Move over Mad Men: The digital revolution is driving greater gender equality

Selina Petosa is executive creative director and founding principal of Rational Interaction

Move over Mad Men, we are in a new age of advertising. It’s no surprise the advertising ecosystem and agency dynamics have evolved dramatically, especially over the last five years, due largely to the rise of new digital channels. The days of martini lunches and wide ties are long gone, replaced with a new genre of advertising dominated by digital strategies and integrated campaigns. And behind those campaigns, you’ll find more women than ever before.

Gender disparity has of course been pervasive and wide-reaching, particularly in the creative, tech and advertising industries. Historically, women didn’t have a face in these industries aside from secretary positions and had limited opportunities to climb the corporate ladder. Even today, women are lagging behind men in ad-specific leadership positions. Although women control 80 percent of consumer spending in the U.S. and more than half of the U.S. population, only 3 percent of creative directors in advertising are women. This represents a huge disparity that makes for bad business, missing opportunities to gain valuable perspective and creative direction.

But all that is changing with the rise of digital. The creativity necessary in digital advertising is driving a more collaborative culture that affords new opportunities for women to not only contribute but to lead. Women have more opportunity to add to the creative process in ways that were typically forbidden during the overwhelmingly white-male Mad Men days. Women are now given the opportunity to speak up, share their ideas and get credit for their contributions. Women are financially compensated for their share of work within a creative agency and have more opportunities for advancement in leadership roles.

The industry is, of course, still dominated by men, especially when it comes to C-level positions. But the digital revolution is changing the way it operates. As agencies revamp their creative strategies and take on new perspectives about how they run, women more than ever before have the opportunity to take highly visible leadership roles in creative departments and prove they can succeed in a competitive, ever-changing environment.

There is already no shortage of examples. Sarah Watson, BBH NY’s first ever chief strategy officer, took the lead on last year’s award-winning “Perfect Day” PlayStation ad and the EFFIE-winning Cole Haan “Don’t Go Home” Fashion Week campaign. Becky Swanson, executive creative director at Leo Burnett, lent her brainpower to the “Like A Girl” viral YouTube campaign that has generated more than 50 million views. Then there’s Kat Gordon, who is the founder and creative director of agency Maternal Instinct and the brains behind the industry’s The 3% Conference — which, yes, means exactly what you think it means.

Brands have become savvier and realize that the best way to market to a broader demographic is to have that population represented in the marketing decision-making process. Advertising has taken a swift digital shift, now encompassing much more than just idea-creation. Though television and print ads are still important, advertisements now involve integrated websites, mobile ads, consumer-generated media, social ads, video online advertising, and programmatic delivery methods.

Today, the technology behind the delivery is as important as the creativity — and only agencies that balance nitty-gritty tech with artistry will succeed. Consider the look and feel of how Super Bowl ads have shifted over the years. This year, the top ads were full of emotion, puppies and sob stories generating pre-game buzz on Twitter and YouTube days, and even weeks before the big game. It’s a sign of how times are changing. Some industry experts assert that we are on the cusp of a creative revolution, on a scale not seen since the 1960s. We are experiencing a digital uprising, and it’s only a matter of time before women own this opportunity to lead the industry.

Most digital agencies have larger groups leading to more diversity in skill and demographics, including gender. Functions are blended and some titles don’t even exist in traditional agencies: You may have, for example, a designer, director and strategist, to name a few. This leaves room for opportunity and growth both individually and organizationally where women can drive their own careers. As opposed to traditional agency settings, collaboration is arguably even more crucial in a digital environment—and effective collaboration requires diverse perspectives.

To quote Gordon: “It will always be changing. You can only be Mad Men for so long. This is our Age of Aquarius moment.”

More in Marketing

In the marketing world, anime is following in the footsteps of gaming

As marketers look to take advantage of anime’s entry into the zeitgeist, they might be wise to observe the parallels between the evolution of anime as a marketing channel and the ways brands have learned to better leverage gaming in recent years. 

With the introduction of video ads and e-commerce, Roblox looks to attain platform status

Roblox is expanding into more areas than just ads in 2024. Much like platforms such as Amazon and Facebook have transcended their origins to evolve from their origins as online marketplaces and social media channels, Roblox is in the midst of a transformation into a platform for all elements of users’ virtual lives.