CANNES, France—"You know what sex sells?" Madonna Badger asked a capacity crowd at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today. "Sex. It actually hurts our brands."
The Badger & Winters chief creative officer has become one of the industry's leading advocates for ending the practice of objectifying women in ads via her #WomenNotObjects campaign. On the first full day of the 2016 festival, she introduced the newest short film in that campaign, this time illustrating the effects that sexualized ads can have on a crucial but often negated consumer group: children.
During her presentation, "Sex, Lies and Advertising" (which is also the title of a classic Gloria Steinem article), Badger introduced the third chapter in the series, titled "What Our Kids See." She told the capacity crowd that she and her agency partners gathered the young boys and girls in the video below and "showed them ads easily seen by anyone," adding, "[We got] the permission of their mothers, which we don't have everyday."
The results are both compelling and disturbing.
Badger said that she sees this latest chapter in her widely circulated #WomenNotObjects campaign as a natural extension of a project designed to honor the memory of her three young daughters who died in a 2011 fire that destroyed her Long Island home and also killed both of her parents.
As she did in previous interviews with The Wall Street Journal and others, Badger pleaded guilty to committing the very practice she's looking to end. "I've been objectifying women for a long time," she said. "This is not about blame or shame or any of that stuff."
She then elaborated on the theory that such campaigns ultimately damage the businesses they advertise. A survey of 2,700 consumers aged 18 to 74 conducted by Badger & Winters with the help of The Girls Lounge founder Shelley Zalis found that ads deemed to objectify women are "disastrous to brand reputation and extremely damaging to purchase intent." She said, "People don't want to buy whatever we are trying to sell."
"For every boy to learn that every girl is his equal … this is the future I'm fighting for," Badger said while citing London mayor Sadiq Khan's recent pledge to ban "body-shaming ads" from the London subway system.
"There's lots of talk of gender equality," Badger added, "but stopping objectivization has no gender, just as great strategy, respect and dignity have no gender."
Badger told the crowd that many within the industry have called her goals impossible to achieve because the "sex sells" cliche still rules the world of marketing. But Badger said, "Real change happens when people come together and take a stand," concluding her presentation by stating that her life is now about three things: "My girls and their legacy, my amazing husband Bill … and advertising and its power to do good—especially to do no harm."