Sex sells, or so the old adage goes. Which perhaps explains why everywhere you turn – the billboard on the side of the highway, the advert on the subway – images of scantily clad women are used to push everything from fast food to clothes.
For proof of how deeply rooted sexism is in advertising, look no further than this video, which in less than three weeks has been viewed almost 1.5 million times.
(Warning: This video contains some graphic content)
The viral video is part of the #WomenNotObjects campaign, the brainchild of Madonna Badger, an advertising executive. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal when the campaign launched, Badger admitted she has in the past been part of the problem – she worked on Calvin Klein’s controversial underwear adverts, for example. But after losing her three young daughters in a house fire, she set out to demonstrate the damaging impact these adverts can have on girls and women.
There’s ample research to support her crusade. In 2007, the American Psychological Association found that the sexual objectification of women in magazines, movies, TV shows and websites is linked to mental health problems, eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls and women. “The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” the head of the APA task force said at the time.
And it’s not just damaging to girls and women: it could also be harming those companies that use these methods to advertise their products. Another more recent APA study found that far from making a brand seem more appealing, sex – as well as violence – were off-putting and distracting: “Sex and violence do not sell, and in fact may even backfire by impairing memory, attitudes and buying intentions for advertised products,” one of the researchers told the Telegraph.
While the world of advertising is still very much male dominated, those companies that turn their backs on Mad Men-era tactics could win over some very powerful customers: women control around 70% of global consumer spending.
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