Have you ever looked at advertising images or slogans from well-known brands and wished women’s bodies, lives, or sexuality weren’t the tools to generate greater consumerism? Does it anger or frustrate you that stereotypes about females in particular are a baseline entry to evoking an emotional response, especially when it comes to a product or experience marketed to men? You aren’t alone.
While we are certainly seeing a lot of progress in advertising messages given the way Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaigns, and the formidable ‘Like A Girl’ videos from Always that helped spark a “femvertising” wave, the fact that blatant sexism still exists in advertising shows there is a lot of cultural un-earthing to be done before the objectification of women is no longer something to rely upon to effectively market a brand or product.
One woman who sees the power of advertising to shape how we think is Los Angeles-based freelance advertising copy writer Eileen Matthews whose Instagram project has shown the power of familiarity when it comes to brand advertising, and is leveraging this to promote a distinctly feminist message.
‘100 Days of Feminist Ads’ was launched in April and the project itself was inspired by her own background in the advertising world. The DailyBruin.com featured her work and explained that Eileen saw this project as an opportunity to use her skillset as a form of art and activism. She takes well-known images styled for well-known brands, and gives them a feminist twist.
She told the Bruin that the 2016 Presidential election motivated her to want to take action, and knew harnessing the power of advertising messages was a great way to make her voice heard.
“When advertising is done in a smart way it doesn’t feel like an ad, it feels like a part of culture or it has a message that you can really identify with,” she said.
There are minimal changes in her images, mostly a tweak here and there with key words or slogans. And it’s not just gender equality that Eileen wants to talk about. This is more of an intersectional project, touches on issues of race as well as gender identity. The wide variety of brands featured include Kleenex, XBOX, Taco Bell, Gillette Venus, National Geographic, and LEGO, to name but a few.
UCLA communication studies lecturer Yoomi Chin told the Bruin that we are experiencing an interesting time in pop culture where the focus on feminism, female empowerment and gender equality is starting to grow so much that people are more attuned to the sexism in advertising. All you have to do is look at the backlash toward sexist ads from Sprite and Protein World, for example, to get an idea of how culture is slowly starting to change and “get woke” to this trend.
“Women have always been the object of advertising. But now, more feminist scholars and women (are) becoming more aware of how women’s bodies and gender and sex were always hypersexualized and commodified for many years,” said Yoomi Chin.
New research released by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in partnership with and J. Walter Thompson New York, which analyzed more than 2,000 films from the Cannes Lions archive, found some depressing statistics: there are twice as many male characters in ads than female characters, women are six time more likely than men to be objectified, and men are more likely than women to be portrayed as having a career, as funny, or possessing intelligence.
When these are the subtle messages being ingested by our subconscious day after day, decade after decade, the negative and damaging thought-process that starts to embed itself in our culture and minds should not come as a shock to anyone. It is more imperative than ever the culture is changed, especially for future generations.
Eileen says she chose Instagram as the platform to launch her project because she specifically wanted to reach millennials and youth to help challenge and influence their way of thinking toward advertisements.
“Young minds, it’s easy for us to feel like we can’t make a difference and yet we have the world at our fingertips. This is a way for me to use my talents and my creative thinking to send a message and to get in on this movement in a way that feels comfortable to me and in a way that matters to me,” she said.
In an interview with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, who point out that women are the number one consumer group and account for 85% of product purchase decisions, Eileen speaks more about the need for specific feminist messaging in advertising, and why she is passionate about this project.
“There are so many feminists out there who either don’t realize that they’re feminists, or identify as feminists, but still fall into subtle sexist habits…Brands can and should be actively playing a role in amplifying feminist ideals, and breaking gendered stereotypes that have become habit, to no deliberate fault of our own,” she said.
She acknowledges brands like Dove and Always who are recognizing consumer’s wanting to see more inclusive and non-gendered messaging and hopes the industry will see this as an opportunity to be part of positive change.
“I’ve always viewed advertising as smart art. People pay attention to what they like, and sometimes that happens to be an ad. But I think in an era where companies are spending significant amounts of money creating fun content that consumers will engage with, it’s a missed opportunity for brands to not use their voice, when appropriate, to advocate for a bigger message,” she said.
Her activism and passion is heightened by the very fact that she is a woman working in an industry known for its “boy’s club” attitude. This has certainly been given the pop culture treatment thanks to the cult-hit TV show ‘Mad Men’. Eileen shares some of her experience learning how to deal with sexism and set backs for women in advertising.
“I knew going into advertising that it would be somewhat of a boys club, but that never bothered me because I could always hang with the boys. I’ve since learned that there’s a difference between ‘hanging with the boys’ and ‘working with the boys’ …There’s a hierarchy, and everyone has to pay their dues. If it wasn’t for my female co-workers, I wouldn’t have known where the line gets drawn between creative criticism/workplace politics, and emotional abuse/misogyny,” she said.
While she says she has been lucky to work with a number of female creative directors and sees signs of changing, there are still some lingering ‘Mad Men’-era attitudes existing in the industry. Nevertheless, she is using her voice and her platform to make an impactful change. The ‘100 days’ project will end on July 13th, and you can follow her @Feministads Instagram account to see all the images she has uploaded so far.