by Larissa Faw
4 hours ago
When it comes to sex harassment and other gender issues plaguing the industry, adland loves to pat itself on the back for its attempted solutions and some progress. The number of female creative
directors has increased from 3% to 11%. There has been a spike in the number of women-directed campaigns. Messaging has even transitioned toward female empowerment.
Yet the scandal
involving Anheuser-Busch’s Bon Viv’s Super Bowl spot underscores the fact that much work remains to be done. It’s also a reminder of how good players in the business are at playing the
The controversy was first sparked when actress Ingrid Haas published an essay on Vice in December titled “My Bikini Audition From Hell Shows How Little Hollywood Has
She described what she felt was a highly exploitative and sexist audition for a commercial calling for actresses to play mermaids for an unnamed alcohol brand. (Haas’ article concealed identifying details like the creative agency, director,
production shop, or casting agency hosting the audition.
The NY Times, however, revealed that the brand was actually A-B’s Bon Viv hard seltzer brand whose Super Bowl
spot “The Pitch” featured two women, clad in cropped short-sleeved collared shirts — instead of traditional mermaid bikini attire —
pitching the beverage to a group of talking sharks under the sea.
But it seems no one responsible for the ad’s creation wants to take ownership of this audition. Bullish, the creative
agency overseeing the spot, passed the baton of responsibility by referring all comments to client A-B.
A-B admitted that its ad was the subject of Haas’ Vice article. The
author’s experience was “completely unacceptable and goes against everything that our brand and company stand for,” said Chelsea Phillips, vice president, Beyond Beer, A-B. “I regret that this
individual had this experience. Anheuser-Busch does not tolerate any discriminatory or demeaning behavior.”
However, A-B also deflects the blame. “I reached out to the production company
who produced the commercial, because we hold our business partners to this same standard,” Phillips said in the email.
“Stink and Traktor do not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind.
No one should be made to feel uncomfortable, and we expect all collaborators and contractors to act respectfully. Furthermore, we will not be working with the individual at the casting agency involved
in the commercial shoot described in the Vice article again.”
Stink Films had worked with Broad-Cast, who said in a statement to The NY Times that the casting firm would no longer work with the
individual described in the essay. That individual in question has not been identified, although Haas described him in her article as MB, referring to his preference to wear his long hair in a man
He added that he had cast actors in more than 3,500 ads in 25 years and had not previously faced allegations of impropriety. “I have reviewed this internally with
my staff to continue to make my office a welcoming environment where every actor feels safe,” he said to the Times.
It is hard to believe that only one person —
Mr. MB — could have acted so reprehensibly without anyone else around to question his behavior — particularly with regard to a high-profile Super Bowl spot.
of passing the buck illustrates how difficult it can be for advertisers to closely monitor how their ads are made, the Times writes.
Even Haas admits in her essay
that “the process of changing how the industry works isn’t quick. It’s going to take agents calling and saying NO, actors passing on projects, directors changing the copy and ultimately
not expecting anyone else to do the work for you.”
Female Adland leaders have another solution: diversity. “Having women involved at every level of production from casting to
creative is essential,” says Meryl Draper, CEO, Quirk Creative. “And anytime you have women auditioning in bikinis, you need to have women decision-makers in the room. Full stop.”
Movement’s founder/CEO Kat Gordon stresses how important it is for companies to have at least have 25% women in their C-suites. “The culture of the company becomes more inclusive in a way that almost
seems like a form of self-correction,” she says.
Haas concurs that more women in positions of authority would help prevent the kind of intolerable experience that she endured. “It takes
a lot of people to make anything for TV,” she wrote. “This happened because there weren’t any women in power on this job or no women who felt secure enough in their position to say, ‘No, these
actors shouldn’t have to do that.'”
Gordon adds that what is interesting about this Bon Viv story is not so much “who is man bun and how did he get hired?” but “who are all the
companies who backed this project and what are they telegraphing about acceptable behavior by virtue of their own leadership composition.”
“What if instead, in their
attempt to gain favor with female consumers via a new product, Anheuser-Busch had launched a brand truly founded by women and let the female founders infuse the branding and messaging with their true
stories?” says Gordon. “I guarantee this wouldn’t have happened.”