BITE Focus

It is possible to raise the bar: Marketing lessons from the female lens

In a panel discussion created in partnership with The Gerety Awards the opportunity to raise the bar when it comes to creativity for good and gender equality was top of the agenda.


2020 has been a year unlike any other. One in which the industry and those working within it have felt the economic and emotional impacts of the current crisis. The negative impact of the Coronavirus crisis on recruitment, learning and development, creative production and on the advancement of women’s careers more generally have been well documented.

What has become more vital and more apparent in recent months is the pressing need to change the narrative for women in the industry, something that the Gerety Awards has been at the heart of doing since its conception. The awards judge advertising and marketing campaigns through a female lens through all-female judging sessions hosted around the world.

The Gerety Awards are successfully redefining the standard to which advertising is held, deliberating creative brilliance and celebrating the best in class creative work from around the world.

To talk more about the creative trends impacting the industry, Creativebrief’s Editorial Director Nicola Kemp hosted a panel for BITE LIVE 2020 that included three of this year’s judges: Danielle Judith Bibas, Marketing Vice President at Avon Brasil, Abigail Comber, Chief Marketing Officer at Debenhams and Dr Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images. The panel explored advertising for good, creativity as a driver of commercial success and how the industry can push for progress.

If there’s any way you can do good whilst sticking to core values and commercial needs, then I think it’s a winning combination.

Abigail Comber

Advertising for good

One of the significant themes for this year’s judges was that of advertising for good, of purpose -driven work designed to impact consumers for the better. As Kemp said, this feels bigger than a category now, particularly since the conversation about purpose has become much more tangible during the ongoing coronavirus crisis that has seen many brands redefining what purpose means.

As copywriter and Gerety Awards judge Vikki Ross said: "Advertising for good was a common theme. This often makes people groan, usually because the ‘for good’ bit is an afterthought or opportunistic, but a lot of the entries did this so well, I now believe advertising really could help change the world. The reason for the common theme? We're all hoping for better. And now we're showing we can do better too.”

Bibas echoed Ross’ thoughts as she said, “there were so many cases of raising flags and debating subjects that society needs to debate and talk about.” All three judges spoke about how they enjoyed being shown work from countries they wouldn’t normally engage with marketing in. This was something that was particularly impactful for Swift, calling out a piece of work from Thailand.

Swift went on to say that it was interesting that brands “were looking to what they could do beyond sell products,” acknowledging that this is a trend that has been emerging over the last few years. She was excited by the “diversity of societal issues that were being addressed,” across campaigns, citing research that has shown consumers think brands have, “the most to do in terms of doing good for society.” She remains optimistic for the advertising that is judged at next years’ awards, “because the conversations we’re having now will pay dividends in the work we see next year,” she explains.

For Comber it comes down to the importance of remembering, “the purpose behind putting the marketing into the world.” For her, it’s essential that brands don’t just jump on a bandwagon. Instead it’s about behaving in keeping with the company’s key values. As she explains: “If there’s any way you can do good whilst sticking to core values and commercial needs, then I think it’s a winning combination.”

Bibas echoes Comber, believing that the brands enacting advertising for good in the best way are those whose purpose is closely connected to what they do as a business. She wants to see brands asking themselves, “What can I do to make society better?” citing a campaign from Coke in South Africa that translated a global concept into a local activation imbued with empathy and understanding of the local market.

The Moldy Whopper Effect

As marketing spend has decreased, the importance of creativity as a driver for commercial success has never been felt more keenly. Burger King’s Mouldy Whopper campaign was one of the big winners at this year’s Gerety Awards and provoked a conversation about why brands should keep taking risks.

“When you look across the history of fabulous advertising, there’s always something irreverent and contrary about the ads that do really well,” explains Swift. She pointed to the fact that it was the aesthetic quality of the Burger King ad that meant it felt authentic to the brand: “when you’re given something that is committed to the idea so far down the road, it’s not tokenistic in any way.” She adds that she loves work that connects to selling a product in a way that sparks a thought about that product that you may not have had before.

