4A's Conference

Madonna Badger Asks Adland to Stand Up Against Objectification

Gender Equality and Diversity Theme Marks 4A's Transformation Conference

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Badger & Winters' Madonna Badger and Girls' Lounge founder Shelley Zalis at 2016 4A's Transformation
Badger & Winters' Madonna Badger and Girls' Lounge founder Shelley Zalis at 2016 4A's Transformation Credit: Ad Age

Badger & Winters Chief Creative Officer Madonna Badger, who launched the #WomenNotObjects initiative in January, said agencies have to look at the creative work they're doing differently and start respecting women in ads.

Ms. Badger – continuing a theme around gender and diversity equality that has echoed through the 4A's Transformation conference this week – said people "for the most part don't even see it" and don't know the harm objectifying women is doing, which is why she's bringing awareness to the issue.

In addition to benefiting women on a psychological and emotional level, Ms. Badger said making the change is a good business decision for brands and agencies since females control over 80% of purchasing decisions. She added that more than 90% of women don't feel like they can connect to advertising in this country, so it's important for brands' values to be in sync with those of females. Ms. Badger, who admitted to objectifying many men and women earlier in her career, said it's a simple decision to change that can start as early as tomorrow.

"As creative agencies, we can make the choice to not overly Photoshop, to not show women as a bucket of body parts or as props without voices or choices," she said.

This change will also help bring more women and diversity into the creative process, said Ms. Badger.

4A's President-CEO Nancy Hill said only 11% of people in creative are women, which is up from 3% a few years ago, but is "still despicably low and has to be addressed."

"Until we change that, it's going to be very difficult to get away from sexist slants in advertising," said Ms. Hill.

One way to help increase the number of females in leadership roles, according to Ms. Badger, is to demand a nationalized family leave act. "The reason why there are so few women in the C-suites in this country is because they have to take time off for motherhood," she said, adding that creative agencies have some of the worst family leave policies.

"In this country, there are more CEOS named John than there are women CEOs," said Ms. Badger.

Aaron Sherinian, chief communications and marketing officer for the UN Foundation, said the young female generation is vocal about being in the room when it comes to topics about women. "Nothing about us without us" is this generation's mantra, he said.

But it's not just about gender equality – the diversity and inclusivity topics apply to race, sexual orientation, religion and more, said Ms. Hill. "If you're the CEO, you are the chief diversity officer. There is no excuse – you are the only one who can change the culture of your agency."

Girls' Lounge Founder Shelley Zalis said making a difference with gender and diversity comes down to the "power of the pack."

"If we could have done it alone, we would have by now," she said. "If we do not collectively join together to activate change, it will not happen."

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