Can a new award change the rules of the game?


It’s not about gender categories. It’s about quality ethical work.

This week the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity introduced another new category called the “Glass Lion” aimed to recognize the industry’s best work that promotes “inclusive, gender aware forms of brand communications rooted in creative excellence.” Now as a father of three girls, this is an issue that is very close to my heart. But why create yet another category, separated off in a glass house? Shouldn’t we be looking at all of the work entered in every category through this lens?

I recently had the honor of developing and judging a brief for the Young Glorycreative competition. My challenge to the teams was: change the conversation about sex to one that empowers all genders, particularly young women. For those of you that don’t know Young Glory, it’s the only show that celebrates creative consistency by having young creatives compete over an eight month period. In the process, as its founder Rafik Belmesk puts it, they managed to build “the world’s biggest repository of unused ideas with a potential to change the world for the better.” And the issue isn’t Young Glory specific. AKQA’s Future Lions struggles with a similar problem. As an industry we should find a way to produce some of these great ideas.

And that was my main goal going in to Young Glory – to try and bring to life whatever idea won my brief. Judging was tough. The Professional category winner I chose was the concept: create a Lioness Award at Cannes. How better to change the conversation than to focus on the place we as an industry have some control over? I really had no idea the winning piece was from a team at DDB Sydney (seriously adfreak).  But the more you think about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s in DDB’s DNA. As Bill Bernbach often remarked, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

The fact that a DDB team came up with this idea rekindled my pride in our network and passion around the issue. Shouldn’t Bill Bernbach’s agency be leading the fight?Bernbach was the “single most influential creative force in advertising’s history.” (AdAge, The Advertising Century) His leadership was a reflection of the teams he chose, nurtured and inspired.

The legendary Phyllis Robinson was the agency’s Head of Copy from the time DDB opened its doors into the early 60’s and she continued to work on select accounts until 1982. Together with Bob Gage, Head of Art, she created some of the agencies early break through campaigns and hired an equally talented and diverse creative department. As Phyllis said, “We didn’t want to make little carbon copies of us. To say don’t do this, do it like me is deadly… To have them search themselves for the answer, that’s the way.” There was no DDB style except to be fresh, to “do the selling job” and to respect people. And the creative department that led the creative revolution was a true mixture. Not just between men and women, but old and young, beatniks and squares, every conceivable religion, nationality and background working in a collaborative environment that celebrated freedom and had a sense of humor. That’s how you change society for the better.

Each year we present the Bill Bernbach Award to our network’s most creative idea that best exemplifies the creative philosophy and principles on which our company was founded. While Bill belongs to us first, his impact can still be felt throughout the industry. Perhaps it’s time to present a Bill Bernbach Award externally across the industry as well. I promise, we won’t charge an entry fee.

I’ve asked some of the top creatives in our agency network, who also happen to be among our brightest female thought leaders, what they consider to be the best gender aware creative work in our industry today. Here’s to a future when gender aware creative work is simply the best work. Period.

–Amir Kassaei