Lean In

The Women’s Media Center, a great voice for women that challenges issues and celebrates strengths, posted about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In. They challenge Sandberg suggesting that leaning in for women may post significant health issues. “The female body, just like the female life, has its limitations.”

Woman may be different. However, I suggest that the differences that lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome among women may be as much environmentally driven, as they are physically expressed. (I could also speak to the negative ways women are manipulated in pharmaceutical advertising for antidepressants. That, however, is the topic for another posts on this blog.) Put another way, toxic work environments may lead to physical manifestations of ill health. I’m just not convinced that women are biologically wired to be more anxious or depressed.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 10.06.23 AMHealth issues, like so many of the issues women face, are exactly why it is imperative for women to“lean in.” I don’t think Sandberg is advocating leaning in until you fall over. My read (and I tore through it in a day) is that leaning in, wisely chosen, will serve everyone well. By leaning in, each woman in her own time, all women will eventually prosper (emotionally, financially and physically). When women lean in everyone benefits – women and men alike.

Sandberg is giving voice to a long needed debate by shining a light on many of the unspoken aspects of a problem that is crippling women in societies across the world. Only when we take our places at tables of power, across all institutions and around the world, will there be true equity. Sandberg’s argument that women need to lean in does not blame women, nor does it demonize men. Rather she seeks to parse out new ways to open up an honest dialogue. That dialogue may – though it will, no doubt, take years – allow women to more naturally lean in, while men more naturally lean back.

I teach and conduct research about the lack of women in advertising creative. On average there are a dismal 15% of women creating the advertising images that we see across the globe. And far, far below that number the further south and east you go. This matters greatly. The images girl and boys and women and men see in advertising, and in the mass media generally where the lack of female creatives is equally horrific, influence all of us – for better or worse, and it is too often for the worst. Nothing will not change without an open discussion about what is really going on in the halls of power – from advertising creative departments, to corporate boardrooms, to the pentagon. For the sake of all of our children change must come.

We need to have this dialogue for the sake of the young women and men I teach and for the sake of generations that will follow them. I see in my students, and in the non-college youth I serve as a volunteer, a desire for equitable educational and employment opportunities. I also see in them a passionate willingness to give back. This is a generation that does not question who their friends love, nor do they fear socializing across cultural boundaries. They voice passionate desire for equity at home, at work and in the communities that they so dearly want to contribute to. Yet, when all too many of them enter the world of work, especially women, they suffocate – constrained by narrow thinking and outdated rules.

It’s time to have this discussion out LOUD. Big and bold. It’s time for each of us to speak our individual truths. It’s time for each of us to listen to the individual truths of others. Maybe when we can speak and be heard there will be less anxiety and depression. It’s time to make room for everyone, some leaning in and some leaning out.



The Gender of Branding

Yesterday, in my class at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, I spoke about early Nike women’s advertising and its hallmark positioning as an antenarrative of resistance. 1990 seems so long ago. A lifetime.

In 1990 Nike virtually ignored women and women ignored Nike. Addis owned the women’s market. Enter Janet Champ, Charlotte Moore, and later Rachel Manganiello, from Wieden + Kennedy. Together they revolutionized the way brands speak to women. Along they way the made the Nike women’s brand what it is today. For as Manganiello said, “We were using Nike to get across our own views on the matter. Nike just got lucky.” Nike got revolutionized.

At about the same time Nike was becoming the target of labor activists. They took Nike to task for its barbaric offshore labor practices. To Nike’s credit the company listened and has since become the industry’s standard-bearer for fair labor practices in offshore footwear and apparel manufacturing. Lesson learned.

OneWithout a doubt one of the calling cards that led activists to Nike was its early women’s advertising. The messages embedded within the ads spoke with passion, calling women to stand strong. “You became significant to yourself,” read copy from spring 1991. Another ad in fall of 1991 encouraged women to become “the person YOU DECIDE to be.” Is it any wonder that labor activists were drawn to the voice of early Nike women’s advertising, which implied support for American women in contrast to the blind eye Nike turned toward the factory conditions for Asian women? You decide?

