United Nations Moves to Fight Ads That Objectify and Sexualize Women to Sell Products

Last week, the United Nations announced on Thursday that it will be partnering with  companies like Johnson & Johnson, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to launch Unstereotype Alliance, a campaign to fight sexist ads that objectify and sexualize women to sell products.

“Every day, hundreds of millions of people around the world are exposed to the communications our industry creates,” Martin Sorrell, chief executive of major ad company WPP, told Huffington Post. “That influence can either be used to reinforce negative stereotypes or to set new standards of empowerment and equality.”

Today, sexist ads that seemed acceptable just a few years ago are starting to vanish. Consider when the last time you saw an offensive commercial from Carl’s Jr, Hardee’s, or — according to the Washington Post, these companies are done selling sex.

Sadly, this might be less due to some sort of moral revelation that exploiting women and reducing them to sex objects is wrong, and more because sex simply isn’t selling, according to a recent study.

“If the ‘sexy ads’ had been effective, it’s unlikely the company or ad agency would have made such a drastic change,” Professor John Wirtz of the University of Illinois said. “When product is moving, people don’t make changes.”

Nonetheless, a major goal of the Unstereotype Alliance will be to help transform commercials into a platform to empower young women, rather than the opposite. Television commercials could cast women as scientists for once, or maybe at the office instead of at home, cleaning. Maybe they could even portray women as human beings rather than sex objects, and teach boys to respect them?

“You’re seeing a change in society’s values. As society shifts, [sexist ads] become less tolerable,” Derek Rucker, a marketing professor who teaches advertising strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told the Huffington Post.

A decade ago, you would be hard pressed to find any commercial where it was a man and not a woman bringing home food, doing laundry, or cleaning the house. Now, we’re seeing more of that, and it’s a step in the right direction to combating the subliminal assignment of gender roles in media.

The possibilities are endless, and additionally, research suggests that it could be in companies’ best interests to craft advertisements that women don’t find offensive. Women make as much as 85 percent of household purchasing decisions — consumers have always had the power to demand better representation and when, in this case, a plurality of them are women, there’s no limit to what can be fought for and won.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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