Gillian Armstrong: Adland’s Become “Brainwashed Into Thinking All Directors Have Beards”

Gillian Armstrong: Adland’s Become “Brainwashed Into Thinking All Directors Have Beards”
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Acclaimed Australian director Gillian Armstrong has launched a scathing attack on the agency “boys’ club” that, she believes, continue to ignore female directors for TV campaigns.

Armstrong, 67, cited stats that show half of all graduate directors leaving Aussie colleges are now female, they’re regularly cleaning-up in short film competitions, however, it’s not translating to directing work within the industry.

Only about 17 per cent of directors on TV ads in Australia are female and, adding to that, Armstrong added that advertising is often a director’s first break that enables them to move on to bigger roles like TV and cinema.

Armstrong said the problem was due to an “unconscious bias” in the industry where “the whole industry has become brainwashed to think of a director as some hipster with a baseball cap and a beard… the industry just doesn’t think of women as directors,” Armstrong told B&T.

“So, you have all these male and female directors graduating, but it’s the boys that get headhunted into the advertising industry because most of the creatives are men and they want cool, hipsters who look like them and will give them their cool, hipster ad.

“The blokes are writing the ads and they want blokes to bring those ads alive, and you see it time and time again,” she said.

However, Armstrong’s not without solutions and cites the “Free The Bid” movement in the US which makes it mandatory for at least one of the three directors pitching for an ad campaign to be female.

“And the great thing about it is it’s not just the agencies that are signing-up to it but the clients are, too,” she said of Free The Bid. “Some of the US’ biggest advertisers, Proctor & Gamble as an example, have all put their names to it.”

Armstrong is also encouraging of a female director mentor program recently introduced by The Communications Council, Australian Directors’ Guild and Screen Australia.

“We want change and it’s the best way to get the agencies to start to think about hiring female directors and that’s just such a great way to get people to get their foot in the door,” Armstrong said.

“You look at a lot of short film festivals around the world, quite often it’s the women who are winning these. So it’s not a question about talent or lack of talent.”

On a brighter note, Armstrong does believe the tide is turning for female creatives, be they directors or writers.

She said there was a horrible time, not that long ago, when Australian advertising was boorishly masculine. Two such examples were the Tooheys Extra Dry “tongue” ad and the “Get Some Pork On Your fork” campaign that is still doing the rounds to this very day, Armstrong noted.

“If advertising is about reaching as many people as possible and women have that power over actual buying decisions, it’s a no-brainer to have a female creative writing the ad and a woman director to realise it.

“Sure, I’m no expert on advertising but I am a consumer and I think things are beginning to change and the smarter agencies are the ones that are starting to realise it. And it’s not just women, its diversity too,” Armstrong concluded.

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  • Anne Miles 1 month ago

    Well said Gillian. We need to be more diverse and tap into the best person for the job if we are to produce work that is getting back to good strategy and delivering great results for brands. Free the Bid is a good movement, but we need people who go beyond this and deliver on best fit for purpose.

Change the Ratio Communications Council Gillian Armstrong

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