It is a well-known fact that the average person is exposed to thousands of advertisements a day, and that advertising helps determine how we see ourselves in a mirror. Often this is discussed in negative terms – the ways in which advertising damages self-esteem, say, or body images – but there is a flip side as well. “We can be a force of good,” explained Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer for Procter & Gamble, at the Women in the World Summit on Thursday. Indeed, advertising can actively encourage gender equality.
In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Katie Couric, Pritchard was joined by Madonna Badger, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Badger & Winters; Fiona Carter, Chief Brand Officer for AT&T; and Queen Latifah, the actress, producer, and iconic CoverGirl. Here are some key insights offered by these industry leaders who are now setting the agenda on how women are being represented in major advertising.
Advertising can empower people
When Queen Latifah was approached by Proctor and Gamble about being a CoverGirl, she was excited. “Just the idea of what I felt it would do for people to see me as a CoverGirl. … Never had you seen a CoverGirl look like me. And I know that a lot of people in my neighborhood, where I grew up, would relate to that.”
Changes in advertising begins with changes in the industry
Women make up 85 per cent of all consumer purchases. And yet when Fiona Carter joined AT&T, she quickly encountered a casting session that featured zero women. “I had a real epiphany,” Carter recalled. “For me it was a moment of personal power, because I realized I had the power to make a change. So I rejected the casting. We now have a campaign where the CEOs are cast as women. We have a female voice-over, which is highly unusually.” The campaign has been highly successful, Carter said.
Women, not objects
Madonna Badger made an even more radical shift after her company, Badger & Winters, was asked to do an “empowering ad” by a multi-billion-dollar client. During the research phase, the company discovered that the objectification of women was deeply tied to advertising – and decided to push back against gender bias. The product was the #WomenNotObjects campaign.
In 2016, Badger then took this campaign to the ad industry’s largest annual event, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – “the Cannes Lions is like the Oscars for advertising,” she said – and challenged the industry to follow suit. It worked. “This year, in the jury packet … there is now a whole piece in it about objectification” and “the harm that is done when we stereotype.” To win the Cannes Lions, advertisers will now have to be more consciously careful of how they present women through their work.
Better representations of women are better for business
A thousand advertising companies, 15,000 brands, many of them competitors, are really on a mission to make sure advertising accurately portrays women and girls,” said Pritchard, talking about the #SeeHer campaign. This also translates into a 26 per cent higher purchasing intent – “so it’s good for business, too.”
Carter has noted something similar in her research. “We wanted to go on the offence here to prove out the positive business impact and the business imperative of a positive portrayal of women and girls,” she said. A new measure – GEM (Gender Empowerment Measure) – was used to analyze 17,000 ads by asking questions such as: Was the protagonist a woman? “And we’ve actually proven [if an ad measured highly] that you have a much higher purchase intent and think much better of the brand’s reputation.”
Women have the power to push for change
“I can’t really stress enough the power we have as women,” continued Badger. Economic choices based on companies that support accurate representations of women make a huge difference. “We have that power and we have to use it.”
Young people also have the power
Katie Couric pointed to a Pepsi commercial, pulled this week after criticism that it exploited the Black Lives Matter movement. “It was so tone deaf,” she said, and young people reacted swiftly and firmly. Carter agreed: “They have a voice and they are not afraid to speak up. They will challenge the hierarchy and the patriarchy.”
Men need to be re-evaluated in advertising too
“I just wanted to maybe leave one thought,” said Queen Latifah. “I think that by changing advertising, we have to also consider the boys … We have to think about some of the pressures we’re putting on them, and the ideas we’re putting in their mind.” Calling for “re-education,” Latifah encouraged a relief in the pressure on men “to be so linear” – a relief from saturating them with idealized images that are “not as beautiful as a full scope of who a woman really is.”
Additional reporting by Karen Compton.