Monday, July 25, 2011

Are sexist ads good? Should strategists change or conserve the world?

A milk ad campaign has been withdrawn since it´s been accused of being "sexist". Apparently it´s not ok to talk about PMS and in a funny way show how this affects boyfriends and husbands around the world.

I am most times the first to attack sexist ad - both because they are inefficient in reaching the heart of the market, and because they create a culture that reduces people to Genders, robbing them of their potential to be Individuals. I was a libertarian feminist debater for many years in Sweden and have written books (for the think-thank Timbro) and tons of articles about how we are all responsible for the way we interpret "women and men", "femininity and masculinity". The society judges people based on gender, and it´s up to us all to be careful about this, to be respectful and give everyone freedom to become anything - not just be pushed into a box.

I understand most art directors, copy writers or marketing directors don´t give a damn about this. Marketers won´t change the world - and they´re not supposed to. That little girls grow up to become "pink" and boys are limited to become strong and tough because "media" is shaping them that way, is not adland´s problem. Agencies earn their money from analysing, understanding and following the culture. The more they listen to trends, movements and the deep needs of the customers, the more successful they will be. If we as strategists try to be Martin Luther Kings or some kind of politicians we are not doing our job. If we go against what "works" to do what´s "right" we use our client´s cash to fight for our own values, and that is not ok.

It doesn´t mean we are bad. If you don´t agree with what "Works" - just Man up and say no to the account, or convince the client that they should do "Right" and perhaps encourage others to do so as well; that they should use their position as strong brands to improve the state of the world, spread more love and increase the level of freedom or comfort for people. Create peace on earth. Release little girls or boys from the gender chains.

I wonder if the problem is that you can´t have both freedom and comfort. Freedom sounds lovely - but it´s also connected with loads of responsibility - something many many many try to avoid. Most people want to have a sense of freedom - as IF they could choose what drinks to drink, what schampoo to use or what jeans to wear - but they still wish to be guided into doing what everyone else is doing. Politicians traditionally talk a lot about freedom, perhaps thinking this is what people really want. But I´m not sure about that.

What we as marketers play with is most times instead people´s need of comfort. We know that most people want to be happy, and are afraid of sticking out, making the wrong decisions, becoming outcast (= not be loved). Hence a good strategy is most likely one that leads to ads that explore things like gender roles. Ads that are a little sexist. Ads that do not change the world, but conserve it.

So am I pro or against sexist ads? Neither. Balance, harmony, consideration. Grey zones are King. Just be aware. Know who you are. Make enlightened decisions.

Read all about the milk ad in AdNews:

What do you think? Am I wrong, right, insane or on to something... ? :)

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