Meet the Advertising Executive Who’s Stepping Up to Fight Sexism

Madonna Badger’s new campaign, #WomenNotObjects, aims to disrupt the industry.

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Photo by Courtesy of #WomenNotObjects

On January 11, 2016, a video went up on YouTube titled “We Are #WomenNotObjects”—a month later, that video boasts more than 1.6 million views. For two minutes and 17 seconds, the viewer sees image after image of sexist advertising flash on the screen—half-naked women drape themselves over cars, photos zoom in on lips and cleavage—all while women ironically narrate the message behind the ads. As scandalous liquor ad flashes on the screen, a woman states: “I love sacrificing my dignity for a drink.”

Badger & Winters, a female-run advertising agency headed up by executive Madonna Badger, launched this campaign with a renewed commitment to never objectify women in their work. Clients include Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, CoverGirl, Godiva, and Chanel, all of whom Badger says are “over the moon happy” with the new mission. The company now praises advertisements that show women in a positive, empowering light, using the hashtag #WomenNotObjects and #PositiveADitude.

Badger spoke to us about the thought process behind the campaign—which has received an incredible response, including recognition from UN Women—and the discussions we should all be having with our children about dishonest advertising. The tagline says it all: “Never underestimate a woman.”

How did you come up with #WomenNotObjects?
We Googled “objectification of women” and we were astonished at what we saw. We were on a shoot… and we had a big casting of real women and actresses, and we started asking them about these different ads that we had made boards of, and they started saying how that made them feel. We had some different lines we wanted to capture [in the film]. We gave a voice to the women in the ads and what they were saying.

What do you look for when reviewing an ad within your company—and what can other agencies look for?
There are four filters we use in terms of creation. Is this woman a prop; does she have a voice or a choice? Are we only using a provocative body part? Has this woman been retouched or changed to the point where it’s humanly unachievable? And what if that was your mom, or what if that was your daughter—how would that make you feel? By having that question in your mind, you’re creating an empathetic response to it (“If that was my mom, I would never run that ad!”). Those are the questions that we use as an agency, and I think it’s quite simple. Props, parts, plastic, and “what if that was my daughter?”

How can we talk to our children—and especially our daughters—about advertising and make sure they understand what it really is?
The best thing is to help children have a critical eye. [Say to them]: “You are so much more than how you look.” Those kinds of messages are very important. We need to help give them the tools to criticize it, to understand it, and not see [the ad] as who they are. Kids and teenagers are developing their sense of self, their sense of their place of the world, their sense of their own bodies. Helping them to see it for what it is I think is absolutely crucial.

Has any feedback been negative or disturbing?
A lot of the comments we’ve gotten that I found disturbing [say that] it’s the model’s “fault” for being in the ad. When you think about it, there are six months to a year of creative work and focus groups and talking and boards... and there’s a group of about 50 people in front of her taking that [photo]. She has no control over whatever the final output is. Who knows how many pieces of her were put together to form one image?

What has the response been like from other agencies?
We’ve already had major multimillion-dollar agencies reach out to us and say they want to join us. I think the hope is to have a coalition. It struck enough of a chord, and we’ve gotten [a] great response from people within the industry—both men and women. The times, they are a-changin’

Watch the full video below.