Creative Reasoning

by Kieran Healy on October 20, 2005

“Here’s a story”: from the Times about an apparently well-known Ad executive who said there aren’t many female creative executives (the people who come up with Ad campaigns) because they aren’t up to the job:

bq. Mr. French told an audience … that women “don’t make it to the top because they don’t deserve to,” saying their roles as caregivers and childbearers prevented them from succeeding in top positions. … Mr. French is often called one of advertising’s best copywriters … His reputation is built in part on his knack for streamlining print advertising copy. … In an interview, Mr. French defended his remarks. “A belligerent question deserves a belligerent answer,” he said. “The answer is, They don’t work hard enough. It’s not a joke job. The future of the entire agency is in your hands as creative director.” … Mr. French said he did not regret his remarks, but thought the reaction to them was “lunacy.” “I’m extremely sad about it,” said Mr. French, who has been widely pilloried on the Internet. “Death by blog is not really the way to go.”

What I like about this is that he couldn’t blame it on women’s lack of math skills or their preference for communication over analysis, or their edge in verbal rather than numerical reasoning. Unless maybe “streamlining advertising copy” involves a lot of complex topological manipulations. As for “Death by blog,” I guess there’s some irony watching the world’s top ad guy radically misjudge consumer sentiment.



Adam Kotsko 10.20.05 at 10:24 pm

He’s cashing in on the latest hip new trend: making bigoted comments, then claiming that you’re persecuted when people get pissed about it.


Seth Finkelstein 10.20.05 at 10:48 pm

Exactly. The “consumer sentiment” depends on which market :-)


Isaac 10.20.05 at 11:47 pm

Topology is just about collections of open sets which doesn’t really require geometrical intuition (all those fun pictures people derive from topology aren’t quite the heart of the matter). So, yeah, if the advantage that men have is spatial skills, I don’t see it helping in most mathematics. But then, apparently, one of the major figures in early twentieth century statistics (Fisher, I think), supposedly relied entirely on geometrical intuition.


snuh 10.21.05 at 4:50 am

$10 says he’s spent his entire career advertising beer.


nik 10.21.05 at 5:37 am

This isn’t exactly a repeat of the Summers incident though is it? Saying women don’t make it to the top because their roles as caregivers and childbearers prevent them from putting in enough work is quite close to a lot of orthodox feminist thought.

The big difference is that feminists would say that there should be a more equitable distribution of this work across gender and that the workplace should be more compatable with care giving, while French thinks that if you don’t put all your focus on work you don’t deserve to make it to the top.


Darren 10.21.05 at 7:17 am

They don’t work hard enough. It’s not a joke job.”

Interesting that someone else seems to have noticed the idea of a joke job. Whenever both partners in a relationship work, especially if they have children, one of the partners has a joke job. It need not necessarily be the woman in the relationship who has the joke job. The clown (as it were) is the one who can most take the piss at work. Hiding behind gender, disability etc seems to be one of the methods of enabling this latent theft. If you want to know who has the joke job in your relationship … if the child is ill which of you drops everything at work and takes him to see a general practioner? Who does the internet shopping at work? Anyone else want to add to the indicators …

Of course, if you work for the state it may be difficult (impossible, even) for you realize this … what was Godel on about again?


Tom T. 10.21.05 at 7:20 am

“… His reputation is built in part on his knack for streamlining print advertising copy. …”

Yes, he famously shortened Apple’s original “Think Differently” campaign.


Carolus Obscurus 10.21.05 at 7:52 am

I thought the reason so few women make it to the top is due to a combination of nature and nurture — though French possibly underestimates the former and overestimates the latter.

Psychmetricians argue that for biological reasons women are more ‘bunched’ around the mean — fewer retards, fewer geniuses.

Of course, if French had said THAT he would not only have had to resign — he would probably have been eaten alive!


Daniel 10.21.05 at 7:54 am

I actually profoundly hope that he is right. I have always liked to believe that women were not capable of producing meretricious crap like “fcuk” and 99% of other ad copy, and would be really depressed if it turned out that they were.


washerdreyer 10.21.05 at 8:48 am

Whenever both partners in a relationship work…one of the partners has a joke job.
This is easily the most asinine thing I’ve read today, but I guess it’s only 9:45 AM. Whenever? Apparently, there are no families (poor ones trying to scrape by, for instance) where both partners work extremely hard. And no families where both partners have the same job.


