Talking back to corporate marketing: What brilliant women are doing

One of my favourite feminist activities is to dissect and deconstruct the messages that are directed our way by large corporations who want to sell us not only their products but also their values and ideas on how the world ought to be.  Most of us believe ourselves to be too smart or impermeable to the advertiser’s tactics.  We think that the commercials and the print ads we see on a daily basis don’t linger in our subconscious and subtly influence our thoughts, opinions, and and actions.  I’d like to think it was so easy but sadly I think many of us lack the basic critical skills (or interest) to see the messages that are being imposed on us.

If I had the influence to end our complacence, I would start by asking everyone to watch Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly films.  She started in 1979 with her original study, then followed with Still Killing Us Softly in 1987, and Killing Us Softly 3 and Killing Us Softly 4 in 2000 and 2010 respectively.  While sticking mostly to print ads in popular magazines, Jean deconstructs the ads to expose the ideals that corporations impose on us, like the perfect woman (thin, silent, and sexual) and acceptable sexuality (heterosexual and racial).  Here’s a glimpse of the most recent version or click below to see the entire 35 minute third version.

While Jean was really the first to present these critiques in an easily digestible way to general audiences, other feminist have since joined in to highlight not just the demeaning and dangerous messages in corporate marketing but also the absurdity.  One of my favourites is Sarah Haskins.  In her segment called Target Women on the Current.  Sarah uses her amazingly dry and puny sense of humour to ridicule the way that corporations use stereotypes to create ideas of femininity and instill a sense of insecurity and incompleteness in female viewers.

Sarah isn’t the only one mocking these silly ads that target women, the corporations themselves have now started to use this tactic to make themselves seem more enlightened than the competition.  Fortunately there are feminists out there who are calling them out on their falseness and their products altogether.  For an example, check this critique out.

Last, but not least, I want to attract your attention to a movement started by two sisters in Utah.  They are challenging everyone to rethink our ideas of beauty and health and the negative role that some corporations play in defining these ideas.  Check out their website, Beauty Redefined, here.

It is so refreshing to see these types of intelligent and no-nonsense responses to the corporate messages that constantly invade our lives and tell us how to be and what to buy.  Because women are the biggest consumer group, and consequently also the main audience for commercials, even the most obscure products are marketed toward women.  Next time you watch TV or flip through a magazine try to shake the passive viewer from inside you and look at the messages with a critical eye.   Ask yourself, who are the ads directed at?  What products are they trying to sell? Most importantly, what messages and ideals are they trying to sell?