Advertising is only evil when it does evil things. -David Ogilvy.
The 2016 Cannes Lions Festival was an incredible experience for me and for our agency, Badger and Winters. I was proud to serve on The Glass Lion jury (a sub for Wendy Clark), speak to more than 2,200 people on the Lumiere stage about #WomenNotObjects, watch my business partner, Jim Winters, present the research findings about the harm objectification of women causes brands in key KPIs like purchase intent and brand reputation, be on a panel about diversity and a part of a CMO accelerator program about leadership and personal fearlessness.
It was a busy week ...
My single biggest takeaway was the need for change in the eligibility process of winning a Cannes Lion. Without a doubt, the time is now for the Cannes Lions leadership to adhere to their own entry conditions.
The Cannes Lions leadership must uphold the rule (Section 2, Rule 1) that allows them to refuse or withdraw any ads that offend national sentiments, religious sentiments, or public taste...
Objectification of women offends "public taste."
Just like racism offended public taste and had to be rejected as a way of selling a brand or product, so too should we consider the offensive and harmful nature of ads that objectify women.
Gold Lion winner in the print category, Interflora, from TAPSA/Y&R Madrid, offended public taste with an ad that demeans women by suggesting that the company will "do beautiful bridal bouquets, and that the groom’s job is to not sleep with the bridesmaids."
The Bayer/BBDO out-of-home ad that alludes to a man filming a woman during sex without her consent offended public taste.
This was demonstrated by the public outcry that followed the awarding of the Bayer ad. Bayer and BBDO have since disowned the ad, shifting blame to the Brazilian BBDO office that created it, AlmapBBDO, which also happened to be awarded Agency of the Year.
Sex is not the same as objectification. Sex is human and fun and two-sided and equal.
Objectification is treating women like things, sex toys, not sexual equals, using body parts without faces, and over-retouching to the point where a woman looks like an alien.
It is how racially inappropriate ads used to treat people of color as less than human. This offends public taste.
This practice has to stop if women are ever going to be seen as whole, human, and strong. And we need everyone’s help to get there.
This is not a man vs. woman issue. This is a humanity issue.
Objectification of women has been the subject of many medical and academic studies with empirical and analytical evidence of the harm it causes to women, men, children, and teens.
Put simply, objectification is the portrayal of human beings as things without regard for their humanity or dignity.
Here is how we define objectification:
Props. Does this woman have a choice or a voice?
Plastic. Has she been retouched to the point of being humanly unachievable?
Parts. Has this woman been reduced solely to a provocative body part?
What if the woman in the ad was you or your mother, daughter, co-worker, or wife? Would you be ok with that ad then?
The last one is a simple question all of us can ask.
Because objectification of women causes true harm to all of us.
When exposed to objectifying ads, women can turn the lens on themselves and self-objectify, which can lead to shame and anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence. Even worse, it can turn into eating disorders and depression.
Self-objectification takes up cognitive space in our brains. One study has shown that college-age women score lower on the exact same test when wearing a swimsuit vs. a sweater.
Apply this scenario to the workplace, and is it any wonder that women are less likely to speak up in meetings? Or to ask for a raise, an assignment, or a promotion?
Men are meant to see us as whole, human, strong, and equal, but meanwhile so many of the images they see objectify women. I firmly link one of the aspects of inequality in the workplace to objectification of women, as many others do as well.
The worst harm, however, is being done to our children.
In the U.S., the average age that a girl goes on her first diet is seven, and 81% of 10-year-old girls refer to themselves as "fat" when asked about body image.
By objectifying women in advertising and content, we are basically teaching young women that how you look is more important than who you are, how you feel, and what you can do.
And young men are getting the message that girls are only to be looked at — objects, nothing more.
And not objectifying women is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Women control or influence a $20 trillion global economy, which is bigger than China and India combined. Isn’t it time that we treat women with the respect and dignity they deserve?
In Cannes, I was ecstatic with the response to #WomenNotObjects. It is time to put words into action. If the Cannes Lions made ads ineligible that objectified women, we would see the entire industry change overnight. This is the type of leadership that’s needed in order for real change to occur.
Madonna Badger is Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Badger and Winters, and Founder of #WomenNotObjects.