#WomenNotObjects Ignites Crucial Advertising Industry Conversation

Viral Video Highlights Objectification of Women in Ads -- And Brands Respond

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A hard-hitting video that aims to halt the objectification of women in advertising has taken adland and the internet by storm, causing some brands to defend themselves while others – along with celebrities and nonprofits – have jumped in to support the cause.

The creator of the two-minute film, #WomenNotObjects calling out ads that show up when you Google the phrase "objectification of women," said she has received tremendous support and positive feedback. Madonna Badger, a principal at Badger & Winters, has said she did the video to honor her three daughters, who were lost along with her parents in a 2011 house fire.

That includes people like actor Ashton Kutcher, who posted about #WomenNotObjects on Facebook, the social platform in which the hashtag was the top trend on Tuesday, according to Badger & Winters President Jim Winters.

Twitter has been buzzing with posts from celebrities such as George Takei, widely known for his past role on "Star Trek" and singer Alanis Morissette, as well as nonprofit organizations like UN Women, Global Fund for Women, the American Association of University Women and UniteWomen.org. Avon's PR team also tweeted in support of the effort, along with U.K.-based Big Bang Marketing, Havas PR Worldwide and PepsiCo Global Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman.

Since its posting on Jan. 11, the video has received more than 830,000 views on YouTube.

Although none of the brands called out in the video for objectifying women – such as Burger King, Carl's Jr., Skyy spirits, Ram Truck, Post-It, Tom Ford and Budweiser – have reached out to Ms. Badger or her eponymous agency, she said she was not expecting any responses from them.

"Brand participation was not the goal here. It was never an objective of ours," she said. "We simply wanted to start a conversation and that is what we consider successful."

During the #WomenNotObjects video, an actress holding up a Skyy ad of a scantily-clad woman says sarcastically, "I love sacrificing my dignity for a drink." A Skyy Vodka spokesperson said to Ad Age in a statement that the ad in the video is from 16 years ago.

"Since that time, Skyy Vodka has made a decision to not objectify anyone in our advertising. In fact, we are proud to take the lead on social causes promoting equality and respect for everyone, such as our recent Freedom to Marry campaign. Skyy's latest commercials feature a humorous TED Talks-type setting and the print ads focus on our iconic bottle," the statement added.

Carl's Jr., known for hyper-sexualizing women in its ads, is showcased in the video for its Tex Mex Bacon Thickburger commercial, which includes women in tiny bikinis playing beach volleyball.

"The women in our award-winning ads are intelligent, talented and beautiful professional actresses and models who often reach out to us and voice their interest in being part of our fun, iconic ads," said a CKE Restaurants representative, the parent company of Carl's Jr. "We also use female role models in our advertising. Our commercial featuring the uber popular UFC champion and Judo Olympian, Ronda Rousey last year is a prime example of that."

The CKE statement added that the company only has "the greatest respect for women and their contributions to society at all levels in business, at home and in the community."

An ad for Fiat Chrysler's Ram Truck from the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is also featured in the video. An FCA spokesperson said, "The Ram Truck brand ran the print ad you're asking about one time only in the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. It was only intended to run that one time in that specific issue. The brand no longer advertises in that issue."

The spokesperson added that Ram's "Courage Inside" TV spot from last spring, which highlights the spirit of strong women, is "more indicative of the brand's advertising position and strategy."

Post-It parent company 3M told Ad Age that the image in the #WomenNotObjects video of a woman sleeping next to a man with a Post-It note of her name on her forehead was not created by the company. The Jupiter Drawing Room confirmed creating the ad without 3M's consent and using the Post-It trademark without the brand's authority, according to a 2007 document from 3M's Office of Intellectual Property Counsel.

"3M did not have any involvement in this advertisement. Unfortunately, this misguided concept made its way to the internet. Neither 3M nor the Post-it Brand requested this work to be created. It is in no way associated with 3M or the Post-it Brand," said a 3M spokesperson.

On a more posititve note, numerous brands and clients have reached out to Badger & Winters, which has committed to never objectifying women in its work, to share their enthusiasm for the female-empowering effort. Ms. Badger said Dick's Chief Marketing Officer Lauren Hobart sent an "amazing email" saying how proud she is to be associated with the agency. Fashion brand Worth New York also sent a note to the agency saying that the company is happy to participate in the initiative in any way.

Crisis communications expert Mike Paul, known as "The Reputation Doctor," said the bottom line message for brands that choose to get involved in this effort is to "make your yes be your yes and your no be your no – nothing in between."

"The problem with us as human beings is we often say yes, but we actually mean sometimes," said Mr. Paul, who founded PR firm Reputation Doctor in 2014.

He said if brands decide to join the movement, especially ones known to sexualize women in ads, they have to be very careful not to flip-flop and go back to the "sex sells" method a few months from now.

Dialogue around #WomenNotObjects has only just begun. Mr. Winters said the agency is looking at many possible options for the initiative, such as potential events or nonprofit involvement.

"The next step at this point is to continue to support #WomenNotObjects as a community and for us to really continue to use our voice to stop this horrible objectification of women in advertising and marketing," she added.

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