Women, Advertising, and No Answers At All

Any advertising student, or avid Mad Men fan, could tell you that over 60 years ago the state of advertising to women was, how do I say this? A complete insult. Print ads suggested that a woman wouldn’t find a husband with bad breath and, a more obscure set of ads, referred to girl’s clothing over a size 4 as “For Chubbies.” A sentiment that would find itself easily on the front page of Buzzfeed today.

In fact, a lot of women’s issues are showing up on the front page of Buzzfeed these days. And Huffington Post, and Good Morning America. And Fox… no ok not Fox. But you get my point. There’s a Womanssance happening in advertising and I think it is time we take note. And not just from a “This ad is good, this ad is bad” stand point.

I’m going to be honest right now. I don’t have the answers. Nor does this blog post have a clear objective in its evaluation. But I do have some observations. And I’d like to start with the most recent of advertising atrocities, Protein World.

Did you know there is a sub Reddit forum called “Fat People Hate.” Yes, this is a thing. For those of you not familiar with Reddit, the free, anyone-can-say-whatever-they-want anonymously forum has sub sections based on popular topics. One of these is all fat shaming. Anyone pissed off just by this fact should know there are an equal number of sub Reddits for fat love, curvy women, and everything else under the internet sun. This is what came to mind when the hullabaloo around Protein World took viral flight.

Once again ahead of myself, let me recap: A UK health powder company placed an advert in the London Tube with the seemingly common phrase, “Are you Beach Body Ready?” An outpouring of objections followed in the form of graffiti. “Artists” changed the message to say #EveryBodyReady, “Beach Ball Ready,” and a number of other pro-body image comments. The reaction went viral and Protein World’s PR choice was to, quite frankly, respond as complete assholes. Ok, that’s an opinion. Take two: they responded by holding to their position that hot bodies are hot, fat bodies are not, and no one is going to convince them otherwise.

Now here is where I question my own beliefs. From my reference before I will admit, I am an active Redditor. And no you can’t have my user name. But I do follow the advertising sub Reddit and was truly surprised when some people said or agreed with the following:

“I think they are rocking their campaign. I’ve been seeing this ad non stop in my ad-related feeds with all the angry and intolerant replies, which really stick to their brand identity and the image they want to project onto their user base. Personally we can agree or disagree on the message, but as a campaign, I’m sure their earned media is soaring.” /u/atticus_furx

I have no idea what Mr. Atticus’ background is, so I can’t say he speaks for the industry, but dear Burnett I hope this isn’t the way most advertisers interpret quality work. A Buzzfeed article and hundreds of hate tweets does not a good campaign make. But I did ask myself, if the brand were to continue on their decision to be pro-skinny and anti-fat, are they not adhering to a voice and pandering to their audience? I mean this as the voice they chose, of course, because they could easily do what many other health companies do and advertise to those who need to lose more than 5 pounds of water weight.

But I also asked myself what this means for the future of women advertising because, lets face it, “Beach Body Ready” isn’t a comment out of the ordinary for a good proportion of our population, especially in America. As a Floridian this is something I’ve said in the last week. And at no point did I think, “Damn, I’m being cruel to the other women like me who are 30 pounds over weight.” I just had a goal and I stated it. But when a seemingly harmless statement such as this is put next to a stock photo of a photoshopped skinny model, the public reaction is one that the poor copywriter of this tube ad probably didn’t see coming.

So I find myself considering the recent flood of more women-positive advertising that has hit the market in both the last several years and last several weeks. Two in particular come to mind: Dove and Nike. (I’m sure you could have guessed.) Most recently Dove released a campaign where they asked women to walk through the “Beautiful” door, or “Ugly” door. A campaign which was also mocked with a “Big dick” or “Small dick” mens video. (Way to go.) It’s a campaign that I’d second as bad only to their Curly Hair campaign, which was quite weak, if only in execution and not so much message. The entire thing seemed contrived, and next to Buzzfeed’s 100th article on ‘look at these curvy women being ok in swimsuits/wedding dresses/cocktail attire,’ it is losing its impact. We get the point. Women feel crappy about themselves. Some women are ok with putting it out there. We’re not quite allowed to feel ok about ourselves yet. Men make fun of it anyway.

That’s where winners stand out, like Nike’s latest women campaign that took a look inside every woman’s head whilst working out. ‘I can’t.’ ‘OMG look at her perfect butt.’ and ‘Just 5 more F — ING seconds!’ It felt like someone jumped into my head and put it in a commercial. (Kudos once again W+K) A commercial that, if and when it is made fun of by a male perspective, is going to have a difficult time getting as many laughs.

Ok, so have I arrived at a point? Maybe not, but I admitted to that early on, so if you were expecting one, I hope you got at least a thought and a giggle along the way. But my real observation is that now is time to tread lightly and then say F-it, lets do it anyway. Because this wave in women ads may or may not turn out like the Cheerio debacle of 2012. Stick a mixed raced couple in an ad and fear the wrath of the Internet for half a heartbeat and then see if you make a lasting impact. At least that is what I have to say from an advertising perspective. From a woman’s perspective, I say, watch what you say and don’t mess with us. As Kimmy Schmit says “Females are strong as hell,” and we aren’t going to buy into half hearted attempts to get on our good side like you once did with Halitosis.

Chelsea Stonerock is a Copywriter at SPARK advertising agency in Tampa, Florida. She’s also strong as hell.