Why empathy is trending at Cannes Lions

When was the last time you cried?

I’ve cried twice in the past two days. Once at a loo roll commercial. And I’ve been at work.

Don’t worry, I’m not in the middle of a mid-thirties crisis. I’m in the middle of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, where ‘empathy’ is the theme of the day, and every presentation seems designed to tug on our heartstrings.

In the world of marketing, when consumers are increasingly cynical of big brands and the messages they deliver, empathy is the latest buzzword being bandied around. Which might sound cynical in itself – people don’t want to buy your lousy product, well just make them sob and they’ll change their mind?

Not quite. There appears to be something of a sea change taking place, with a handful of leading industry figures wanting to use the platforms they have to make the world a better place.

One of those figures is Madonna Badger.

Another question before I get onto Madonna’s moving story: have you ever Google image searched the phrase “objectification of women”?

I hadn’t. Madonna has. And the result is her campaign #WomenNotObjects – a call to arms to the industry to use their power to change the perception of women in advertising.

Madonna’s history, and the tragic story which led to her campaign, has been well documented in US media, but was new to many of the people who were gathered to hear her speak in Cannes this week, who heard, first-hand, how she lost her three daughters and parents in a tragic house fire some years ago.

Where many others would have simply given up, something she acknowledged she had considered many times, she is now using the agency she co-founded, Badger & Winters, to drive real and tangible change in their memory.

The audience gave her a standing ovation for the short film #IStandUp, which you can watch below:

If you do one thing today, whether you work in media, advertising, fashion, or just believe women shouldn’t be objectified, head to womennotobjects.com to sign her petition, and share her video.

Madonna isn’t the sole voice challenging perceptions of women in the advertising world this week. Kim Getty, from creative agency Deutsch, delved into a world where gender bias is already ingrained in children from the age of five, and how advertisers are playing into this without even realising it.

The video below shows the problem. The challenge is how to fix it. Kim had some pretty simple suggestions: when you’re writing an ad, just presume the woman in it has a job, and that the father, if there is one, knows how to change a nappy.

This isn’t just a ‘woman’ problem, it’s a gender issue, and the industry is playing right into the very stereotypes it seeks to avoid.

Oh, and back to that commercial for loo roll. You can watch it yourself below. I defy you not to shed at least one tear.

Like what you just read? Follow Carla on Twitter  and InstagramSubscribers should look out for the Big Ideas report from Cannes Lion on the site next week.

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