Ethical Advertising – and where we draw the line

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I work in marketing.  Direct Marketing actually – so a big part of my day is working out how to target my best prospects, based on profiling.  I’m often profiling on age and gender, as well as income, media consumption and purchasing history.  So far, so creepy to many I’m sure.  And as an advertiser, I’m always being offered more and more insightful ways to target.  But I am starting to wonder now where we draw the line.

Facebook has clearly crossed a line.  I can’t target people based on their race, but just about everything else is up for grabs. And not just information you’ve volunteered, but also information you’ve looked at, or topics you’ve talked about.  The issues this raises for privacy concerns are huge, and are not being addressed by Facebook, who seem to take the view that it’s up to individual users (even children) to work out how to opt out.  Take the story from earlier this year of the young man who was outed by Facebook Ads targeting him as gay – even though this was information he’d hoped to keep private (the story originally ran in Privacy International, who have now taken it down due to privacy concerns).

This attitude that it’s up to us to opt in or opt out is increasing.  Marks and Spencer’s Valentines campaign – purportedly “helping men choose the perfect gift” was actually “dress this model any way you like”.  Like a real-life barbie doll on the screen in front of you.  Any concerns over the sexism in this campaign (ignoring the ubiquitous ‘men spend money / woman will have sex with you as a given) – that having a model that you can choose the underwear of is exploitative – were brushed aside with the answer “well, you had to stand in a certain spot, and choose to use your phone to access this content”.  It’s up to us to opt out.

And this week, the controversial face-recognition advert from Plan UK – that will scan your face, decide if you are male or female, and then show you gendered content.  A really interesting use of technology.  But seemingly without considering that this could make many people uncomfortable, or worse cause real damage – outing transgender people and leading to bullying of teenagers as just two examples.  Plan used the same  answer as Facebook and M&S – that you had to opt in to see this content by standing in a certain spot, so it was ok.

Targeted advertising is always an attractive proposition to a marketer.  We don’t waste money sending information to people who won’t be interested, we cut waste paper, and we avoid annoying people.  New technology changes this game somewhat – as the wastage becomes less and less of a problem.  But that doesn’t absolve us of trying to not annoy people – and especially of trying not to cause offence.   Just because people can opt out, doesn’t mean they should have to opt out.  Just because we can target people in intrusive ways, doesn’t mean we should.

I’m especially concerned at the type of organisations using this now.  We don’t expect much from Facebook given it’s roots, but M&S should surely be thinking about how women will feel about their advertising content?  And Plan UK – their current campaign is all about encouraging women to support them.  So why be so happy to look the other way when and use the “opt out if you don’t like it” excuse?  It feels like they’re saying “well, if you can’t take a joke…” when a woman complains that “banter” is hugely offensive.

It’s not up to us to avoid content that is offensive, and to live our lives opting out.  Opting out isn’t a choice, it’s a way to exclude people, make them feel prudish for complaining.  This is choice that’s not really a choice, and is actually turning a blind eye.  Just like many women’s groups will continue to complain about top-shelf content – even if it’s on the top shelf and not in our line of sight – we should continue to complain about this kind of advertising, even if we can opt out.


Keeping women in the kitchen hardly helps us reach the boardroom

So Cameron’s latest bright idea to help women is to give tax breaks for hiring domestic servants as this will free up lots of time to help women reach the boardroom.

Let’s set aside for now, the fairness agenda – giving tax breaks to people who can afford to hire domestic servants.  I’ll leave that for other bloggers to comment on.

I’m not quite ready to set aside the fact that this only helps wealthy women, at the expense of poorer women.  Because really – does Cameron think that this time around, domestic servants will be male?
That poorer women can take some domestic responsibility from wealthier women, is hardly going to remove the assumption that domestic work is women’s work.
Hiding women in domestic situations, is hardly helping the feminist cause.

And this is the bit that is really filling me with rage: Cameron’s base assumption that domestic work is women’s work – and so help with domestic work will help women.

The problem with the glass ceiling isn’t that I don’t have time to smash it as I’m too busy at home cleaning my oven.
The problem is that men assume I’m not as committed to business as men, because I’m more interested in getting home to clean my oven.
So telling society that oven-cleaning is women’s work, but the lovely government will help me with that is hardly the best way to solve the problem that women are seen as responsible for domsticity.

Here’s a news flash Cameron – women aren’t responsible for the running of the household.  It is this message that women ARE primarily domestically motivated that causes problems for us in the workplace.

I welcome the news that you have acknowledged that a lack of women in the boardroom is a problem.  But reinforcing our domestic role is hardly the way to help.

Emphasise our abilities, emphasise the fact that excluding 50% of the population from boardrooms isn’t helpful, emphasise the fact that an old boy’s club run the boardrooms, and they keep recruiting people that look just like them.

Don’t emphasise the fact that really, women should be in the kitchen