(Bloomberg) -- Procter & Gamble Co. is putting the advertising industry on notice.
The world’s biggest advertiser wants women directors for at least half of its product commercials by 2023, up from about one in 10 today. It’s a direct challenge to the male-dominated agency world, from a client that spent more than $7 billion on advertising last year.
“Equality drives growth,” said Marc Pritchard, the company’s chief brand officer. “If we just achieve equality in economic empowerment between women and men, it could add $28 trillion to world economy. That’s a lot of purchasing power.”
At the Cannes Lions advertising festival Monday, P&G announced a series of initiatives to support women in advertising and behind the camera. The company will sign on to the “Free The Bid” pledge, which requires at least one woman director to be included among the final candidates to produce commercials.
“Free the Bid,” a project by filmmaker Alma Har’el, who also produced an Olympics anti-bias commercial for P&G, already has a pool of 700 directors operating in 10 countries. P&G says it will work with other big advertisers and with Publicis Groupe SA, its biggest ad agency, to double the reach of the program. The company is also trying to close its own gender gap at the brand-director level, where women hold 41 percent of positions.
To encourage women directors in the pipeline, P&G is also set to announce a partnership with Queen Latifah’s Queen Collective and advertisers including HP and Smirnoff, to create two 12-minute films produced by women. Tide, Olay, Pantene and other P&G brands will work to promote those films, Pritchard said.
The company has also teamed up with Katie Couric in support of her new media company, which she says will create content that accurately portrays women and other under-represented groups. The first web series, “Getting There,” will feature the stories of professionally successful women and will be produced through a partnership with theSkimm, a news media company that focuses on a female, millennial audience.
“The landscape is changing dramatically,” Couric said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “Brands like Procter & Gamble are looking for more effective ways to connect with consumers. Consumers are really smarter than ever, and I think they want to better understand the ethos of a brand and what they stand for.”
As P&G amplifies its public commitment to gender equality, it is also making its case to younger consumers, who are increasingly looking to competitors like Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, which promotes its natural ingredients and Alba’s personal story. Nelson Peltz, an investor waging a months-long campaign to gain a board seat, has criticized the company as not moving fast enough to adapt to the preferences of younger shoppers. P&G has added some greener brands to its portfolio.
Women’s empowerment has become the centerpiece of P&G’s marketing around the world. The company’s Whisper brand tackled menstruation taboos in India. Its SK-II brand of skincare took on the pressure to marry faced by Chinese women and the stigma they feel when they don’t. In Saudi Arabia, the “Generation of Firsts” campaign for Always products celebrated new freedoms for women in the kingdom.
It’s hard to measure advertising’s direct impact, but P&G says this approach has worked for Always, SK-II and the Olay brands. Recently, the company launched its Indian “Share the Load” campaign for its detergent Ariel, which encourages men to pitch in with the laundry, and sales are up 60 percent, the company says.
More broadly, Pritchard points to a study by the #SeeHer initiative that determined that gender equal programming leads to a 10 percent increase in brand trust and more than a 20 percent increase in sales growth.
Putting more women behind the camera is part of this overall initiative, Pritchard said. By one count, the number of women in overall creative director roles has grown to 29 percent from 3 percent six years ago; one in four advertising executives are women. (P&G is aiming for an equal number of male and female creative directors within five years as well.)
Scheduled alongside the UN General Assembly meeting in September, P&G and Global Citizen will host a SheIsEqual summit to advocate for the expansion of education, funding and other opportunities to boost the number of women in media, marketing and technology, the company said. Madonna Badger, the advertising agency owner behind #iStandUp and #WomenNotObjects campaigns, will curate the event.
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