In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Still Miss Understood: She’s Not Buying Your Ads
  • Cheryl Berman (bio), Denise Fedewa (bio), and Jeanie Caggiano (bio)

The International Advertising Festival at Cannes recognizes and celebrates creative achievements in advertising, much as the Cannes Film Festival honors artistic excellence in film. In 2004, global advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide presented a seminar titled, “Miss Understood: She’s Not Buying Your Ads,” at Cannes to a standing-room only crowd. The presentation examined why advertising cannot quite seem to engage women consumers with the same level of breakthrough work that is more frequently directed at men, and challenged the industry to raise the creative bar across female-targeted categories largely associated with cliché-ridden, uninspiring, and even offensive work. Two years later, “Miss Understood” is still being delivered around the world by Leo Burnett in the hopes that its message will serve as a catalyst for change.

Introduction montage.

The montage you just saw was constructed almost entirely of contemporary images culled from TV ads from around the world. As you’ve just seen, when it comes to advertising to women, there is much room for improvement.

As you may know, Leo Burnett conducted a study back in 2004 titled, “Miss Understood: She’s Not Buying Your Ads.” We explored women’s feelings towards advertising and sought to recommend ways the advertising industry could improve its dialogue with women. When I was asked today, I saw this as an opportunity to take a fresh look at some of the advertising running in North America. I was hoping to find an improvement in the quality of advertising geared towards women and evidence of progress. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed, as that was two years ago. So I stand before you, more convinced than ever that advertising is missing its mark with women. I am delighted to be with you here today to present our case.

If we look at the gender makeup of most major ad agencies today, it’s encouraging to note that half the people working in them are women. However, when looking at the work produced by these same agencies, it’s discouraging to see that the creative standards of much of it directed at women doesn’t reflect their importance as consumers.

So it’s of no surprise that women are simply not buying the messages we have to sell.

That’s why we feel it’s essential to examine how advertising talks to women, and to offer some simple and above all constructive advice on how to develop better strategies and ads that target women.

Male-targeted ad montage (images only).

What we’re not focusing on in this presentation, but what deserves mention here, are the categories of ads that objectify, debase and demoralize women—namely, the beer, babe and bimbo male-targeted ads that offend women around the world.

Instead, our focus is on advertising for everyday brands that are traditionally sold to women—often via a largely uninspired, out of touch and often unintentionally offensive body of work.

In order to get a better read on women’s feelings about how brands talk to them—or with them, as the increasingly interactive nature of our work now demands—we did a considerable amount of work on our own. We conducted informal focus groups—girlfriend groups, as we called them—in Leo Burnett offices around the world, including Mexico, India, Brazil, Japan, the U.S., the U.K. and China.

Girlfriend groups (images only).

In each of these, we pulled together...