Advertising has a ‘Fearless Girl’ problem
Perhaps there is no better image of the extreme awkwardness facing the advertising industry currently than this: Arvind Raman, senior brand journalist for McCann Worldgroup, proudly showing his agency’s work, “Fearless Girl,” to a room full of brands and agencies at the ANA confab in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 4.
A day later, news broke about State Street Corporation, the parent of the client on the campaign, agreeing to pay $5 million in a payout to 300 women and 15 black people because it paid them less than male, white peers, after a U.S. federal audit found that the company was discriminating against senior-level employees. The firm denies wrongdoing.
“Fearless Girl,” a statue of a little girl facing Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” that was created to promote State Street’s Gender Diversity Index fund on Nasdaq, has already gotten every ad award under the sun, including multiple Grand Prix in Cannes. It’s been lauded as resonant in social media, timely, permanent and game-changing. It’s meant to promote gender diversity in leadership. But it’s also emblematic of a central problem in advertising that — despite what David Ogilvy said — good advertising can’t actually kill a bad product.
But much of advertising is about papering over problems and creating impressions — that may end up not being real. As everyone bemoans the state of digital advertising, one consistent theme that emerges is the role of the marketing functions, both inside and outside the brand, in driving actual business results. It’s especially striking against the backdrop of the Cannes Lions festival, which has over the last few years tried to push itself more to clients, citing studies on how “creativity” has a real place in business results. “Fearless Girl” is emblematic of a fraud problem in advertising itself.
“Advertising produces nothing solid or tangible in and of itself. It produces symbolic images, lifestyles and attitudes,” said Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Fordham University, who has extensively researched advertising and the personalities of the people in the industry. After all, much of marketing happens through PR, which is why situations like this happen. And all advertising, in some ways, is “fraud.”
It’s a tough spot for an agency. McCann declined to comment for this story. “What we are given to do is to create a brand,” said one creative who did not work on this project. “We did our job. If we don’t, we won’t really have many jobs.” On industry forum Fishbowl, a poster, meant to be sung to the tune of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” read: “It’s like rain on your wedding day/It’s like a Grand Prix at Cannes when your client doesn’t practice equal pay.”
At Advertising Week two weeks ago, State Street Global Advisors CMO Stephen Tisdalle admitted as much, although he spins it differently: “Do we as an organization reflect the penultimate makeup and reflection in being a diverse organization? No. And that was a risk because a lot of the people felt the message might be diluted by a lot of cynical people saying, ‘Well, who are you to talk about gender diversity when you’re not a perfect embodiment of it?’”
State Street Corporation, the company making the payout, is different from State Street Global Advisors, the client that commissioned the statue itself. They also have different marketing teams. But you can’t separate the “division” from the company, a side effect of having an advertising campaign that was successful from a marketing perspective to this degree. The learning has to come from the media storm that has ensued.
For agencies and those in the marketing world, damage control is already happening. Speaking to Ad Age, Lisen Stromberg, COO of The 3% Conference, said the situation may actually be a win. “State Street and its agency, McCann, took a risk to challenge the status quo with ‘Fearless Girl.’ Now, she is a symbol that goes well beyond either of them,” she said, adding that “fearless girls won.”
CAMP wants to patent e-commerce for kids with its new Present Shop
CAMP's new Present Shop is trying to give children a safe, supervised and fun way to shop online.
Global green shoots: Where the media and advertising markets are around the world on the road to recovery
Digiday reporters took a (virtual) trip around the world to see how the post-covid economy is influencing advertising and media trends.
Advertisers’ protracted pursuit of cross-media measurement is gathering pace.
It took a minute, but marketers could soon be able to see see what proportion of people saw their ad on online video and TV versus TV only.
SponsoredHow brand lift studies and survey ads are shaping marketing campaigns
Before running any digital campaign, it is crucial to align brand messaging and strategy. By doing so, marketers ensure the brand is portrayed in a way that is appealing to its target audience. Ultimately, this alignment encourages engagement that drives consumers to the bottom of the marketing funnel. Data-driven insights are the key to achieving […]
How the world’s biggest advertisers are spending (or not) as industries adapt to the coronavirus pandemic
Digiday analyzed the most recent earnings updates from the top 10 ad spenders in the world — the result are a mixed bag.
Member ExclusiveMedia Buying Briefing: Omnicom launches a retro-style panel to codify post-pandemic consumer types
Consumer mindsets changed radically during the pandemic. Omnicom is working to identify the changes to inform clients' marketing