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Advertising30 March 2016

The Place and Role of Women in Today’s Advertising

Social trend

Ads which objectify women are among ones I totally don’t accept. In such campaigns you can’t talk about creativity, never mind any notion of “art”, which – I will stubbornly insist on this – can sometimes occur in advertising. Objectification relies on a very cheap trick from the days when the creatives commonly believed in the simple “sex sells”principle. Although many advertising agencies seem to be moving away from offering their customers concepts reliant on oozing sexuality, we still encounter such productions almost every day. Sexism is, unfortunately, very deeply rooted in advertising.

In opposition to such shameful stereotyping and disgraceful creative clichés, there is a strong and growing trend of attempting to represent women in advertising in a dignified manner, without controversial exploitation of sexuality. A new social campaign #WomenNotObjects adds a clear voice to this trend. The campaign originated in the mind of Madonna Badger, who is thoroughly familiar with the advertising industry, having once worked, among others, on the controversial campaign for Calvin Klein underwear. The campaign, which has been resonating all over the world, rightly points out that this communication style simply doesn’t become the vast majority of brands today. According to the author, such a superficial way to represent women doesn’t become the creators of the campaigns either, and brands with a large potential (for ‘potential’ read budget) reach should not base their advertising strategies on shallow – and controversial – communications. Personally, I absolutely agree with that.

Companies that create or accept advertising that strays into a sexist territory not only spend money on creation which could be poorly received by consumers and not fulfil any planned goals. More importantly, taking such a creative direction means agreeing to building a brand image based on very shaky foundations, which potentially threaten collapse in the form of a long-term image problem.

The type of advertising I am discussing today is in no way a proof of craftsmanship of the creative agency. At most it shows that using such a shabby trick and presenting a concept based on it, the agency has decided to take a short-cut and does not deserve to be the one implementing the campaign. And most importantly, decision-makers who agree to such ads, do not take their brand to a higher marketing level (“any publicity is good publicity” type of thinking has long gone out of fashion with ambitious brands and agencies). On the contrary – they send their brand back to times in which women in advertising were merely a background, openly discriminated against.

Food for thought: sex in advertising may not sell, and what’s more, it can cause the viewer to forget about the product being advertised. And when it comes to the division of the purchasing power in the households – women control more than 70% of purchase decisions in the world.

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