […] we have mentioned, this year Cannes is introducing the Glass Lion award for the first time and Jury Head, Cindy Gallop is charged with honoring work that […]

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