Does the new Burberry Campaign Objectify Women?

At the 4A’s Transformation Conference this spring there was a lot of discussion about gender equality, the JWT harassment lawsuit and the history of advertising defaulting to objectifying women. Through the Girls Lounge at the 4A’s, a webinar was made available to WHITE64 called “The Weapons of Creative Leadership Series: How to lead creative talent to change the world” by Madonna Badger. Ms. Badger is currently creative director at Badger & Winters, and is famous for her work on Calvin Klein ad campaigns in the 1990s that featured Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss. Ms. Badger’s desire is to end the objectification of women in advertising.

At our agency we hosted the webinar for all employees and we have been engaged the discussion of sex in advertising, objectifying women and where do you draw the line. Below is the new campaign from Burberry. This 3:00 minute film by Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, is borderline pornographic and yet very well done at the same time.


My question to the WHITE64 staff was what would the #WomenNotObjects people say about this short from Burberry? What do you think? Does this cross the line?

When I queued my agency as to their thoughts I got some interesting comments:

Mary Kate one of our Social Media Strategist said, “There’s an evident albeit thin line between expressing sexuality and exploiting it. I’m a big believer in balance. Sex and physical attraction is a natural part of human nature. Of all nature. The problem is that it has become established as a primary part of feminine nature. Overwhelming overuse of women’s sexuality to sell completely irrelevant products is what is making “women” and “sex” interchangeable and vice versa. Every other element of a woman’s being (intelligence, humor, leadership, etc.) is being overpowered by one.

I am a proud, ready-to-argue-with-a-stranger feminist. But I don’t deny the appeal of pretty boy with tattoos spraying on a surely irresistible scent. Good advertising finds truisms and “sex is good” certainly qualifies. So sex sells and that’s okay. The key is balance, and the focus needs to be shifted away from exploiting feminine sexuality, and towards expressing human sexuality. As something natural and something beautiful. And this ad is an artfully crafted example of just that.

Woody one of our Senior Art Directors said, ““Well-framed heavy petting” as the article said. Nobody was objectified, all is well. But this is quite a steamy, long 3 minutes. When and where does this get seen? My nephew asks a lot of questions when he sees such things (God bless him), is there a ‘Mr. Burberry’ hotline ready to respond to his inquiries?”

Marisa one of our Account Strategist said, “I don’t see any gender specific objectifying here, even though they could gotten away with taking it a lot further considering the product’s audience is male. I would also open up the debate for objectification variance by country. Americans objectify women more intensely than Europeans, I would argue. In this specific British ad that is introducing a men’s cologne, which, keep in mind, the purpose of wearing perfume is to attract a mate, it seems to me the sell is romance, lust, and passion not woman’s body parts.”

Matt Walker our Partner/Creative Director said “Romantic. Passionate. Quite beautiful. But I see no overt objectification here. No one is being treated as an object or commodity. There is clearly mutual consent. No one’s dignity is being sacrificed. Neither man nor woman are being distilled down to a single body part to sell a product. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing conversation to have. Not just the sexual objectification of women in advertising, but the low hum of sexism in the advertising industry.”

The 4 filters #WNO uses to determine if an ad is objectifying:


 I love great advertising and as the father of four daughters I think this ad may err on the side of TMI; however, I will confess that while I probably would never buy the cologne, there is something about the voyeuristic qualities of this film that make me want to go shop for a new Burberry trench coat.


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