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Every movement begins with a moment.

Reflections of An Advertising Man

Posted 30 September 2014 10:48 AM by Thom Henkel

Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by strong, intelligent, amazing women — from my own mother to employers, associates and friends. As a result, I’m sensitive to the inherent struggles and preconceptions I’ve never had to endure as a white man from a middle-class family in New York, working in advertising. I’ve never had to choose between a family and a career path. I’ve never had someone call out my assertiveness as “bitchy” rather than “confident.” I’ve never endured the frustration and resentment of knowing I wasn’t making as much money or progressing as quickly as my peers simply as a side effect of my gender. I’ve never been told that I wouldn’t be able to do something because of who I was.

Throughout my years in school and then on into my career, I’ve had many lively debates over a pint of beer or a cup of coffee with women and men that I admire and respect. We’ve talked about feminism, the glass ceiling, the right to choose and equal employment opportunities. In one such discussion, a dear friend and I spent an hour applying the Bechdel test to popular commercials of the day. We finally concluded that that three women meeting over a spotless kitchen passed, as they were indeed discussing something other than “a man.”

And like any young advertisers worth their salt, there was a constant examination of the writings of David Oglivy, who, in his 1963 magnum opus “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” always referred to the consumer as “she” or “her” and left us with such insights as:

  • "You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine. Do as you would be done by.”
  • “The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.”

Even writing those words on the cusp of the modern feminist movement, Oglivy understood whom the consumer was and the power she held. So when I heard about the ideological foundation behind The 3% Conference, I was intrigued by and excited about the discourse it would bring.

Perhaps, being a MiniCon, there just wasn’t enough time to break significantly below the surface. Perhaps my personal experiences and past discussions had me envisioning a myriad of differing views and eye-opening revelations. Perhaps, in all my hopes for a perspective-jolting, mind-blowing examination of the subject matter, I was forgetting how all of this started (even for me): as a conversation. And that’s what the purpose of the 3% MiniCon is — to spark that conversation. Throughout the day, we engaged in a dialogue about the often-ignored yet always-powerful impact of diversity. From a purely business perspective, it’s impossible to create effective advertising for a demographic you can’t identify with. And statistics have conclusively shown that demographic is overwhelmingly female.

As our CCO Anthony Reeves stated at the MiniCon, “Inequality isn’t just a female problem, it’s a human problem.” As advertisers, as human beings, we should all be working toward a creative environment where, regardless of who is in the room, everyone approaches a problem with understanding and empathy for the consumer, whomever she may be.

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