With the recent surge in survivors of sexual abuse in the glitzy world of celebrities coming out against their attackers, the topic of abuse and sexism has become an important, albeit emotional point of discussion. From depicting women as objects of sex, to far less intelligent to men, the advertising industry has been a large contributor to the so-called rape culture in society. The outdated view of ‘sex sells’ still rings true, but should we be marketing sexism disguised as sex?
Despite a paradigm shift in the industry trying to promote equality in a world that doesn’t accept it, it remains a tall order for advertising agencies to come up with the next big campaign without relying heavily on societal gender stereotypes.
Although we have come a long way from the Mr Leggs ‘It’s nice to have a girl around the house’ campaign, we’re still a long way from equality in the ad world.
A recent initiative has seen some of the big brand names in the industry coming together to fight the evil of gender-stereotyped advertising. Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Mattel and Diageo, to name a few, have raised their hands to stand up against blatant sexism in advertising. It’s an admirable initiative, but is it enough to undo the damage that more than a hundred years of sexism has done to the advertising world?
We’ve all been in a brainstorm where we need to sell something that is aimed at men where our immediate train of thought is to use sex, as this is the only thing that would catch their attention. It’s not like he’d want a Hoover for Christmas, is it?
But are we ever going to sell washing powder to men?
Probably not, because the stereotype sticks: females are the ones interested in the kind of washing powder they use.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see an ad for washing powder depicting men washing their clothes? I’m sure we can assume that men too, do laundry. Of course, it wouldn’t be marketed in the same way it has been for women over the years, but let’s be honest, does that even work for the women that are being targeted?
The evil of sexist advertising doesn’t lie in the advertising itself, but in the influence it has on society. Young boys and girls have been consuming adverts since the dawn of television and have been taught from an impressionable age that girls should want to cook, and boys should sit on the couch with a beer in hand. Many ad campaigns also surreptitiously promote violence against women by showing men dominating them in various circumstances.
You may think that the ads promoting this kind of behaviour must be from a time when that was just the way the world was, but the alarming truth is that this is still happening today. And although most ad campaigns’ intention is not to be blatantly sexist, it just goes to show how ingrained it has become in society to think that it’s okay to promote gender stereotypes and endorse rape culture. From Axe to Victoria’s Secret, women are still exploited in an attempt to promote products.
Fairly recently, companies like Dove and Always have started to slowly shift this perspective. Always’ ‘Like a girl’ campaign was a fresh perspective in a highly clichéd industry. And even Carl’s Jr., infamous for creating burger adverts targeting teenage boys through bikini clad models, has made a step in the right direction. You could argue in Carl’s Jr.’s case that their approach makes sense, as teenage boys are notoriously obsessed with sex, but by fueling this obsession, we merely reaffirm that it’s okay to exploit women. And this to young boys whose attitudes towards and perceptions of women are not yet firmly ingrained.
Unfortunately, despite initiatives to change the ugly sexism rampant in the advertising industry, it remains a black hole of outdated views. According to an industry-wide analysis conducted by Unilever in 2015, only 3 percent of ads depict women in leadership or managerial roles, and 1 in 2 women are sexualised in magazine ads. On the other hand, attempts to change the perspective have only resulted in switching sexism from female to male. This still widens the gap in the gender equality fight and does not solve the culture of rape constantly pushed in our faces.
So, does this mean that the industry is doomed?
There is still a lot of work that has to go into changing the industry to be more equality-driven, but if we start thinking about creating ads that will be acceptable to show to young, impressionable minds, we might just have half the battle won.
Our holistic approach to advertising keeps the tendency to dabble in sexism at bay. We believe in making ‘acts, not ads’. This means that instead of just making an ad that will sell a product, we try to come up with an act that will solve a problem while promoting the product, making a positive contribution to society while making the brand look good. By empowering our clients and society, we speak up for the #MeToo victims. We look beyond just getting sales, towards an approach that will change the world we live in, because if there’s one thing we know, then it’s that on Christmas morning, she definitely won’t be happier with a Hoover.
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