In yesterday’s post about Dr. Pepper Ten, I explored the need to rise above calling for the removal of sexist ads and instead, vote with our wallets. Today, I watched a trailer for the documentary “Miss Representation” which, I think, further proves the need to do this.
Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, this film calls out the media and advertising for re-enforcing negative stereotypes of women. On one hand, I agree. On the other, I don’t.
Does advertising (and the content it pays for) illustrate women in ways that prevent women from rising above the past? Absolutely. Is it their fault? Maybe and maybe not. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Let me explain.
While advertising certainly has done its fair share to contribute to the problem, the only thing that drives the use of negative imagery is success. Advertisers do it because it works. Trust me, if a “sexy” ad failed to drive sales, it would get yanked faster than Qwickster. So who’s guilty? The advertiser for doing it or the general public who reward the advertiser’s behaviour with sales and brand loyalty?
There was a time when corporations didn’t even think about greening their products. Only when the general public started rewarding those who went green did everyone else join in.
The answer is easy then, right?
As the trailer points out, many men respond to such images because that’s what we’ve been taught our entire lives. By the media. And by advertising. When we buy magazines or watch TV or check out movies, we’re fed images that define what we should like and what we shouldn’t. So when we see Paris Hilton in a Carl’s Jr. spot, we’re immediately conditioned to think, “Blonde? Check. Thin? Check. Not intellectually sound? Check. Oh, right! I like this!! (or at least I’m supposed to).”
Is it my fault for responding or someone else’s fault because they taught me that that’s how I should respond? Or.. and here’s where it gets interesting.. Is it Paris’ fault for contributing to the problem simply for financial gain? Shouldn’t she be held at least partially accountable?
Many of you will point to the brilliant work done by Ogilvy Toronto for Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to say that clearly progressive forms of advertising work. Well, ya but don’t forget that the campaign targeted people who supported that type of brand communication much in the same way that parent company Unilever stands behind its work for Axe Body Spray. They work because their target connects with them.
Like or not, money drives decisions but it also represents a democracy. I absolutely hate Jersey Shore but man, there are a LOT of people who like it which proves it should exist. Who am I to impose my cultural beliefs on others? Instead of yanking it, wouldn’t it be better if there simply wasn’t a market for it?
I know I’m rambling. I guess this is my point: If we want to make advertising better, we have to rethink what we’re responding to and support those products (and the ads that represent them) regardless of price. And whether we’re Kim Kardashian or US Weekly or a Creative Director at a big agency, we need to make decisions based on our values, not on our bank accounts.
My good friend, Bill Sharpe, once told me, “A principle is only a principle if it costs you money.” I couldn’t agree more.
As a consumer and as a brand guy, I know I’m not perfect.
I’m just trying to do the right thing.
What do you think?