Here’s the irony. As Champ crafted copy, she and her partners found themselves fighting for a voice that spoke “truth back to people in a way they didn’t hear before.” And, fight they did. “Disgusted” by what they saw in women’s magazines and “pissed off that men got big budgets,” the team resisted sequestration in women’s magazines and fought against the impositions of the male parent brand. They made sense of women’s collective memories by questioning and by making sense of something bigger than Nike. Along the way they were accused of “siphoning off” money from men’s sports and “pinkifying” the Nike brand. They resisted. They persisted.

TwoThis advertising perfectly articulates the hallmarks of the antenarrative. In my article The Gender of Branding, I argue that the team’s, “counter-hegemonic resistance also suggests a unified point of struggle, pitting the parent brand against the subordinate women’s sub-brand.” Their work, building the Nike women’s brand, under which they were forced to prioritize femininity over athleticism, at all turns, was successful beyond Nike’s wildest dreams. Despite the fact they had to “tiptoe around women athletes being real jock,” always using “pretty” models and athletes that “never sweat,” the team build an iconic brand within a brand. They resisted patriarchal impositions at each and every turn. Analyzing the ads across time, I argue that “the influence of gender is clearly articulated in the stories shared by the creative team and demonstrated by the clash over depictions of women within the ads.” Further, the often hostile communications with Nike, “as well as the creative own life experiences, significantly shaped the branded messages within the ads and fomented passionate resistance to Nike’s patriarchal structure.” They persisted. They resisted.

ThreeIn late 1995 they unveiled If You Let Me Play, the first T.V. spot for the women’s brand. It exploded onto the world. Suddenly, Nike was the savior of women’s sports. The spot, like the print ads, spoke of hope. Yet, the resistant voice that had long underpinned the team’s work, and which brought the labor activists to Nike’s door, ultimately led to their demise. In 1997 the women’s account was pulled from Wieden + Kennedy and the team went silent. But, not forgotten.

Champ, Moore and Manganiello persisted in using a brand to make a difference in the world. To quote the copy, “It’s never too late to have a life; and it’s never too late to change one.” That is exactly what they did. Just do it.


Pill Addiction: The Oldest Fad in Hollywood.

Guest Post by Lita Smith, Future Ad Professional

Hollywood is America’s hot spot for trends. We idolize celebrities in this country and our media is literally wrapped around the scandalous lives of the rich and famous. We look up to them for fashion advice, travel ideas and we love when they do every-day-things like wash their cars or order venti iced soy lattes. But the worst trend our nation follows is the notorious pill addiction many stars are into.

SmithStars from Eminem to Paris Hilton have had their struggles with pill popping, but for some reason our society takes this addiction as a fun and chic trend that you HAVE to follow. I get it, popping a pill is a whole lot easier to do than smoking, drinking or (God forbid) ‘shooting up’ and our country is known for going about things as easily as possible. But the fact that we glamorize celebrities for abusing prescription medicine like Vicodin, Ambien and Xanax is jaw-dropping.

As I began reading Drugs for Life, I could relate to the central message instantly. Consumers have to be educated about what their doctors are prescribing them and we really have to weigh in the risk/benefit ration for each medicine we take. I grew up in a household where medicine was rarely an option. We cured our aches, pains, and fevers with home remedies like teas and vitamins. I remember one time I had terrible menstrual cramps and my mother told me to do a bit of yoga and put a hot pad on my stomach. No, it did not completely ale my pain but it definitely made the pain more manageable and I didn’t have to go on birth control or flood my stomach with Tylenol to survive. And all this stemmed from my mother’s back ground in the medical field and my father’s background in marketing. They both knew how prescription drugs were advertised to allure people into becoming hypochondriacs and self-medicators.

