Shattering Stereotypes Through Ads – Sheryl Sandberg on Changing How Women And Girls Are Perceived

Making the world of advertising take women seriously.

July 1, 2014, 11:55 AM

— -- It is said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org, agrees for she has launched a crusade to change images of girls and women used in advertising. In February, LeanIn.Org teamed up with Getty Images, one of the world’s leading creators and distributor of still imagery and footage, to form a curated photo library called the Lean In Collection that features powerful images of women, girls and families.

Sandberg, in an interview with ABC News anchor Amy Robach, said “this has endless endless opportunities to change the perception of women,” explaining that a “huge percentage” of images that we view on a daily bases come from marketing.

The Lean In Collection per Sandberg does not include women posed in sexy business suits and fishnet stockings, climbing ladders in red-soled stilettos. Nor do they show a harried working woman about to leave her house with a crying anxious baby clinging to her.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw an image of a man in a suit with a crying baby. That’s not the image you see. You see a man in a suit excited to have daddy home, right?” Sandberg asked. The photos instead, Sandberg said, are positive images of working moms, military women and bosses, with “real bodies, real families, raising real children … and also includes men in the home who have chosen to be primary caregivers.” Sandberg notes that most of the Getty images existed previous to the curation, but post collection, the sales of the photos were up by 50 percent.

WATCH: ‘Like a Girl’ Viral Video Strikes a Chord With Young Women

Pamela Grossman, director of Visual Trends at Getty, is the woman who first brought this to Sandberg’s attention, along with LeanIn.Org’s contributing editor, Jessica Bennett. Grossman had been studying the depiction of women in images for the past 11 years. “Having more equal and more progressive images of females is not such ethics it’s also about economics,” says Grossman. “Women hold so much buying power – certainly in the US and growing worldwide – so it’s foolish not to figure out how to speak to women in a relevant and respectful way.”

Grossman and Bennett presented their findings first internally at Getty “to advocate our art directors and photographers internally so we could see more of those images in our collections,” and ultimately – via – to Sandberg herself. “Imagery is so powerful. It’s what changes your expectation of yourself and the world around us,” said Grossman.

Getty, Grossman said, also offers a 30 percent discount for all non-profits for the Lean In Collection and donates back a percentage of the license sales to to further their mission to empower women. Grossman adds that Getty has two grants inspired by the Lean In Collection that show women in positions of power.

Marketing to women in ways that are empowering isn’t just good for women—it makes economic sense, said Sandberg. She cited Pantene as an example. Pantene launched an ad called "Labels Against Women," which went viral and garnered 58 million global views. According to Sandberg, who said she was “overwhelmed” when she first saw the ad online, the commercial is communicating that “men and women do the same thing and there are such different views. So he’s the boss—which is positive. She’s bossy—which is negative. He’s persuasive—which is positive. She’s pushy—which is negative. He’s dedicated because he’s working hard. She’s somehow selfish for working hard. And so it is communicating that and it’s actually selling a product and it’s been successful selling the product.” Sandberg said the ad increased the brand’s favorability by outperforming 84 percent of other brands tested, especially in younger women ages 18-24.

Sandberg also praised Dove’s recent Father’s Day ad, “Call for Dad” with almost 11 million views as well as the new Pantene ad, “Sorry not Sorry,” that recently debuted and has nearly 3 million views. Sandberg identifies with the “Sorry not sorry” ad saying women, including her, apologize far too much: “I love the scene where the guy sits in the chair. Her arm is there and he bumps her and she apologizes.”

Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles, who was recently part of a panel with Sandberg on changing advertising for women, made the best point on the panel. Coles said, ‘we know there’s a demand for these ads and we know there aren’t enough of them because they go viral.’ Sandberg credits Cosmopolitan’s recent success with Coles, who launched “Cosmo careers” to help women in the marketplace.

Sandberg cites the success of recent Disney movies, "Frozen" and "Maleficent," and attributes it to their strong “feminist narrative” (Sandberg is on the board of Disney, ABC’s parent company). Nate Silver’s “FiveThirtyEight” data analysis site on ESPN found that movies, which passed the Bechdel test (at least two named female characters, who talk to each other and talk about something other than men) made more money than those that didn’t. "Frozen" and "Maleficent" are examples of successful movies that pass the Bechdel test.

Sandberg is also strong personal supporter of small business that empower young girls. She reached out directly to Debbie Sterling, the founder and CEO of Goldieblox and backed her kickstarter campaign. Sandberg loved the toy company’s mission to get girls interested in engineering and technology. Sterling told ABC News that their first kickstarter video went viral and has millions of views, but the one they are most known for posted last Christmas about three girls building a machine out of princess toys (GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg "Princess Machine"), which got over 8 million views in the first week alone.

The startup made Super Bowl history this year by becoming the first small business to have a commercial air on TV, which was also free (GoldieBlox's Super Bowl Commercial). “Intuit ran a contest for one small biz to win free Super Bowl commercial. We applied with 15K other small businesses and we created a video entry for the contest ... it was up to America to vote on the winner and we reached out to our fans and reminded them to vote every day,” explained Sterling. In 2013, they launched nationwide in Toys R Us and, according to Sterling, they are the number one best-selling toys on amazon and last year sold out of every single toy they made.

Goldieblox’s success does not surprise Sandberg. Empowering girls and women is good for business and men must become more actively involved. Sandberg concludes, “We have to explain to businesses, this is for your bottom line … we have to explain to men, this is essential for your children … be nice to your wife, do more at home because your kids will have better outcomes. At any income level, regardless of how active a mother is, children with more active fathers do better in school, are better off emotionally, and do better professionally.”