Some of our best-known brands are paying to associate with inequality

Why are some of our best-known brands paying to associate with inequality?

There’s a sizeable and growing disconnect between the advertising and marketing industry, their clients and the brands they represent, and supporting women and other minorities.

Things radically need to change in the way marketing dollars are allocated and managed, including the buck-passing for the accountability of decisions between media agencies and their clients.  Not knowing exactly where or when advertisements will be placed is no longer an excuse.

This has been evident for some time now, but was highlighted in last month’s events where a number of advertisers pulled out of peddling their wares on the Alan Jones breakfast show on 2GB. It was also welcome news that Macquarie Media chairman Russell Tate announced a full review of the show and the broadcaster.

At the time of writing, it was confirmed that over 130 companies have either cancelled, or confirmed that they won’t be advertising on the Jones show due to community pressure. This follows the latest microphone storm where the broadcaster made a comment that Prime Minister Scott Morrison should shove a sock down New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s throat.

Much has also been written about the misogynistic response to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, from news commentators such as Andrew Bolt and Chris Kenny in media including the Herald Sun and Sky News.

It’s highly probable that if you were to ask many of the brands that advertise in those outlets whether they condone the use of inflammatory language, stereotypical gender labels or violence against women, they’d say no. Some may point to their own employee code of conduct, diversity and anti-bullying policies, or their work with anti-domestic violence organisations. One wonders how their employees react when they hear their company’s name advertised in the slots between comments disrespecting women.

The question this begs is why would an organisation want the brand they’ve carefully nurtured and invested in associated with an organisation or individual advocating rhetoric about silencing or ridiculing women or other minorities?

In a country where on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, or 1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15. Or where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live 10 years less than non-Indigenous Australians or just over half are not employed?

Yet many companies continue their association with media outlets where broadcasters aren’t encouraging respectful debate or inciting offensive behaviour in the community. Some of these advertisers are Australia’s most well recognised and iconic brands. Ones that women shop at or influence their families’ purchasing decisions for food, fuel, healthcare, furnishings, appliances and more. Every. Single. Day.

That’s another sound reason why this disconnect between brand placement is a concern. Women are recognised as driving the world economy, with their spending decisions representing a growth market apparently bigger than China and India combined—more than twice that according to HBR. “Globally they control about US $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as US $28 trillion in the next five years. Their US $13 trillion in total yearly earnings could reach US $18 trillion in the same period”.

Being particular where they spend their marketing dollars is critical for brands wanting to remain relevant against pressures such as online retail. They can no longer afford to ignore those who are being systemically silenced.

The world is watching. #MeToo is changing the way people are speaking about and acting on the change they want to see happen.

To quote Russell Tate commenting on the review of the Jones show: “This incident has brought into sharp focus the need for all Macquarie Media broadcasters to ensure that the debate they bring to the microphone and the words they use are, at all times, respectful and reflect the standards expected today by our listeners, our clients, and the wider community”.

Advertising and media companies, as well as the clients who brief them need to change. Anyone with an advertising budget has to set clear direction to their agencies and media buyers about their values around diversity, inclusion, respect and equality, and hold them accountable with enforced penalties if these are contravened. And agencies need to improve their track record in embedding those same values into their campaigns and negotiations with content channels.

The power balance is shifting. Taking action and making real, sustainable change should be about both: buyer beware and brand beware.

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