In retrospect I see my childhood as being very blessed with this knowledge early on. I didn’t grow up depending on pills to cure my headaches or anxieties but at the time I was so resentful towards my parents because they wouldn’t allow me to have a quick fix to my problems. But after reading the cases presented in this book, I realized allowing chemicals to constantly fix what my body can naturally cure on it’s own can be more detrimental than I initially thought. Of course, if you get in a serious accident or have surgery you should allow yourself to take hydrocodone or whatever your doctor prescribes but it should be monitored and taken only until the pain is manageable. Painkillers and sleeping pills are so commonly dependable for addicts and being addicted to these medicines is no joke. So the next time you see washed up, has-been celebrities poppin’ pills on Bravo or E! remember that what they’re doing is more depressing than admirable.

Drugs for Life.

Guest Post by Angelika Dremonas, Future Ad Professional

Similar to Joseph Dumit’s Drugs for Life, the article “Medicate! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs,” poses parallel questions of those of the book.  In a technologically advanced world, why is the rate of prescription drug use constantly increasing? With all of our science and research, why can’t we solve the problems that produce the ailments—and prevent them—rather than addressing them after they occur? Why do so many people turn to chemicals that have widely known and stated risks? Health in America today is defined by this double insecurity that is, never being sure enough about the future, always being at risk, and never knowing enough about what you could and should be doing. This insecurity proceeds to grow despite there being an equal growth in research about risks, screening, and treatments and constant growth in the amount of medicine consumer each year- as if the more we know, the more we fear; and the more we fear, the more preventive actions and medications we need to take.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 7.38.42 PMIn Drugs for Life, Dumit’s research aims to comprehend this double bind of ever-increasing diagnosis and pharmaceutical consumption in the United States. Additionally, he aims to uncover the ramifications of our redefinition of health and illness over the past two decades. Drugs for Life is about the current American, middle-class, commonsense view of health and illness, risk and treatment and how it works. It’s about how this view encourages people to consume more and more drugs for life. The average American is prescribed and purchases somewhere between nine and thirteen prescription-only drugs per year, totaling over 4 billion prescriptions in 2011 and growing. “The growth in pharmaceutical consumption is actually quite astounding. Put simply, Americans are on drugs.” These people are us, the generalized “you” of the jokes and the object of pharmaceutical marketing.

The main objective of pharmaceutical companies and advertisers is to maximize the number of new prescriptions and make sure consumers stay on their medications for as long as possible. With that being said, medical observers have noticed that the vast majority of illnesses today are treated as chronic and that being at risk for illness is often treated as if one has a disease requiring lifelong treatments, or in other terms, drugs for life. According to Marcia Angell in “The Truth About the Drug Companies,” Americans now spend a staggering $200 billion a year on prescription drugs, and that figure is growing at a rate of about 12 percent a year. Prescription drug use is on the rise and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

In 2002, “The Truth About the Drug Companies” revealed an unnerving discovery that the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). In “Medicated! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs,” they bring light to the fact that in recent decades, the amount of advertisements for prescription drugs has impressively increased. Today, almost every commercial break includes at least one drug-related ad, often overemphasizing the drug’s effectiveness. There’s a large misconception that today, the use of street drugs is one of the most problematic issues found in our society. Although the popularity of illegal drug use is a major concern, it’s not the only issue society is facing. “In today’s fast-paced, stress-filled world, millions are becoming increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. Often, people are looking for the “quick cure” for all ailments from headaches to heart disease.” Whether it be trouble sleeping, general unhappiness, restless leg syndrome or attention deficit disorder, today there’s a pill for every ill. Our society has evolved throughout the years in that it has almost become innate for us to reach for the nearest prescribed medication in order to solve our issues as quickly as possible and with the least amount of effort. “Tragically, millions upon millions do not realize that there are certain risks in taking prescription drugs; these can include weakened immune systems and sometimes addiction.” The FDA openly admitted that there is no such thing as a totally safe drug. They all have risks, even the over-the-counter drugs that are commonly taken, like aspirin. This imperfection seen in the system causes a vicious cycle. As adverse effects to prescription drugs occur, many of this generation simply try to address the new ailments with additional new drugs that causes other side effects.

