Why are Women Alienated by Advertising?

Elusive 'Insights'

On Tuesday I went to listen to some ‘Noisy Thinking’ on “Why Women are Alienated by Advertising,” courtesy of the APG. The quality of the speakers’ delivery was enviably faultless. I personally find speaking in front of more than four people fucking daunting. The comically large, yellow foamed mic handed around during the Q&A session was even more intimidating and so I refrained from asking any questions. I also hate forcing a room to listen to me. With this blog you have the option of switching internet tabs when you don’t like what I am rabbiting on about.

Let me just say clearly now that my delight that planners have decided to tackle the taboo of ‘woman’s problems’ in advertising definitely outweighs any criticism that people might interpret this blog to contain. This post is not meant to be critical. I am merely evaluating each of the speakers’ positions, not even with my own views, but with the views of some feminist writers. Unfortunately, I am in the process of shaking off being brainwashed to be an insufferable academic. Academics think critically. Blogging is part of my healing process. Its a sort of voluntary solitary confinement for my intolerable intellectual alter ego that means I don’t bother people in the office with my sometimes grandiose, sometimes pedantic, waffling.


For me, a great talk results just as much from what was said as what was left unsaid. And there was much unsaid given the breadth and depth of the topic being squeezed into two hours or so. This post is meant in the spirit of Voltaire’s “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” but more in the spirit of saying that Voltaire is often misquoted to have said this. In short, I am going to shift the discussion a bit. I’m spring-boarding from what I heard on Tuesday evening in order to give you mine, and some feminist philosophers’ two cents worth.

Adland – Full of sniggering white, middle-class, middle-aged men?

The old tried-and-tested advertising formulas have persisted when it comes to representing women throughout the ’80s, ’70s, ’60s, ’50s and even ’40s despite society having changed beyond all recognition. This was something I felt that Richard Huntington from Saatchi & Saatchi believed strongly. He voiced his concern during the Q&A session that advertising was not only not leading the way when representing gender or LGBT or racial identity, but also stuck in the middle-ages considering the seismic cultural shifts of the past century. Planners might benefit from being up to speed with philosophical developments on identity, and feminism in particular, so that societal change doesn’t simply pass the industry by.

Planner’s often undertake a quest for ‘universal truth’, or a ‘big fat insight’. The most integrated campaigns, such as Snickers’ “You aren’t you when you’re hungry,” have so much mileage partially because they come from one of these golden nuggets: a great truism. This should be fine and dandy as it is looking at the broadest possible identity: being human and being hungry. Unfortunately, Adland is a bit dozy when it comes to recognising sexism/racism/ageism: Even identity-neutral adverts still find ways to irritate and alienate people. Is calling a hungry-man-transformed-into-a-woman a ‘diva’ derogatory for women? Er, Yes. Have you had a sense of humour failure if you are offended? Possibly. Alienating women can be a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, one that Yorkie and possibly Pot Noodle bravely leveraged.



It is, however, these small and seemingly innocuous instances of casual sexism, like Snickers’, that help to reinforce the layperson’s view that advertising agencies are full of puerile men ogling at a line up of potential MILF’s or busty babes to feature in their next supermarket or car advert. Sometimes it genuinely feels like Adland is full of men who think women are really, really thick.

When it comes to targeting specific audiences, and finding specific insights about these audiences, advertising appears to me to be stuck in ‘Modernist’ thoughts about identity. Modernist thought is all about categorising. We categorise along cleanly fractured dividing lines such as rich vs poor, young vs old, male vs female. Post-modernist thought is all about relativity. Wealth is relative to those around you. Age is not a measure of how many years you have been in existence for, its how old you feel. ‘Gender’ boundaries are dissolving: men and women can both have long hair, wear jeans and suits or use face-cream. A man may love a woman, a woman may love a woman, a man may love a man, a man may love a man who’s had a sex change to look like a woman ect ect.



I think that our old arch nemesis, hierarchy, might be to blame for advertising’s woeful representation of ‘identity issues’. Hierarchy is considered a quintessentially male structure, however, women are equally liable to desire to be the queen bee or an alpha female.


For me, its not about the ‘glass ceiling’ or lack of women in creative departments.The underlying problem is something that by its very nature is deep-rooted and self-legitimising: traditionalism. People who have got to the top of the hierarchy are there because they have accrued ‘experience’. ‘Experience’ = ‘tried-and-tested ways of doing things’ = ‘conservatism’. There are some brilliant people who feel that, no matter how long they have been in the game, their past experiences count for nothing given the rate of change in our world and the audiences we want to reach. There are some egomaniacs.


(By Hugh MacLeod)

Feminism: A Dirty Word?

feminism dirty

Feminism is considered a dirty word. Miley Cyrus thinks that ‘twerking’ is ‘Feminism’ and ‘female sexual empowerment’ (which offended black women) just as much as Sinead O’Connor argues that the music industry is run by exploitative, male perverts out to make a quick buck from Cyrus’ booty. It’s unsurprising that it was mentioned only in passing by the APG speakers. It’s a can of worms.


Adland is not only guilty of casual sexism but also of putting out mixed messages with respect to which wave of feminism they are surfing and where they stand on feminist debates.

I am not sure whether it was a remarkably insightful piece of programming on behalf of the APG or whether I am just hardwired to see these kinds of connections, but the order in which the speakers took to the stage echoed how debates have loosely panned out amongst feminist thinkers. Last week, feminism was offered up as a one minute brief topic and so I have used some of the responses to guide us on a whistle stop tour of some feminist concepts that, for me, provided a subtext to The APG talks.


Let it be said that the fact that these debates have been playing out for eons demonstrates that there is no right or wrong view to adopt. This may be why some adverts speak to some women whilst alienating others.

Part I – Essentialism: Gender as a Science.

For some reason the link to Part I is a little dodgy. Click here instead https://planosophy.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/essentialism-gender-as-a-science/

Part II – Patriarchy: It’s a Man’s World, and the Shoe Doesn’t Fit the Other Foot

Part III – Relativism: “Speaking as a woman from a strategic point of view”

2 thoughts on “Why are Women Alienated by Advertising?

  1. Thank you very much for this insightful post – but how can you find the time to write this when there are all those dishes to be done.


    Two middle class white men.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Middle class white man A and Middle class white man B,

    Thank you very much for your insightful comment and your concern regarding the possible state of my kitchen sink. I tend to eat off paper plates, however, so as to make time to write this blog.



Got an opinion? Don't care. I'm joking, comment here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s