Opinion: Mad Women

Empowered Women in Media? Or, Two Steps Forward and One Step Back?

It’s well known that advertising and the media can and have influenced our culture and consumer behavior. As much as we might want to be immune to marketing messages, the reality is they enter our subconscious. This impact has been especially true for women. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s movie, Miss Representation, did an excellent job of documenting this point.

Back in 2011 when I worked at Anthem Worldwide, I wrote a paper on this titled, “Today’s Women: Newfound Power, Persistent Expectations.” Here’s an article that covered the work, in which I championed focusing on tapping into women’s Motivations, as opposed to marketers continuing to rely on persisting Expectations of how women should be in the world. The intent of this message is to inspire communicating with women in a way that is more consistent with what they truly want for themselves, rather than speaking to what they believe they have to do.

One good step towards making such an approach a reality would be to bring more women to the helm in creative roles at marketing agencies. This is what the group that puts on the 3% Conference champions. Why 3%? That’s the percent that women make up of all advertising creative directors. In other words, men have been creating the ads that communicate how women should be in the world.

Providing positive incentives can also be a good motivator. Earlier this year, it was fabulous to see the ad industry take a step forward to encourage advertising that doesn’t cast stereotypes and instead support gender equality. Cannes has added the Glass Lion award to reward ads that do just that rightfully for both women and men.

With this new award in mind, it would seem a campaign that ran this year for International Women’s Day (March 8) for the Clinton Foundation would be up for the nomination. The campaign’s point was to raise awareness of gender inequality, and to make the point, in 40 existing advertisements placed around New York City women were removed for the day, replaced with the simple url, “not-there.org.” Playing off this term, “not there,” in terms of gender equality and breaking the glass ceiling, women were now “not there” for all to see and to drive awareness of the Clinton Foundation’s report, “No Ceilings,” about the progress women and girls are making in the world. I’m all for the intent of the statement, but for me the approach emphasized the point that women could easily be erased. For me, it wasn’t an empowering visual to drive the message; more cleverness that missed the mark.

Then in the media, take this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. One could argue the issue itself goes against the intent of changing stereotypes, but this year’s cover took it a step further (look for it online if you haven’t seen it). Jennifer Weiner took exception and stated her objection in her opinion piece for The New York Times. She writes, “I’m concerned that the shot has left women and girls with another raft of insecurities,” and, “Show me a body part, I’ll show you someone who’s making money by telling women that theirs looks wrong and they need to fix it.” She closes with: “Girls’ and women’s lives matter. Their safety and health and their rights matter. Whether every inch of them looks like a magazine cover? That, my sisters, does not matter at all.” Well said.

The good news is that we continue to talk about these issues and raise awareness. The hope will be that we make progress, and perhaps the Cannes award will inspire more marketers and agencies to be more creative and powerful in their efforts to help get us there.

The Consumer Forecast: Help raise the bar for media and advertising, break gender stereotypes, and support gender equality.



Cannes Lions: New Award for Work that Shatters Gender Stereotypes, March 2, 2015. http://www.canneslions.com/cannes_lions/news/1015/cannes_lions_new_award_for_work_that_shatters_gender_stereotypes/

Ember, Sydney. “‘Not There’ Campaign Removes Women From Ads for International Women’s Day,” The New York Times, March 8, 2015.

Weiner, Jennifer. “Great! Another Thing to Hate About Ourselves: From Sports Illustrated, the Latest Body Part for Women to Fix, The New York Times, February 14, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/opinion/sunday/from-sports-illustrated-the-latest-body-part-for-women-to-fix.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share

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