A recent trend among millions of youth is prescription drug abuse. A study from Partnership for a Drug-Free America revealed that one in five teens abuse prescription drugs, meaning 20% of teenagers experiment with prescription drugs, consequently evolving into addictions. What many fail to realize is that prescription drugs have equally if not more harmful effects as those of illegal drugs. “Medicated! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs” investigated these overlapping trends seen in Drugs for Life. In doing so, they concluded that the answers lie in the fact that it’s natural for human beings to put things off until they “need” to be addressed. Society at large takes on this habit of procrastination. We address the effects of bad health rather than the cause- living life as if there are no laws or governing principles of health. For example, when painful or uncomfortable symptoms develop, people address the symptoms instead of the element of their lifestyles choices that caused it.

Explaining the continual growth in drugs, diagnoses, costs, and insecurity can take many forms. One key approach involves following the money and tracing connections between the profits of pharmaceutical companies and disease expansion. Although the FDA may have the safest regulatory standards in the world, it also controls the largest market in the world. Thus, with advertising playing such an important role in how we portray ourselves in the world around us, we need to take into consideration advertising in aspects concerning the promotion of pharmaceutical drugs. As we discussed in class, there are serious ethical considerations needed to be made within any profession. We see that advertising has played a crucial role in how society has evolved throughout the years in that it changes our attitudes, beliefs, and values. Thus, one can see that advertising plays a serious role in how our society views “health.” The increased advertising of pharmaceutical drugs has a direct relationship with the increased use of prescription drugs. We need to take a step back and be mindful to what medications we’re consuming.

Am I Sick?

Guest Post by Olivia Morrissey, Future Journalist

Americans who have turned on a television, flipped through a magazine, strolled past a bus stop or driven under a billboard have seen them. They seep into our everyday lives like a disease before symptoms even emerge. We can recognize the familiar faces and taglines they employ. Many of us accept them as viable resources, should we ever need them. These mysterious, seemingly harmless aspects of life are pharmaceutical drug advertisements. Though they may seem a part of the wallpaper of our daily living, they wield a heavy influence on consumer decisions about personal health. As Joseph Dumit’s book, Drugs for Life, suggests, pharmaceutical companies have created a lucrative empire by exerting great influence on the highly personal question, “Am I sick?”

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 7.07.16 PMAn Internet search of the words “pharmaceutical company scandals” retrieves an alarmingly high amount of results. The large pharmaceutical companies who make up the “Big Pharma” ring have been involved in billion dollar lawsuits and abhorrent scandals, many of which involve unreported side effects and “off-label marketing,” or the promotion of drugs for unapproved uses.

GlaxoSmithKline was one such company, which in July of 2012 was involved in one of the largest healthcare fraud settlements in the history of the United States. The case concerns ten drugs, including Paxil, Wellbutrin, Avandia and Advair. The company pled guilty to promoting two of the drugs, antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin, for unapproved uses, including treatment of children and adolescents. The company conceded to charges that it did not report data and made unsupported safety claims about its diabetes drug, Avandia. GlaxoSmithKline paid a reported $3 billion in settlement claims and agreed to be monitored by government officials for five years. The company’s chief executive officer, Andrew Witty, issued a statement saying, “We have learnt from the mistakes that were made. When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged in misconduct.”

This bland and dismissive statement does little to account for the severe and arguably deliberate misconduct of the company. Laying the blame on “a few bad apples” within GlaxoSmithKline is meant to restore credibility, but also serves as desperate attempt to save face in a viciously competitive market. Drugs for Life gives the reader a closer look into this market and the players who drive its relentless activity. As I read Dumit’s research into the often hidden world of pharmaceutical companies and their familiar products, I was struck by the devious practices of pharmaceutical drug marketing, and also the mechanical approach to promoting at times life-saving medication to people. Advertisements are directed at specific, predisposed demographics, and generalize consumers as uneducated, illiterate and easily swayed. Through deep-seated personalization and uncertainty, drug brand loyalty is cultivated. As evidenced by the prevalence and widespread knowledge of these advertisements, this approach seems to be working. But I would posit that it is sorely unethical. The lack of respect and the aim to manipulate consumers is underhanded and forebodes future health problems as a result of over-medicating. The mission to change this practice does not lie in economically conscious pharmaceutical companies. It lies in the accurate and objective education and dissemination of information regarding health and proper use of medications.


