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Mad Women?
Marketing in the Age of the Female Economy

With so much attention going to HBO’s series, Mad Men, the perception that advertising is a males-only dominion is getting another boost. Yet, as this issue demonstrates on many fronts, the players on both the consumer and producer side of the advertising dialogue are often female—and women’s issues and images are often at stake as much as women’s products.

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been a subject of much commentary, both academic and popular. So, I am very pleased that we are able, in this issue, to provide materials that speak to many of the concerns being raised by commentators on all sides. First, we have the transcript of a roundtable discussion among key creators, both on the brand and on the agency sides, of the campaign. Held at Ogilvy’s offices in London, this lively discussion includes everything from the story of the strategy’s creation to the often-funny tales of its first executions to the creators’ personal feelings about what the ads accomplish socially.

I think it will be especially interesting for readers to look at the wealth of supporting materials that the Dove group generously provided, which ranges from the first “manifesto” for the campaign to a full range of print ads, billboards, TV spots, and PSAs developed in its execution. I think it is particularly important to note the very wide range of women who are represented in these materials, since much academic commentary thus far is based on the incorrect assumption that the campaign only uses plus-sized models and therefore really does not represent a broad range of appearances. Here we see ads that include very old women, tall and short women, heavy and thin women, as well as women of a variety of ethnicities, women with freckles and even tattoos and scars. A further point documented by this roundtable is also important: none of the women pictured are models. Indeed, all of them are “real” women.

The discovery that the Dove women are “real” is an important turning point in the second article, by Julie-Ann Scott and Nicole E. Cloud of the University of Maine. The article describes a series of focus groups held among college women who were asked to express their response to the campaign and then discussed among themselves the “meanings” elicited by various readings. I particularly like this article because it unfolds along with the interpretations discussed and negotiated among the focus group participants, thus giving us a subtle, intelligent narrative of the process of reading this very important campaign.

The third piece is an interview with Janet Riccio, Executive Vice President of Omnicom Group, the largest marketing communications company in the world, and now CEO of G23, a new top-level consultancy focused on the global women’s economy. Along with the interview are posters summarizing key findings from this group’s recent global study of women’s attitudes, values, and purchase behaviors, one of the first of its kind.

The Riccio interview, especially in conjunction with the other materials in this issue, reminds me that Advertising & Society Review has now published several important talks regarding the role of women in the work of advertising, in addition to several interesting articles based on direct communication with such women (see A&SR Volume 4, Issue 4 and A&SR  Volume 7, Issue 2). I am hopeful that this material will help fill for contemporary scholars and future historians what has, in the past, been a disturbing lack of archival material and scholarly attention to the important roles women have played in the growth of consumer culture—outside of being consumers themselves.

The last piece in this issue, indeed, provides an important corrective to this significant oversight in advertising history, as does the book from which it was drawn. We are grateful to Juliann Sivulka, a respected advertising historian, for allowing us to publish this chapter from her forthcoming book, Ad Women. This wonderful book offers, for the first time, a focus on documenting the women who have worked in advertising over the past 100 years. It is an eye-opening book, given the common assumption, both by historians and critics, that advertising has been an exclusively male industry and that the ads aimed at women are all produced by men. This particular chapter focuses on a decade we often think of as the most sex-stereotyped of all—indeed, it’s the time setting for Mad Men—and documents the involvement of many women in the production of some of the most famous campaigns, as well as the actions of women at all levels of marketing and media. It was interesting for me to see the echoes of professional women in the 1950s in the interview with Janet Riccio today. As many readers will see, there is a lot that has changed—and a lot that hasn’t changed much.

Linda M. Scott