KFC, Double Down and Are You Married? This Is What Sexism Sounds Like

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

Having just hung up the phone from a live radio interview with John Carlson on KOMO Seattle about KFC’s disgusting college campus guerilla marketing stunt, I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

How sexist and irrelevant is it for Carlson to ask me: Are you married? Do you have kids?

Which of course has nothing to do with my qualifications to discuss the appropriateness of giving college women $500 to wear sweatpants with “Double Down” written on the butt, and distribute coupons to men who stare at their butts.

The campaign is shameful. It takes advantage of broke college students to send a message that women’s bodies are public property — all to sell a greasy, nasty sandwich.

Sadly, this campaign is not at all surprising to me. I used to work as a copywriter in the advertising industry, and the creative side of the business remains overwhelmingly male dominated. 94 percent of the Super Bowl ads produced by advertising agencies this year were done under the guidance of creative directors who are white men.

Within creative departments sexualization and denigration of women is the foundation from which the ads you see are produced — it’s not uncommon to see blow-up dolls in cubes and receive porn via e-mail. I remember one agency where clients took their all-women account teams to strip clubs as a show of power. I remember one client sending me a series of e-mails telling me that he wanted to “mount and ride me like a horse.” I remember feeling at the time that if I reported it the agency would lose money, making me less likely to get promoted, so I didn’t. The token women in creative departments (if there are any at all) are all too often forced to accept this environment as par for the course. Many agencies take pride in their macho, frathouse cultures.

Five years ago Neil French, then the top creative director of WPP Group, said on a panel that “women don’t make it to the top [of advertising creative departments] because they don’t deserve to.” Mad Men is still running live under our eyes.

It’s also playing out on the airwaves. Why did that host ask me, while speaking to the sexist nature of the Double Down campaign, if I was a wife and mother? He implied that wives and mothers understand that men like to ogle women on the street, it’s just a fact of life. I reject that premise, I reject that practice and I reject his question. It was nasty, sexist, inappropriate, off-topic and served to demean me.

Just like KFC giving 500 bucks to college women to give sandwich coupons to men who give them elevator eyes.