Alison 10.21.05 at 9:01 am

Carolus explains that women are more ‘bunched’ around the mean — fewer retards, fewer geniuses.

And which of these categories do you have to be in to make it to the top in advertising?


Sebastian Holsclaw 10.21.05 at 9:17 am

Its clearly the same reason why conservatives aren’t successful the US academic world–because they are stupid, or discriminated against, or something like that….


nik 10.21.05 at 9:30 am

He’s not said anything suspect about the reasons for the absence of women in top jobs – that I can see – his analysis is pretty much the same as the feminist one. He’s had to resign because didn’t think allowances should be made for childcare and so on. I don’t completely agree with this, but it’s not the same as saying women are biologically inferior.


Alison 10.21.05 at 10:35 am

for sure, French didn’t, it’s just carolus took the argument in a different direction, which I was mildly ridiculing


Daniel 10.21.05 at 10:59 am


I’ll take “made up sciences” for $50, please.


Peter 10.21.05 at 1:17 pm

Isaac said (post 3):

“Topology is just about collections of open sets which doesn’t really require geometrical intuition “

Point-set topology is about collections of open sets, but algebraic topology isn’t. A geometric intuition is a great help in algebraic topology, and indeed — contrary to what you say — in most other parts of pure mathematics. One view of 20th century pure mathematics is that it is all about shape and structure — ie, a qualitative, not quantitative discipline — for which a geometric intuition is probably essential.

“But then, apparently, one of the major figures in early twentieth century statistics (Fisher, I think), supposedly relied entirely on geometrical intuition.”

Not only Fisher, but also Poincare, Hilbert, Kolmogorov, Eilenberg, Grothendieck, Nash, Smale, . . . Pick pretty much any leading mathematician!


Henry 10.21.05 at 9:42 pm

But according to “What Women Want,” he would get much further if he slipped on some pantyhose and electrocuted himself.


Dave 10.22.05 at 8:00 am

I have never trusted anyone with the hubris to use the word “creative” as part of his job title. Let’s call him a wordsmith and call his views what they are: egomania.


bellatrys 10.22.05 at 12:57 pm

I tend not to take anything said by ad execs very seriously.

Historically, there are little-to-no quality control checks done on their work – nobody knows why or how well most advertising campaigns succeed, or if they fail, why they fail – any idiot with half a brain would have realized that the disastrous campaign for McDonald’s Arch Deluxe sandwich was foredoomed, and why – you’d have thought, but obviously plenty of them didn’t. –Or realize that multiple variables in a rollout campaign were going to corrupt the results.

Moreover, ad agencies are notoriously sloppy and careless in their work, because after all it’s not their money they’re burning. They really do believe that throwing money at problems is the best solution, rather than “measure twice, cut once,” or the prepress/proofreading equivalent thereof.

–I say this as a 10+ year veteran of the printing industry, and ergo someone who has put in her time and then some, fixing the mistakes of ad agencies…not to mention the stories I’ve heard from my colleagues and peers in the field!


Nabakov 10.22.05 at 8:36 pm

Having worked in the ad game myself I’d agree with bellatrys. There’s an old ad saying. Half an advertising budget is often wasted, and you can never tell which half.

Or as Australian ad man John Singleton once said, “The public is this big blobby mass and all you can really do is stand in front of it and just throw things at it.”

I knew some excellent female copywriters but it’s true they never advanced into any top level positions – mainly I think because advertising is a very blokey, chest-beating and headbutting culture – where you’re only as good as your last hit and where developing personas such as French’s swashbuckling lad or hypertense and/or eccentric genius copywriter is seen as a way to cut through and get attention and promotion. And many of the women I worked with in advertising found this rather self-conscious emphasis on selling yourself as a “character” or”personality” pretty boring if not actually repellent.

It’s basically an industry all about shouting. Shouting about products, shouting rounds, shouting about your talent and shouting down rivals.

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