Is Adland Losing Its Madmen Image?

07/12/2012 11:27 GMT | Updated 04/02/2013 10:12 GMT

The latest IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) census reports that the proportion of senior women (Chair, CEO or MD) has risen from a paltry 13.5% last year to a more respectable 21.5% this year. That's an impressive shift albeit from a frankly astonishingly low base. You would have thought that the world of advertising was teeming with creative women given that over 80% of consumer purchase decisions are made by women. Apparently not.

Indeed I was alerted to some research on the topic of creatives in the industry by Gail Parminter, the Creative Director of Madwomen, which specialises in doing creative work for female products. (Great name too, I have to say). A tiny percentage of adverts are actually created by women. Even female personal hygiene products often get their straplines and jingles from the boys!

I assumed that the fabulous Mad Men TV show about Madison Avenue advertising agencies in the 60s, where Don Draper struts his stuff and the downtrodden Peggy Olsen slowly claws her way up from humble secretary to copywriter, was a thing of the past. It turns out that whilst the constant smoking and drinking in the office has abated, the lack of diversity certainly hasn't.

Over 80% of creatives in the advertising industry are men and only 3% of creative directors are female. According to the research, it's got something to do with humour. Men and women find men funnier and so, if you're a female in a group of men pitching a funny idea, they tend not to laugh. Best to give the idea to the men and have them pitch it for you, a bit like Peggy does in Mad Men.

My focus on advertising led me to consider the representation of women in media, old media that is. The Guardian did some research (Women in Journalism) where they measured how many front page news stories were written by men and lo and behold it turns out that 78% of front page news stories are written by men. The research also looked at the photographs on the front page and there was about a 50/50 split between men and women, but the most commonly featured women were the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Middleton. Even when more serious women were there, such as Angela Merkel, they were always shown in slightly ridiculous poses - having a bad hair day for example. Broadcast media does not fare too well either. 72% of Question Time contributors are men and 84% of reporters and questions on the Today programme are men.

Advertisers know only too well that this kind of coverage is highly influential, "The Hidden Persuaders" to quote Vance Packard. So, the subliminal message is that women get noticed when they are pretty princesses or slightly dotty looking politicians. And when it comes to the serious issues that make it onto TV well there are hardly any women there at all.

Lest this turns into a bit of a feminist rant, I must end by saying that I am hopeful that new media is different, with the advent of citizen journalism encouraging many women to have their voices heard. The Huffington Post certainly seems to have more than its fair share of women bloggers. Long may it continue, and here's hoping next year's IPA Census shows another shift at the top.

So, Madmen, look out, the Madwomen are coming!