Why the advertising world should take a long look at itself
A view from Tim Lindsay

Why the advertising world should take a long look at itself

D&AD doesn't have all the answers - but we are trying to do something about it, writes its chief executive.

At a time when Saturday Night Live's brilliant satire on "purposeful" communication was outdone in crassness by a real Pepsi commercial you might well think that the advertising world should be taking a long look at itself.

Pitch Meeting - SNL

It needs to. A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to speak at a conference organised by Creative Equals designed to shine a light on the shocking lack of gender equality at the top of our industry and it struck me forcibly that, in my four decades in this business, we haven't made much progress. Actually, none. The title of my talk was "Fuck fairness". Why? Because after all this time liberals whinging about social justice has got us nowhere. So instead, let's take heed of all the empirical evidence, which shows unequivocally that companies with better gender balance at the top outperform their competitors. 

What did John Prescott say? We're all middle class now. It's certainly true of advertising

And the same goes for companies that are more ethnically and demographically diverse. And here, we have moved steadily backwards. Everyone knows why – tuition fees and the cost of living in London are massive deterrents to people from less advantaged backgrounds. Creative departments used to contain lots of art school grads who came from some pretty tough places. Not now. What did John Prescott say? We're all middle class now. It's certainly true of advertising. Homogenised communities produce homogenised thinking and solutions. We're failing our clients and they're starting to notice.

We at D&AD certainly don't have all the answers – no one does – but we are trying to do something about it. Several things, in fact.

D&AD is a creative education charity. All the money we make goes back into the industry you love, to support the established New Blood program, of course; but increasingly and crucially to help our campaign for a fairer, more sustainable, more diverse and better gender-balanced industry.

Well, that’s four bandwagons they’ve jumped on right there and, of course, these are very current themes and topics in our business. But we’re not just spouting off about this stuff, we’re proud of some of the new things we’re doing right now.

One is Shift, a night school for creatively talented people who aren’t making a living in the creative industries. It’s designed to give them the skills and then the opportunity to make it in our world. And it’s working well here in London; so well in fact that we’ve just launched it in New York too.

The most immediate thing you can do to show your support is to come to the D&AD Festival next week. It starts on 25 April at the Truman Brewery – 250 of the world’s best creative people judging 26,000 pieces of the world’s best creative work and 150 brilliant speakers across four stages – it’s the advertising and design Festival that London needs and deserves.

And this year for the first time the Festival will get the climax it needs and deserves too, with the awards ceremony moved to 27 April, to bring Festival Week to a fitting conclusion. It’s at the Troxy in East London and will have a different format and feel to the previous sit-down-dinner model; more emphasis on the show, the work and the winners, with more of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe and a more accessible ticket price. Also (and this is vital information) with Mr Scruff, Ray BLK and the Deep Throat choir.

So by coming to our festival and our ceremony and by entering our awards and coming to our lectures and exhibitions and training courses you are helping yourself to make better work; and, crucially, helping your industry to a better place. One that has the courage to look outwards and include the currently excluded in its future. And one that doesn’t confuse "doing well by doing good" with misappropriating society’s hopes and fears.


The D&AD Festival takes place at the Truman Brewery from Tuesday April 25th to Thursday 27th. The D&AD Awards Ceremony is on the evening of Thursday 27th. Tickets to both are still available.