Comber supports Swift’s perspective, highlighting that the campaign retained the core values of the business. The brand owned the messaging. She adds that, “they put their money where they’re mouth is. They got behind the idea of rocking the boat,” and that paid off in terms of PR value. The risk is only valuable, for Comber, if it is core to the values of the organisation. “As long as you’re happy you can stand for the thing that’s at the centre of the controversy then I’d say do it,” she adds.

Bibas highlights that the PR’ability of marketing campaigns has become more vital than ever as spend has decreased. “Nobody has the media dollars we had 10 years ago so for your message to explode globally you need that to become a conversation globally and to have a conversation you need to have a point of view,” she explains. She credits the courageousness of the Burger King ad, “to defy the norms of the category” and to profit from the PR accordingly.

We’re getting closer and closer to consumers demanding who is behind the lens.

Dr Rebecca Swift

The impact of coronavirus on women’s careers

Research shows that 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women, yet only 12 to 13% of creative directors are women. There is a disconnect here between who is making the work and who eventually buys the product that work is selling, and this is only being heightened by the ongoing crisis.

Swift highlights that there is a commercial imperative for brands to examine who makes the work. She explains: “we’re getting closer and closer to consumers demanding who is behind the lens. There is way more interest in who is responsible, who is making the decisions and what does the team look like.” It’s something Swift felt optimistic about when looking at the credits of the work she was judging during the Awards. Bibas highlights the work that Free the Bid are doing in this space as vital to changing the narrative around who stands behind the lens.

Swift says that this perspective is keenly shown by younger consumers especially, so it falls on brands to future proof the business. This means, for Swift, that “you have to nurture and bring women up behind and you have to understand that women bring a different view.” This extends to ensuring inclusivity across the board and amplifying the women and people from underrepresented communities who are already in those roles so that people can see them. Because, says Swift, “it’s not just about creating opportunities; it’s about ensuring that the cohort that comes behind can see that.”

Comber highlights that, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, she’s “noticed the acceleration of everybody’s internal digital agenda.” Working across online platforms has not only given her team more agility but it’s also opened up space to more junior team members. They are getting a level of commercial exposure that they might not have received in an office. “The organisational mix has been flattened so much because everyone has skin in the game,” she adds.

Comber wants to see people feeling empowered enough to call visible gender disparity out. She highlights Richard Robinson, Managing Director of Econsultancy as a “key activist” in this space. But she cautions, people like Robinson “shouldn’t be special; they should be the norm.” This means opening up the space because, she believes, “men are an equal party to helping the conversation move forward and if you don’t include them you alienate them,” she adds.

A once in a generation opportunity to change the workplace

Bibas points out that one of the most interesting things the pandemic has helped to shift is agency attitudes towards working from home. “It’s brought a new era of work environment for agencies which is very positive from a women’s point of view,” she explains. It’s something that Kemp acknowledges as she points out that as the playing field changes, we have a once in a generation opportunity to change the workplace for the better.

It’s the culture of an organisation that Comber believes companies should be prioritising, and attitudes towards working from home feed into that. “The culture of your organisation is the thing that will give you a strong foundation to believe that anything is possible, to believe your voice can be heard,” she says. This means each individual feeling like they can prioritise the time and space to stay creative and drive their own curiosity in an environment that she labels, “the now normal.”

For Swift this comes from consuming visuals to stay creative. And, as our lives have moved ever more behind a screen, she advises people to step away from simply turning to Google for visual inspiration. Look elsewhere, she advises, whether that’s supporting galleries, shows or even the cinema; “supporting the creative community but also getting some nourishment from that,” she adds.

Both Bibas and Comber believe that it is more important than ever to step away from the screen, “trying to find the time to look outside,” says Bibas. Nature, says Comber, gives her the nourishment that 10 or 12 hours has stripped her of. “If you look to nature, you’ll get inspiration from it, calmness from it,” she says. And, if your company culture is right, you can call out when you need the time to step away.

As the ongoing crisis only looks set to continue to affect society and business across the world, awards like Gerety are vital ways to connect the global creative community, celebrate the most impactful work and ensure that the lens through which that work is both made and judged, is more diverse than ever.


Abigail Comber, Danielle Bibas and Dr Rebecca Swift were speaking on the Gerety Awards panel at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, It is possible to raise the bar: Marketing lessons from the female lens