Do career dads make bad ads?

Glad January is over – cold, dark, not that inspiring.

My first day back at work was January 4th, and I nearly turned round and went home after I caught sight of the OAA campaign emblazed on a busside: “Career women make bad mothers”. It was my first awareness of the campaign, and it made me feel fairly miserable.

This week I received a personal apology from the authors of the campaign in the lovely persons of Garry Lace and Robert Campbell… That’s just another several million working mothers to go then.

We discussed the power of punctuation. Would a question mark have made the advertising more palatable to the British population? I think that the call to action was much too small – if the campaign was designed to drive you to a website and enter into a debate then that certainly wasn’t clear to me when I glimpsed the ad in transit on the Finchley Road.

What the campaign – whether it was justifiable or not – certainly demonstrates is the lack of control an advertiser has these days over the public response to the advertising. There is an irony that the campaign certainly did drive a vocal response on the internet, but it was not one planned by the strategists on the campaign. They were obviously hoping for a nice case study proving that outdoor advertising generates online response. They weren’t planning to unleash the power of Mumsnet. The Guardian story on the controversy at http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jan/06/outdoor-advertising-career-women-billboards cites one contributor who wrote “Somebody needs a ladder and an aerosol can to sort this out. Or a lot of someones, a lot of ladders and a lot of aerosol cans. I just can’t imagine what it must be like to be a woman working in companies that are doing stuff like this.”

For what it is worth, I absolutely believe that the atmosphere at Campbell Lace Beta is a nice one for working mothers. Its also an atmosphere where no-one suggested that the ad might upset people. One of the key ingredients for success within any organisation is the ability to endure and even thrive on internal radical disagreement and challenge. The agency’s leaders must look to ensure that they have enough people who don’t agree with the consensus as a strong part of the decision making team.

And as for working mothers? Whether you’re for or against there’s going to be a lot more of us. There is a quiet revolution taking place in the developed world. Within the next few months in the US women (many of them mothers) will become the majority of the workforce. Women’s economic empowerment is arguably the biggest social change of our times according to the Economist’s leader of Jan 2nd – the very week the OAA campaign broke.

I am turning my attention away from the dark days of January and speeding ahead to the March issue of Harper’s Bazaar instead – which is a glorious celebration of “girl power” – from the women designers who featured hugely on the catwalk for Spring 10 to working mother of 2 Cindy Crawford – their glorious cover star.

More like this please media owners.

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