If we all have been surprised by the #MeToo stories, then we need to relook at ourselves. There are, in reality, far more #MeToo stories out there than what have come out on social media. It is not easy to have a nuanced conversation on social media but despite that, the stories of aggression, abuse and assault have been mind-numbing.
The allegations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse and intimidation may have triggered the global outrage but he is not alone and definitely not the last to have done what he has done. This is a male-dominated world, has been for ages and the reality is that the more powerful and influential a man is, the more his misdeeds are covered up. Remember Dominique Strauss-Kahn and how the world covered up his assault, or the famous politician in India who said “boys will be boys, they can commit small mistakes”?
The small mistake mindset is very much alive in advertising too. Advertising, behind its liberal and open veneer, is no different from any other profession. All you need to look at are the (recent?) comments from two leading professionals. One of them, a professional from India, almost justified the ‘small acts’ that women face every day at the place of work as a part of growing up. No wonder the outrage was stinging. The executive did apologise and pulled the post down. Let us believe that the apology was heartfelt and honest.
The other was a leading creative professional from a large global agency who, in a penned column, went against diversity and gender equality issues in communication. The global rebuke on the column was intense. He too, was forced to apologise.
This is where the whole advertising industry needs to wake up to. We have for long lived in a sort of echo chamber. A lot of our communication arises out of our own biases, and the research we do only reconfirms what we want to hear. None of which are the best of ways to operate. There are too many stereotypical executions that we live by. We all know how some of the categories (and very large at that) have appeals that have been created out of the echo chamber. From skin that is fair to real beauty to shiny bouncy hair to cars as tools of dowry are all insights that have been gleaned from the echo chamber.
If anything, the #MeToo social outrage is pointing towards a reality that we need to look at. Look at the conversation on Twitter that political parties are generating. They run the risk of alienating a large chunk of potential voters by not moderating that conversation.
#MeToo is a social marker of a campaign, and the brands have to look at it with serious intent. We in advertising have lived in the echo chamber for long. Maybe we need to step out and well… smell the coffee.
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle.)
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