How to Subvert Sexism in Targeted Online Ads

If you’ve never seen an ad that pissed you off, then you probably have no business calling yourself a feminist – and there’s nothing new about subverting an ad that displeases you.

What’s new is targeted self-serve online advertising. It takes both the problem of sexist advertising and the process of subversion to a whole new level – because in an online environment where every piece of advertising presented to the end user is targeted based on demographics, advertisers can reach their exact audience with their intended message in a completely undiluted fashion. When you happen to be a single woman, these targeted ads can get pretty nasty:

A couple of months ago, I gave a five-minute talk on this problem, and how I subvert advertising online at Ignite Night in Seattle, WA. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

If you like the idea, and you want to try it for yourself, here’s how:

  1. Consider what about the targeted ads you receive pisses you off.
  2. Come up with a clever message that turns the offensive message on its ear.
  3. Decide who you want to reach with your message.
  4. Write a blog post addressing that audience – here in the Feministing Community or elsewhere. (Be sure to avoid any direct mention of a certain social network whose name rhymes with “Macelook” if you want to buy an ad on that site and link to your blog post. If you make direct mention of them, you’ll violate their advertising policy and your ad will be rejected.)
  5. Go to this self-serve ad portal (or similar) and design an ad that sells your message succinctly. Pick an interesting visual and be snappy with your text. Call out that the ad links back to your blog post on the subject.
  6. Set your budget – make sure to cap your campaign at a number you can reasonably afford. I usually spend between $25 and $50 on my campaigns.
    Submit your ad and wait for approval.

This feels AMAZING and is totally worth the money. Here are some examples of ads I did:

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  1. Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    You know some people would consider what you are doing to be vandalism. Just because you don’t like what the ad is portraying does not mean it gives you the right to deface something which someone else has obviously spent time and money on. Unless it is inciting hatred and/or violence then really you have no justification in doing this. My advice to you would be that if the ad upsets you that much then just ingore it and go on with the rest of your day.

    • Posted July 24, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      How is what Teresa’s doing any more objectionable than standard competitive advertising… other than having more positive intentions and being significantly less mercenary? I’m sure you don’t accuse major fast food chains of “vandalism” for offering cheaper food in order to try and lure customers away from their competitors, for example.

      Second, suggesting that someone “ignore the things they don’t like” just because they technically have the right to be there is ludicrous. Positive change comes from fighting the status quo when you see something you perceive as an injustice, not turning a blind eye just because it’s currently “acceptable” on some level.

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Mmm. Some would also say it falls under “situationism”.

  2. Posted July 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Chavez – I fail to see how it is vandalism to come up with my own ads and pay for them with my own money.

    Perhaps the person who subverted the Special K ad committed an act of vandalism, but my moral compass says that the positive impact of the civil disobedience outweighs the cost to the advertiser.

    At any rate, I’m sure you can agree that Special K’s advertising team should be creative enough to come up with ad campaigns that don’t reinforce harmful body image issues and that whoever added their own thinking to the sign did us all a favor in pointing that out.

  3. Posted July 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    PS – The link to the ad platform I typically use for these ads above is wrong for some reason. It is

  4. Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    The work Ms. Klein is doing is great. You educate. You use your right to raise a dissenting voice. It is also fine to completely boycott Kelloggs if people choose, or to get hundreds of thousands of their friends to write letters of protest or hold signs in the streets.

    As for that sort of “civil disobedience,” that’s vandalism. We do not agree with the message. That does not make it right to do this. There are millions who disagree with feminism and its perceived negative influence on society, or are offended by feminist messages. They are firm in their belief they are also correct, in the case of fundamentalists, that they stake their soul and eternity on it. I know from experience raised in a conservative church. (Again, it is completely irrelevant that we may not agree with their assessment.)

    Is it alright to deface, alter, or cover up ads for “The Vagina Monologues” because of perceived offense, or to disrupt or prevent its presentation? If one of the only nine remaining feminist bookstores in the US happened to be named, for example, “Women of Color”, is it alright for a bigot to tack “Go home” on their signage? If there is a poster campaign promoting real sized women, can people post their own comments on them?

  5. Posted July 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I find it fascinating that the comments you have received, up to this point, are only relative to the very first sentence of your posting.

    I took the time and watched your Ignite video and really enjoyed it – your personal story, the all too real FB ads that pop up in those pesky sidebars, and a fantastic example about how to become part of the solution.

    Thank you for taking the time to share and educate, and good luck to you in the future. :)

    btw, are you on Google+ yet? I’d love to add you to my circle and see more of your postings :)

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