Cannes 2015: It’s not just about women, but issues about gender in any colour or shape: Tista Sen

Tista Sen, NCD & SVP, J. Walter Thompson, who has been invited to be on the jury of the inaugural Glass Lions or The Lion for Change, talks about how the award addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice through the conscious representation of gender in advertising

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: Jun 15, 2015 8:38 AM
Cannes 2015: It’s not just about women, but issues about gender in any colour or shape: Tista Sen

The highlight of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity 2015 is the introduction of the Glass Lion – or The Lion for Change - which looks to address issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising. The entries can be for any product or service and made for any medium. The aim is to make a shift towards a more positive, progressive and gender-aware communication. This award has been created in partnership with LeanIn.Org, an organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg to achieve true equality. Tista Sen, National Creative Director & Senior VP, J. Walter Thompson, Mumbai, has been invited to be on the jury of the inaugural Glass Lions. Here are excerpts from a conversation with her:

How are the inaugural Glass Lions going to be...this initiative to reward advertising that shatters gender stereotypes?

It is a huge progressive step forward for the industry where you are not jut celebrating brand ideas and how creative it is, but actually celebrating ideas which are meaningful and have gone a long way in helping bust myths about gender stereotypes and usual conventions that people have about gender biases. A lot of people are looking at the Glass Lion as women’s empowerment and women’s ideas. But, that is just a fraction of it. Gender bias could mean homosexuality, people who are a minority because of the values they endorse, children and what they face, inculcating the values that boys do this and girls do this, which is a topical thing all across the world. It is literally bringing to the fore issues about gender in any kind of colour or shape and addressing that through the powerful tool of advertising.

What are the guidelines given to judges for the Glass Lions?

It has to be based on some meaningful insight. We should not be celebrating ideas for ideas’ sake. We are always taught that advertising or communication or an idea has to overcome a personal barrier or a prejudice. Beyond the idea, it is stepping back and seeing what was the problem, what was the insight and how was the idea really talked into from the cultural and social context for relevance and then brought about change and got people to think differently. That’s the stuff we are really interested in looking at.

What attributes will you look for in the entries that you judge?

For me, it’s choosing something that a lot of people wouldn’t talk about. Thanks to social media, we hear people’s points of views and opinion, and it is easy to take sides. But if communication for Glass Lions can present the same old stuff in a new way, on a new platform, get people to view it with a different lens, that will be great for me. We have so many pre-conceived notions about gender, gender bias and other stuff. But when you see an idea which is bold and embraces something head-on and attempts to bring about some change, that will be fantastic.

Can you point out some good work that you have seen this year or in the past year that would be fit to win Glass Lion awards?

There are entries from across the world and what I love about Cannes is that there is a discussion, you put all your thoughts on the table and a lot of ideas get shared or go to the next level because conversation around it is so critical. I don’t think I am in a position to say which will win.

Last year, there was no Glass Lion and I was on the Outdoor jury at Cannes and the Grand Prix was won by ANZ Bank in Australia where they converted ATMs and called them ‘GAYTMs’ on the day of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The bank converted its ATM machines into vibrant colours to encourage people to come out and celebrate the day. That is fantastic work, according to me, and to bring same gender and the minority community together and celebrate their aspiration and emotion for a brand like a bank, it is really compelling. You are reaching out to many people through your machines and creating a cult. That is really progressive and shatters many pre-conceived notions about what bank communication and advertising is and where it could go.

Another campaign is ‘Abortion Tourism’ by a Polish pro-choice group which advocated travelling to the UK to get free abortions to avoid Poland's strict laws prohibiting termination of pregnancy. As the law says abortion is illegal, the NGO decided to do a tourism campaign and get people to travel elsewhere. But, the bigger point you are making is that women have a right to decide about their own body and take a call about their body, life and they have a right to have an opinion on that.

Closer home in India, (the idea was conceived in Singapore) the iodine bindi project called the Life Saving Dot-Jeevan Bindi addressed iodine deficiency in rural India. Iodine bindis, looking like regular bindis, when worn on the forehead, makes the skin absorb the daily required amount of iodine. Taking something so cultural like a bindi, worn by every woman, and converting it into an iodine patch - it is so relevant and changes the way women look at themselves.

Considering that there are such wide gaps in the way gender stereotypes are perceived in different parts of the world, can there be one benchmark to award advertising about do you compare them and rate them?
At the root and heart it is really what is the problem that the idea is addressing. If you answer that, it doesn’t matter, where the idea comes from or how disparate the jury is. If you are looking at a problem, and seeing the cultural context it is in and if there is an idea that attempts to overcome it or attempts to solve it, that’s really what you are interested in. Your geographical location doesn’t matter. We are interested in celebrating the idea, what is the problem it addresses and really and what was the impact it had on the people it was supposed to empower.

What will be or should be the talking points for the global advertising fraternity at Cannes this year? What issues need to be taken up?
Social media has impact and reach that traditional advertising cannot even imagine... specially with young people and what moves them, at the end of the day advertising can be so fleeting, but why do people have so many forwards, whom are they engaging with on social media, what are people talking about? A lot of people will be interested in what goes beyond traditional ways of communication and what is in the idea that people engage with, it could mean a forward, blogging or even a conversation. Today, the campaign by ethnic wear brand Anouk, retailed on fashion portal Myntra, is being talked about in India. When I saw that piece of work, I realized that our laws do not permit it. This ad has been beautifully and sensitively handled and it needs to be applauded, no matter where you come from. That kind of work really moves me. It’s so real and you don’t have to be in that position to relate to it. That’s what emotional communication should be about. You can feel that emotion and connect with it in different ways. So if you engage with it beyond the time that you actually saw it, and it impacts you and leaves something in your mind, that is huge and a lot of campaigns are doing that. There’s hope that India will have its own Glass Lion that will be hugely empowering, because here we have so many issues that need to be tackled.

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