It’s Not About the Money

Guest Post by Melissa Pawlowski, Aspiring PR Agent

Day in and day out, people throughout the world lie, cheat and steal. Everyday someone is talking behind someone else’s back, someone is taking someone else’s idea and someone knows he/she is doing something morally wrong, but still does it. The world is corrupt; living a fulfilling life nowadays has nothing to do with how calm or peaceful one is, but instead how much money one can make. Money runs the world, money is what people are constantly striving for and money is the definition of success. It seems so easy to join in with everyone else in this race for the money, but maybe instead we should all listen to John Kabat-Zinn: “Perhaps the most ‘spiritual’ thing any of us can do is simply look through our own eyes, see with eyes of wholeness, and act with integrity and kindness.”

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Source: theminimalist.com

What do we see in the world when we look for wholeness, integrity and kindness? Do we see money? No, we see the better things in life, the things in life that make us happy. John Kabat-Zinn has it right, meditation may not have to be long or time-consuming, it may just be stepping back and looking for the finer things in life. This book taught me when I am constantly thinking about the future, which includes graduation, job hunting, and paying bills, it is a good common practice to take a few minutes to see what I enjoy about life. It isn’t working a job or looking to cut corners to make money, it’s the things that make me happy that I think that make life enjoyable. Family, friends, moments; no money is necessary in any of these things to enjoy life, only happiness. Happiness is an important part of life, meditating can make us happy, as can enjoying life. Happiness can stop people from lying, cheating and stealing. Maybe instead of focusing on money, we all should focus on happiness. Happiness runs the world, happiness is what people are constantly striving for and happiness is the definition of success. Following life by those rules doesn’t sound so bad.

Everyone is a victim

Guest Post by Aaron Ledesma, Future Public Relations Professional

Ryan Holiday opened my eyes. His book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, is an amazing testimony on the ethical dilemmas that are being faced today. I will admit that I did not like the book; not because of the quality of the work but because of the content that lies within it.

I have known for some time that there is something disturbing going on in the world of mass media, but this book really talks about these issues in a way that no one else does.

When I reflect on a piece of work, I make references to quotes. The first thing that caught my eye was from the beginning of the book.

“We’re a country governed by public opinion, and public opinion is largely governed by the press, so isn’t it critical to understand what governs the press? What rules over the media, he concluded, rules over the country” (Holiday 14).

This scares the hell out of me, especially since we just went through an election season. Is our country governed by the press? Has is come down to this? If so, we should all be scared after hearing what has and can happen.

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Image courtesy nydailynews.com

The biggest case of the year that I can think of is Manti Te’o’s girlfriend hoax. Before you assume that this is not related to Holiday’s book, let me tell you why it is.

Holiday wrote that, “people are the causalities of a media system defined by what spreads – wholly at the mercy of fraud, exaggeration, stunts, and a thousand subtle felonies against the truth” (Holiday 138).

Te’o’s story is still not completely solved, but what we do know is that this hoax was huge. Why did it get to this point? Because when the story was first covered in Sept. 2012, everyone wanted to cover this “inspirational” story. Everyone jumped on board blinded to the truth. This is a huge issue in the media today. There is no fact checking.

In the section called, “A Broken Philosophy”, Holiday talks about one of his favorite books by Kathryn Schulz. Schulz writes about scientists and journalists. Holiday wrote, “Scientists, she says, replicate each other’s experiments in order to prove or disprove their findings… Science essentially pits the scientists against each other, each looking to disprove the work of others. This process strips out falsehoods, mistakes, and errors. JOURNALISM HAS NO SUCH CULTURE” (Holiday 155).

This scares me. Journalism and media in general should have this culture of higher standards. Accountability is everything.

Source: Holiday, R. (2012). Trust me, i’m lying: Confessions of a media manipulator. New York, NY: Penguin Group.