Skip to main content

If you were to do a Google search for "objectification of women," a majority of the image results would be drawn from advertising and marketing campaigns.

For too long, women in the marketing industry have been far too complicit with the objectifying portrayal of their own gender. We should all be embarrassed by the rhetoric and content produced by some members of our industry.

The truth is, women play a greater role in shaping the marketing and communications industry than almost any other industry, and we're failing our sisters, mothers, and daughters by signing off on content and campaigns that objectify women.

Story continues below advertisement

Thankfully, it appears the industry as a whole is beginning to take notice.

Beginning this year, the jury packet for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – the "Oscars" of advertising – will include a series of guidelines about objectification and the harm that it causes. To win a Cannes Lions award this year, advertisers will now have to be more consciously careful about how they present women in their work. Cannes judges will be analyzing whether they would still consider the work to be effective if the women portrayed were their sisters, wives, or daughters.

This development resulted in part from the work of Madonna Badger, co-founder of New York's Badger & Winters advertising agency, who created the powerful campaign, #WomenNotObjects, something that is slowly becoming a blueprint throughout the industry.

Her powerful campaign video includes images from brands such as (the now deceased) American Apparel, Skyy Vodka, and Tom Ford. According to the video, campaign posters for those brands promote objectifying behaviour and lack authenticity for the brands or products they represent.

American Apparel's ads developed a reputation for containing photos that many observers described as exploitative of young women. Skyy Vodka has faced criticism related to gender discrimination with its ads that show men in positions that appear to dominate women. And Tom Ford's ads have featured cologne and perfume bottles used to barely cover female genitals.

Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions' parent company Ascential events, told Ad Age the criteria in jury briefings felt like a natural step for the festival. The award ceremony has made progressive developments in recent years, notably adding the Glass Lion: The Lion for Change Award in 2015, which rewards outstanding efforts challenging gender biases.

While there have been statements, awards and mentorships on this issue, adding in this judging criteria will inspire the industry from the top down to make tangible changes.

Story continues below advertisement

We are already seeing some marketing departments take positive steps to portray women in more positive ways. Dove's award-winning #MyBeautyMySay campaign and Nike's "Unlimited You" campaigns, are two that immediately come to mind.

In Canada, women account for a majority of household purchases and are seen as more digitally connected to brands. More than 79 per cent of females are likely to visit brands' social channels (compared with 64 per cent of males).

So why wouldn't brands want to market more directly to females with more empowering messages? We connect more, we engage more and we ultimately hold the purchasing power in our households.

As our industry continues to evolve, with social media and influencer marketing increasingly becoming a touchstone of our industry, we must ensure girls and women look at advertisements for inspiration so that they do not feel objectified.

We are at a tipping point. While the added judging criteria at Cannes Lions is a strong step, changes must begin from the top down. It's up to every woman in the marketing world to be a catalyst for change, rather than a perpetuator of outdated and objectifying motifs.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.