Sex Sells? Not According To Madonna Badger

CANNES, FRANCE -- Advertising has the power to effect change both good and bad. Unfortunately, there are far too many ads that objectify women in today's media. Beer ads show only breasts. Shoe ads feature naked models. "We Googled [the term] objectification of women. What came up? Advertising," says Madonna Badger, founder, chief creative officer, Badger and Winters, during the "Sex, Lies and Advertising" session at the Lions International Festival of Creativity here.  

Badger started her career by developing many of these provocative images for clients including Calvin Klein. But then she experienced a devastating tragedy on Christmas 2011 that killed her three children and parents in a house fire. 

"This is when I knew I had the power to make a difference and I had found my purpose and my agency's purpose," she says. Her mission was to ensure a more responsible portrayal of women in advertising and a vow never to objectify anyone again. 

Badger first launched her #WomenNotObjects campaign in January 2016 with a video that has garnered more than 40 million views across 175 countries.  

This one online video sparked a revolution after the clip attracted massive social media attention, as well as two common responses, says Badger. One blamed the model for putting herself in those situations. The second comment was more "disturbing," says Badger. They asked, "What's the big deal? I don't get it, what's the harm [with these ads]?"  

That is when Badger made a second film to show how real kids and women respond to these ads. "Harm is done," she says.  

This week, Badger is releasing a third video that interviewed children after they saw current -- and common -- billboards on city streets. The video ends with the message: "Maybe you don't see it anymore, but they do."

As part of this advocacy effort, people are directed to the WomenNotObjects Web site to sign a petition aimed at encouraging advertisers to stop four types of objectification. First, advertisers need to recognize the concept of showing women as props, sex objects or toys. Second, they need to stop using women solely as parts, such as showing only naked legs or a large mouth. You are taking away her humanity when you don't use the whole human, she says. Third, they need to eliminate the idea of "plastic" women through unrealistic images with retouching. Lastly, advertisers need empathy to think about the messages they are sending to their mothers or daughters.  

This mission is not simply idealized chatter, but rather a smart business strategy. At Cannes, Badger also released findings from a study that shows that objectification is "disastrous to a brand's reputation," she says. Some 91% of consumers are unlikely to have further interaction with brands that feature provocative imagery. "People don't want to buy whatever you are trying to sell," she says. 

"Today, millions of girls, teens and women [act] out powerful ads we created because we are powerful," says Badger. "What we put out into this world is powerful."

1 comment about "Sex Sells? Not According To Madonna Badger".
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  1. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., June 21, 2016 at 8:42 a.m.

    Martin Lindstrom found that sex doesn't really sell from research he conducted, which made its way into his best-seller, "buy*ology." But when did evidence and proof ever overturn conventional wisdom in the advertising business?

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