A New-York based ad executive Madonna Badger has created and released a 2 minute and a half video to take issue with the way women are portrayed in ads.
“We Are #WomenNotObjects” has been making the rounds on the Internet for a few weeks since its launch on 11 January.
The ad is on a mission to spark online conversation about the objectification of women in ads. Women, who are posed alongside the sales of various products and paraphernalia, have been subjugated and reduced to mere objects, the viral video claims.
The video features a montage of ads – which have been historically designed to promote and sell products – that have portrayed women either baring their skin and assets or posing suggestively next to marketing messages targeted to get the viewer to buy a product. In marketing speak, these ads are normally used to “shorten the conversion cycle”.
For a video aimed at addressing the sexist nature of ads that are shown to the masses, it has been uploaded as an “age-restricted” post.
Jolene Tan, programmes and communications senior manager at gender advocacy group AWARE Singapore, said that advertisers should remember that women make up a large segment of the consumer market. An ad that treats women as objects of ridicule rather than people, alienates this consumer segment.
“Women have been pushing back against sexual objectification in marketing for a long time. Just last year, an AWARE member succeeded in having a sexist ad taken down at Orchard Road. And for some years now, our annual tongue-in-cheek Alamak! Awards have highlighted many instances of sexist and objectifying ads.”
Tan gives the campaign her nod of approval, “It’s always good to have more voices against sexism and objectification.”
Valerie Cheng, COO of JWT, said, “Most of what’s mentioned in the video is true but sadly, I don’t think this campaign will do enough to change things immediately. Works like these stems from many factors such as the mindset of the creator and we know it takes a lot to change one’s mind and attitude.”
On the other side of the fence is managing director of indie ad agency Formul8, Fiona Bartholomeusz: “Honestly, as a female sometimes I think we really push this whole feminist stance too far. So there’s tits and ass, what’s wrong with looking at a nice rack? It sure beats looking at a hairy ass or a flabby paunch right?”
Bartholomeusz pointed out the double standards that persist when discussing the objectification of women and men: “How many Calvin Klein ads have we seen with washboard abs or Armani underwear ads with Beckham’s junk in full view and it’s fine to ogle that?”
“Sex sells and unfortunately the female body is just that much more attractive to look at than a man’s.”
The ad medley includes well-known brands such as Burger King, Marc Jacobs and DirecTV, among others. Tom Ford campaigns, which are famous for its risqué art direction, have also come under fire in the video. The designer’s propensity to sexualise his work in this campaigns, Bartholomeusz argues, adds to his brand’s allure.
“We are all in reality, sexual beings, acknowledgement and expression of that is hard to stomach for some. Some puritanical types will balk no doubt but that’s why we have advertising censorship groups that protect the innocence of the masses.”
“Some ads I do agree however, are tasteless and just out to shock, (blow job sandwiches for one), but as we all know, today’s ad is tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper,” Bartholomeusz said.
“Understand that reality never sells. In theory we all want to be proponents of “the truth” – but can we handle it? Ads sell because it feeds into our ambitions/hopes for a better life/body/finances/relationship etc… it’s time we come to terms with that.”
When asked if sexism topics should be explored in advertising, Cheng said that the space is suitable as long as there is an audience for the conversation to take place: “If more people openly detest such ads, clients and agencies will stop because it is not working. Clients and agencies with a good moral fiber will also naturally never resort to demeaning women or anyone, even men, for commercial reasons.”
“Unless your client is the ‘Playboy Magazine’, there are more creative avenues you can explore. Don’t be lazy,” Cheng said.
“More women in the agency can help to do a sense-check on sensitivity because sometimes, it’s not just the image. It can be the message or even the core of the idea.”
Cheng said that brands should be more conscious of their audience: “Unless your campaign is confined within the male toilet (still someone might Instagram it), it is likely to travel even beyond this country.”
Meanwhile, Aware’s Tan shares some basic tips for advertisers to avoid alienating women:
1) Don’t reduce women to faceless and disembodied body parts.
2) Don’t use images of women simply as decorative elements, especially heavily sexualised images that have nothing to do with the product or service being sold.
3) Represent more diverse women in your advertising – are your models only white or Chinese? What about a range of body types, not just thin women? Going beyond narrow forms of representation can help you really stand out and speak to a broader market.
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