|An ad for Equinox gyms by controversial photographer Terry Richardson|
In Gloria Steinem's "Sex, Lies and Advertising" she recounts the difficulty of finding ads that fit and advertisers willing to fit the message of her feminist magazine Ms. She also highlights one undeniable fact about advertising and magazines; magazines need ads in order to remain affordable to readers. Ad revenue is also a sign of a magazine's success. Those textbook-sized September issues of fashion magazines are full of ads and advertisers willing to pay for ad space, sort of like the Superbowl of magazines. Magazines offer access to a large audience of potential customers.
Advertisers didn't see Ms. mag readers as potential customers. She had to convince companies that women cared about technology and cars and that these weren't things that only men cared about. She even struggled with products typically marketed to women. She recounts a lunch with the president of Estee Lauder when he explicitly tells her that the Ms. woman is not an Estee Lauder woman because Estee Lauder sells the image of a "kept-woman."
They were also unwilling to alter their ads even slightly for her magazine. She was worried about sexist images because advertisers typically present stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity and lazily rely on sex to sell products. Steinem was extremely careful when getting advertisers for Ms. because of how powerful the messages in advertising can be. Kilbourne states, "They sell values, images and concepts of success worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and what we should be. Sometimes they sell us addictions." The influence and impact of ads is impossible to ignore. Often you aren't being sold a product but a lifestyle. For example, car ads don't just sell you a car, they sell you the idea of luxury, freedom, social status or even safety.
|A controversial Swiffer Ad|
|Madonna photoshopped before and after for Dolce & Gabbana|
Our current ad landscape is no different from the one Steinem had to navigate. Advertisers are unwilling to change their outdated methods. Overtly sexist images are still being used to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers. How can we change this? Advertisers should realize that people are smart and the ads should be smart too and not rely on just sex and sexist stereotypes. They should also realize that people come in all colors, shapes and sizes and want to see representations of themselves. Lastly, if a product is good, people will buy it.