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Move me. It’s what the advertising greats always say: be unusual, memorable. 

I went to a conference last week on TV creativity hosted by TV evangelists Thinkbox. These events, whilst entertaining, often bang the same drum: brands need less average and more brilliant. Storytelling is good, because people remember stories. Emotion is a must. Every speaker said it. It’s universally proven that when you generate emotion: make people laugh, cry or surprise them, you have greater impact. 

The fact I feel things – have an amygdala and a nervous system – is no reason to feel ashamed, embarrassed or weak.

John Lewis’ revenues soared when they played for sobs. The event showcased last summer’s rousing We Are The NHS campaign [below] that had the whole auditorium wiping their eyes (the campaign also led to a surge in nursing recruitment figures). We – as marketers, makers – are supposed to make people feel. We are in the business of emotion. Yet we fear it. 

NHS – We Are The NHS

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Captain Marvel is the most powerful superhero in the Marvel universe. It’s a bloody good film, not least because she doesn’t need a love story (Wonder Woman: take note) but because her struggle is frustratingly relatable. Her alter ego Carol is told repeatedly she’s “too emotional” and unable to control herself. Her emotions will be her undoing, she’s warned, yet the audience knows that her fire, her passion, is her strength. 

Elizabeth May wrote a wonderful tweet about it recently, which I shared. Stop the gaslighting, I pleaded, because using the E word as a critique or perceived indictor of weakness is a vile form of control often fronting a dark, archaic agenda. 

I immediately received a bundle of tweets and private messages from women in the advertising industry who’d been openly and formally reprimanded for being ‘emotional’. Women who were asked by bosses to have a different personality. One young woman had ‘be less emotional’ as one her KPIs, in her appraisal, presumably approved by HR. 

If you genuinely believe someone is being too emotional, why not ask them if they’re OK? They could be going through some terrible shit you’re not aware of. 

Another with two children was called ‘too emotional’ for refusing to work on the weekend for the third weekend in a row. One rightly resentful woman was told she was “too much” and therefore not allowed to meet clients or speak in important meetings. Like a leper. By all accounts, men don’t get the same accusations. Ain’t no one calling Thanos emotional. 

It’s an engrained prejudice. A study called One Angry Woman, conducted by Arizona State University in 2015, used a computer simulation of a court case and jury duties to examine the difference between how male and female anger is interpreted in group settings. The research found that men use anger as a tactic to gain influence, whilst women lose influence when they express anger. One of the researchers responsible for the study, Jessica Solerno, noted in conclusion: "This might explain why Bernie Sanders is able to freely express his passion and conviction, while Hillary Clinton clearly regulates her emotions more carefully."

Throughout history, women have been punished for showing their emotions. ‘Hysteria’ is a gendered word. In the UK in 1917 a number of male MPs spoke out against females having the vote. "Women are likely to be affected by gusts and waves of sentiment,” said Frederick Banbury, MP for City of London. “Their emotional temperament makes them so liable to it. 

But those are not the people best fitted in this practical world either to sit in this House... or to be entrusted with the immense power which this bill gives them."  Put simply, to accuse a woman of being ‘too emotional’ perpetuates the very same thinking used to prevent them having basic human rights. 


From now on, the word ‘emotional’ is only allowed in the context of the brilliant creative work we produce.

This bias has made its way into our industry outputs, too. Who remembers the iconic “calm down dear, it’s only an advert” patronisingly sung by Michael Winner on behalf of Direct Line? A phrase that made a light-hearted mockery of the reactions of all women, which was then repeated in the actual House of Commons by David Cameron. 

What hypocrisy for us to profit from the manipulation of people’s emotions, whilst outlawing those same basic human responses in our own workforce. We don’t need less passion in our industry, we need more. Perhaps our allergy to emotion is the reason for the decline in quality of TV advertising in the last decade. 

Perhaps it’s why we need conferences about the importance of creativity: to remind us we have hearts. With no emotion, we reverse-evolve into an industry of robots, where quirks and imperfection are shunned in favour of pithy soundbites and damp professionalism. Women are trained to present like politicians, dial down our personalities and rein in enthusiasm, yet simultaneously be warm, caring and likeable. To let the mask slip in any way is career-prohibiting. 

Why am I so emotional about women being called emotional? I’ve been called ‘emotional’ in the past by both men and women, yet am a perfectly pleasant and productive colleague and employee. Technically - psychologically - I have a broader emotional spectrum than ‘normal’ people. It’s a thing. An interesting nature and nurture collaboration. Happy is euphoria, sad is grief, interest is obsession. It’s neurologically impossible to shut off my emotions and believe me, I’ve tried. 

‘Wellbeing’ as a corporate initiative isn’t just about offering free yoga on a Thursday afternoon, it’s about monitoring happiness.

But the fact I feel things – have an amygdala and a nervous system – is no reason to feel ashamed, embarrassed or weak. If anything, it makes me better at my job. And a nicer person. And more creative. Nevertheless, I find the label disappointing, and boring, to the extent that hearing it emerge from your lips will make me strike down upon thee with a great vengeance. (See? Emotional!)  

Philosopher Alain de Botton says we’re all crazy; some of us just hide it better than others. But it’s very dangerous to project one’s hidden insecurities by throwing around unhelpful, unmeasurable words as a way of othering women, to put them in their place. If you’re a man calling a woman ‘emotional’ in the office, step back and interrogate your bias and motivations. If you’re a woman calling another woman emotional, then shame on you. 

And if you genuinely believe someone is being too emotional, why not ask them if they’re OK? They could be going through some terrible shit you’re not aware of. ‘Wellbeing’ as a corporate initiative isn’t just about offering free yoga on a Thursday afternoon, it’s about monitoring happiness (I’m proud to say this is something my employer Publicis does), improving the quality of people’s day to day interactions and promoting a positive change in the way we talk and think, so that we’re all more present, and work gets better. 

Women are trained to present like politicians, dial down our personalities and rein in enthusiasm, yet simultaneously be warm, caring and likeable. 

Ladies: next time someone calls you ‘too emotional’ at work, ask them to elaborate, dissect their agenda, listen to the feedback and then stay true to your powerful, passionate self. Or tell me about it and I’ll come to your office and scream in their face., like a hysterical banshee, to provide some much-needed perspective. 

From now on, the word ‘emotional’ is only allowed in the context of the brilliant creative work we produce. We could dial it down, we could be less, but you know what? I’d rather be the most powerful superhero in the universe. 

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