One agency is promising to quit one of advertising's worst habits—objectifying women.
Manhattan-based Badger & Winters is making its case with a new video, titled "We Are #WomenNotObjects." The two-and-a-half-minute clip features women holding up extreme—but sadly common—examples of sexist ads, while offering dry critiques of what they literally convey.
"I love giving blow jobs to sandwiches," says one woman, holding up Burger King's egregious hoagie fellatio image.
But there's plenty of gratuitous skin to go around. Other offending ads include a version of the classic Emanuel Leutze painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware," re-imagined with bikini-clad women peddling a pickup truck. And Tom Ford rightfully earns a couple of scathing critiques, including one for his cologne—perhaps the ad's funniest line.
"The key to my heart? A man that smells like a vagina," says that takedown artist.
After an additional string of porny punting, the ad drives its point home with a plea: "I am your mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, manager, CEO," reads the on-screen copy. "Don't talk to me that way."
The work breathes new life into a familiar argument by presenting it in a fresh, humorous and clear way, and brings to mind an equally on-point parody of women in yogurt ads from 2013. The agency, which serves beauty and fashion brands like Avon and Vera Wang, is also pledging to avoid using the strategy, and will limit the airbrushing of women in its ads.
CEO Madonna Badger is no stranger to using sex in advertising: She created Calvin Klein's ads featuring Marky Mark and Kate Moss, both topless, back in the '90s (an experience Moss later said triggered a nervous breakdown).
Badger isn't letting herself off the hook. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she pleads guilty to her role in objectifying women, but describes the new campaign as an effort to shine a light on the issue—and its adverse effects—in honor of her three daughters, who all died under the age of 10, along with her parents, in a tragic Christmas Day fire in 2011.
The campaign's cause is an uphill battle; it's not news that the ad industry exploits sex appeal at the expense of women, but the general attitude is best described as a collective shrug. Some have argued that playing to animal desires just works, so why change course?
There are other bright spots in the industry, though. Unilever's Dove, for its part, battles narrow conceptions of what constitutes beauty. And P&G's Always has tried liberating definitions of femininity from patriarchal stereotypes. Still, those efforts are aimed at moving product, and can—however unintentionally—risk seeming limiting or exploitative.
But the industry might slowly be arcing toward improvement. Even Axe, after years of producing sexist advertising, is showing a softer, more nuanced side in its latest work. Then again, it still couldn't resist sneaking in that shot of a naked woman, mid-orgasm.