The now viral #WomenNotObjects video highlighting ads that objectify women was posted on January 11- that’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Coincidence? Probably. But a link between sexual advertising and sex trafficking is hard to deny.
The video’s creator, Madonna Badger, is a executive at Badger & Winters, an advertising agency that has committed to never objectify women in its work. Badger & Winters guides client companies to build brand love by “engaging the mind, soul and five senses” of their audience because “consumers feel before they think.” If people feel before they think, then sex-marketing is not just objectionable, it’s lazy. And as usually, laziness has consequences.
Targeting people’s instinctual “feelings” about sex is marketing-made-easy. Unfortunately, so many brands have gotten on the sex-marketing bandwagon that only a hermit could avoid them. Sensual ads’ influence extends beyond the sale of sunglasses, shampoo, pickup trucks or cheeseburgers. The tactic has a sickening side effect: repetitive triggers of sexual feelings mold minds to misjudge human worth and warp expectations about right treatment of people. Consumers are falling for more than emotional connections to brands; they are falling for the subliminal lie that people are objects- objects to be used for personal enjoyment.
This misguided attitude toward people cannot be contained by a magazine ad. It is overflowing into actions, actions like web searching pornography, actions like paying for sex, actions like selling people for sex. While many businesses profit from sex-marketing, the age-old sex industry itself has become more lucrative than ever.
Pornography and prostitution are like any other business in that demand drives supply. As long as people buy their services, porn producers and pimps will supply. The supply is people. And too few people are interested in objectifying themselves to meet demand, so pimps coerce disinterested people. That is sex trafficking. Really, sex trafficking is just objectification of people full-blown.
Fewer victims would be trafficked if fewer people demanded sex services, but would fewer people demand sex if fewer sensual ads begged for their attention? To me, the answer is obvious. If fewer ad campaigns flaunted bodies, fewer consumers would learn to objectify people and be provoked to lust. As a result, perhaps fewer people would buy sex and traffickers couldn’t profit selling people like objects.
For companies, the value of human lives should be held higher than the value of another dollar. For individuals, the sanctity of human lives should be held higher than personal pleasure. Virtues like self-control and selflessness are worth striving toward. “Making love” to a stranger only proves love of self. That is why Love True, a New Jersey organization combating forced prostitution of American teens, has created the Real Men Love True campaign. True love is proven when people treat others like real people, not objects.
Ending sex-marketing is just one piece of the puzzle, but it is a big one. The responsibility to end forced prostitution falls on everyone. The fight against sex trafficking ends when buyers deny themselves and pimps free their slaves, but a milestone may be reached when all companies decide to market ethically. So, in line with the rules of supply and demand, let’s demand that sex-marketing stop. Let’s reject sexual media loudly and love truly as we are truly loved.
Prostitution is an ancient institution and pornography is older than the photograph. Businesses who use sexual images in their advertisements do not bear full blame for the current distortion. They have just perpetuated something that started long ago. I’ve heard that “what one generation accepts the next embraces.” Our parents generation accepted sexual advertisements and many of us (wittingly or unwittingly) have embraced it. Our generation can undermine this pervasive perversion of people’s real worth. Let’s start by rejecting sexual media in the ads that invade our minds so often. There’s hope. Let’s end it.