Channel 4 celebrates the girls who infiltrated the boys’ club in ‘Mad Women’ Documentary

The female pioneers of advertising deserve some proper recognition, and this week Channel 4 put them in the spotlight with a documentary called Mad Women.

It was an entertaining reminder that some of the biggest characters in the business have been women over the years. Barbara Nokes, writer of BBH’s Launderette ad for Levis, is clearly one of them. She says, “The arrogance of men of little account astounded me… The words “F***” and “off” were often applied.

Stanners, Reay, Nokes, Taylor, Gehrig, Calcraft

Alex Taylor, a big name creative at Saatchi & Saatchi for many years, remembers her department as “edgy and fierce” to the extent that male creatives would physically fight over an idea. More than once she saw chairs flying down the corridor. It was “fantastic,” she grins.

The documentary starts in the 70s when women in ads were tied to the kitchen sink or doing the Shake n vac. Then into the 80s when our Mad Women were upsetting the status quo with subversive ads like Levi’s Launderette, Castlemaine XXXX Something for the ladies (Taylor) and Rosie Arnold’s Pretty Polly spot where a woman fixes her car’s fan belt with a stocking.

In the 90s, ads reflected the laddish culture of the time. Arnold – responsible for the woman in a bath eating a Cadbury’s Flake – doesn’t like to think what her sons might make of her “Lynx effect” spot in which a young man is chased by hundreds of bikini-clad women emerging from the sea.

Then it all gets a lot more serious. We see Dove Real Beauty, director Kim Gehrig on Sport England’s This Girl Can, AMV’s Nadja Lossgott discussing Blood Normal for Libresse and Helen Calcraft on Lucky Generals’ lockdown ballerina for Amazon.

Tajana Tokyo, a wonderfully optimistic young director who has worked with Apple, provides a bridge between the old days (when Arnold describes the boys’ club of advertising as “Glamorous, fun and creative”) and our more enlightened but less fun times, when Tokyo’s thoughts are all about purpose and representation.

Thank goodness we’ve come a long way from the days when Carol Reay, who founded Mellors Reay & Partners in 1995, had a “personal self with opinions” and a work self who kept those opinions quiet – but as Saatchi & Saatchi Global CCO Kate Stanners admits, there is still work to do.

In the end, like Don Draper in the finale of Mad Men, we know that the magic only happens when you adopt a positive mindset. Arnold sums it up when she says: “I believed we could change the world through advertising. I still think it’s true.”

The documentary was timed to coincide with WACL’s 100th anniversary, and was funded with help from Diageo, Google, Tesco and Whalar.

Back to top button