Shout out to Bumble, Michelob, Coke and Pizza Hut. Everyone else… what gives? Asks LBB’s Laura Swinton
2019, some of the trades would have you believe, was the year of women for Super Bowl. And, to an extent, there might be a point – certainly there were surprising contenders from brands targeted at a largely female audience, from Bumble to Olay. But while brands are quite happy to take cash from women, they’re a lot less keen to employ them behind the camera.
Yep, while those with their priorities in order were skipping the Super Bowl in order to watch the superb Russian Doll on Netflix, an absolute trip of a series created by an amazing crew of women writers and directors (stop what you’re doing and watch it now), adland was proving that it’s still collectively cowardly when it comes to female directors.
Last year the grand total of women-directed campaigns was… four. This year has seen no improvement – ironically, we’re experiencing some serious Groundhog Day vibes (a major aspect of Russian Doll. And I mean it. Go. Watch. It. Now). To put it into context Peter Berg directed three separate Superbowl campaigns. Traktor got two spots, as did Ringan Ledwidge and Harold Einstein. That’s not to pick on individual directors, by the way – the above are all incredibly talented – but to illustrate the extent to which opportunities are still closed off to womankind.
It’s not been the best start to the year in terms of recognition of female directing talent; over in the feature world women were noticeably absent from the Best Director Oscars shortlist. There’s a big old list of women directors who ought to have been in with a shout, but for me the absence of Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here, Debra Granik for Leave No Trace and Can You Ever Forgive Me’s Marielle Heller, are particular head-scratchers.
I can’t quite put my finger on why the ad industry, having really blazed a trail ahead of Hollywood with its support for Initiatives like Free the Bid, seems to have stalled. Complacency? Or has the industry’s hyperactive faddishness revealed its support for diverse talent to be as superficial as we might have suspected? There were a couple of ads with a female empowerment angle directed by men, which I don't particularly have a problem with in and of itself; I don't think there are 'girl' topics and 'boy' topics, I'd love to see more women directing big action sequences and working in more traditionally 'blokey' areas. But when the balance is so hugely out-of-kilter, it does make you wonder what's going on inside agencies.
It’s important to take stock of signs and symptoms and to monitor progress. If agencies and brands were genuinely committed to supporting female directors and hunting out exciting, different voices then things ought to have shaken out a little better statistically. Discounting movie and TV trailers, just four of around 50 campaigns were directed by women or mixed-gender directing collectives. Really? There’s no absence of female talent – again, Free the Bid’s directory is a vast and useful resource. Personally speaking, I’ve got a long and growing mental list of ‘Brilliant Women Directors Who Have Inexplicably Never Had a Car Ad’ - it really isn't that difficult.
We should be beyond celebrating and congratulating brands and agencies for choosing to work with women directors. It ought to be completely unremarkable. But we are where we are. So let’s end with a hat tip and wave to the ads that were directed by women for this year’s big game. It won’t take you long to watch them all, sadly.
Bumble In Her Court directed by A.V. Rockwell
Agencies VMLY&R and FlyteVu. Production company Little Minx.
Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold directed by Emma Westenberg
Agency FCB Chicago. Production company Partizan.
A Coke is a Coke directed by Kylie Matulick, Trevor Conrad and Todd Mueller
Agency Wieden+Kennedy Portland. Production company Psyop.
Pizza Hut $5 Lineup directed by JEAN (Eric Eckelman, Armand Prisco and Natalie Prisco)