Does Advertising Promote or Demote Women?

06/05/2016 17:04 | Updated 06 May 2016

Marketing to consumers has never been more sophisticated, nano-targeting, data capture and all sorts of qualitative insights that get you under the skin of an audience.

But observing the female skewed campaigns over the last year, it is clear we are far from connecting with them in a meaningful way.

‎There are the obvious clangers such as 2015's Beach Body Ready campaign from Protein World. The poster campaign sparked a huge backlash, triggered a petition with over 70,000 signatories and attracted protests in London and New Yorkwith protesters marching in swimsuits in order to say that they look 'good enough' to go to the beach, even when they do not conform to the beauty ideals portrayed on the high impact Underground poster campaigns.

But it is often the subtle sexualisation of women that is the most damaging. Couture brands still opt for anorexic looking models, and most beauty ones photoshop theirs. Most adults are able to decode the 'fake' but for young impressionable teens these companies are setting unreachable goals of perfection.

All of this begs the question - do women really ‎want this? Are they happy for conversation to be centered around appearance, looks?

If the character played by Mel Gibson in What Women Wants was around he would most certainly challenge this paradigm.

Women have shed some of the shackles of inequality, only to be bound my new ones of image obsession. Yet the investment is disproportionately high compared to their interests and desires. They claim that their confidence ‎drops by 80% on reading a magazine and 60% feel that glam selfies make them feel bag.

This is before we even talk about teen statistics - where four out of five ten years are worried about being fat and half are thinking about going on a diet.

It is also probably true that shaming women into feeling fat or plain won't necessarily drive sales. I cannot believe that a size 6 mannequin will tempt people to try the skinny dress on. Aspiration is one thing, but frustration is another.

However, there are a few brands who are now trying to get it right. The 'LikeAGirl' campaign from Always bust the myths that women are weaker. We are just told that. Also Dove's Beauty Sketches campaign highlighted our profound low opinion of ourselves, and seeks to use marketing budget to build self-esteem. They are even dedicating marketing resource to schools, providing workshops in body confidence and self-esteem.

Sport has also suffered from lack of female participators, which isn't surprising as 6 out 10 teen girls stop doing games because they are embarrassed about their bodies. Some women have even set up running machines in their sheds so they aren't seen in action. So the Sport England campaign 'This Girl Can' which used real women, sweating, grimacing,winning, garnered a lot of positivity and impact because itshowed what exercise is really about: endurance, commitment, passion. And not just weight loss.

If most board rooms are full of men, then none of this is surprising, with more men named John as FTSE 500 CEOS than women. They will come out with 'but we know beauty sells' and 'unedited photos don't work'. But none of them really know as none have really tried it. No magazine has dared to stop airbrushing and no brand has properly faced off the endemic issue in our society - women are visual objects of splendor before they are anything else. Hence we comment more on a little girl's prettiness than her cleverness.

Female brands are part of the fabric of society today and so they have a responsibility to continue fighting for women's rights. Not this time for the vote, or for equality in the workplace, but for the right to our well-being, our happiness, which is all too often crushed by a silky leg, or whitened complexion.