By Petra Andersson
Please hear me out, my life could depend on it.
It’s been a while since I had a rant, so I thought it might be time for another one. After all, we don’t have much time left before we need to leave SCA and try our wings.
Something I don’t think we talk enough about down in the pit in Brixton is the amount of power we’ll have as future creatives. On an average day, we see over 5000 ads that are fighting for our attention. That’s a huge number, and we will soon be the ones who get a saying in what to dress our public spaces, laptops and phones with.
This means that we possess a tremendous amount of power because our beliefs will be painted on every high street in Britain, and become part of the mass communication that dictates who gets to be seen and why.
I know that most people in the industry believe that advertising shouldn’t be an exact mirror of society. The problem is that the people on the streets don’t know that. Even though we create a skewed world, it still needs to be grounded in social beliefs and norms for people to understand it and be able to engage with it. In other words; it needs to be real to some extent.
No one told me that I was ugly when I was 14. But seeing x numbers of perfect photoshopped bodies in ads for clothes, shampoo and mascara quickly made me realize that going to the beach with my friends probably wasn’t such a good idea. So I hid in a gigantic bath towel instead and missed out on at least 10 great swims and fun. Thanks for that advertising.
I don’t think one single ad can make someone turn down a swim (if you don’t suffer from very complicated body relationship to begin with) but I do think that every piece of work we put out becomes part of the norm and cultural beliefs. It becomes part of the mass that paint and portrays how we eat, live and breathe. It becomes part of how we define and see ourselves as a society. Our cultural identity.
So we need to know what we’re doing and think again before we send something off. And that’s something I think we need to be better at. Seeing our role and impact in a bigger picture.
Last week, one of my coursemates made a piece of work that was meant to be a cheeky joke, but nonetheless misogynist (I’ve also found that most pieces of work that’s ’cheeky’ have a tendency to fall down that route). This lead to a brief, but somewhat heated, discussion with another of my course mates saying the ad was simply ’funny’. Sometimes being in the UK doesn’t feel so much as 1 181 miles to the west, but more like 30 years back in time.
I guess many of you find me extreme but please hear me out, after all my life could depend on it. Every time you make a joke about a marginalized group, you are starting to climb the pyramid of violence. Because just as ads, jokes need to be grounded in society and carry a truth. And so you’ve taken the first step towards dehumanization, and have started to legitimate the level above – harassment. Which is then followed by abuse and murder. You have in other words efficiently contributed to limit my rights and claim of power. The idea that I’m not a human but ’the other’ and that it’s okay to deem a Petra as 16% less valuable than a Peter.
This process also rings true for any other group or person who differs from the white, male, straight, thin, middle-class norm.
The good thing is that we can make the world a better place for everyone who isn’t a white, straight, thin, middle-class male. We simply have to give others the lead and right to act like the norm. Uncommented, and not like a cringe-worthy condescending ’look we make diversity a statement because it’s so out of our comfort zone that we need to comment why we show someone who looks a sliiighlty bit different’ kind of way.
Advertising has always seen itself as progressive, but when it comes to social values it’s always been, and still is, tragically traditional. It’s time we join efforts in keeping the skewed world we present at pace with what society actually looks like.
Advertising has always been traditional and conservative. It’s time we join efforts in keeping it at pace with what society actually looks like.